David Greig, Stav Poleg, Gerry Cambridge, Liz Lochhead, Alan Taylor, Robyn Marsack
Event Review: What I Hate/ What I Love About Poetry
8 November 2012, Scottish Poetry Library
Poetry is a cultural phenomenon which, for some, enters life at school and is never seen again. There is a small number of dedicated readers of verse and an even smaller number who try to make an (impoverished) career out of it. But how do people really feel about poetry? Are the extremes of love and hate even applicable?
Organised by the Scottish Poetry Library, a panel met on Thursday 8 November to discuss this paradigm. Chaired by SPL director Robyn Marsack, it included Herald journalist and Scottish Review of Books editor Alan Taylor, Scottish Makar Liz Lochhead, poet and editor of The Dark Horse magazine Gerry Cambridge, poet Stav Poleg and playwright David Greig. The result was a terse and often hilarious discussion.
After a gracious introduction, Marsack read out some comments that she collected earlier from twitter: ‘I hate poetry. There are too many dry poets like Ezra Pound’ and ‘I love poetry because it’s the opposite of journalism’ among others.
Fittingly, journalist Alan Taylor began the proceedings with an erudite if slightly oblique view. What Taylor dislikes most is not poetry but poets: ‘There are too many. It would be good to have a cull’. Dressed in a tartan blouse Makar Liz Lochhead said, ‘What I hate about poetry is the poetic voice. It drives you to drink’ and illustrated her view by reading from Wendy Cope with exaggerated intonation. Gerry Cambridge read out a poem he had written in favour of poetry, citing its ‘eccentricity’ and ‘individuality’ and the fact that ‘you don’t have to take a creative writing course to like it’.
Stav Poleg said she liked poetry because one must ‘do something else in order to earn a living’ which may also be a ‘reason to hate it’. Poleg added that she doesn’t exactly ‘hate’ poetry competitions, but thinks them oxymoronic and more about the judges than the poems.
Playwright David Greig imagined poetry as a white muse, ‘that of a lover’, and said that poetry was like sex: ‘primal base need that comes with being human, being born’. He said he hated reading translations of poems because he knew he was missing out on the complexities of the original. He also acknowledged that he was the ‘Pollyanna of the debate’.
A discussion on poetry reviewing and the fact that it often involves poets assessing the work of peers was interrupted by an uplifting set by spoken word artist Miko Mysterio, who pleaded with an elite academy to accept spoken word as well: ‘I’m not saying dumb it down/ but let people in/the alternative’.
Further arguments ensued. Alan Taylor suggested that instead of having near empty venues at the EIBF, there should be a dedicated poetry gathering, the ‘Edinburgh International Poetry Festival’. Lochhead contradicted this, saying that she, Carol Ann Duffy and others are selling out their venues at EIBF: ‘Just as it’s not about size Alan, it’s not about numbers’. The topic then turned to the clapped out debate about Creative Writing programmes at universities with some on the panel (inevitably) expressing their opposition to them. However, one brave audience member stood up and said: ‘I’m probably the most despised person in the room... I’m taking a Creative Writing Course... I’m actually quite nice and my poetry is quite good’.
Predictably a panel session hosted in a dedicated poetry library and with an audience full of poets and readers of poetry never did find a good reason to hate poetry. Eventually, David Greig produced a collection of Sydney Goodsir Smith poems which he borrowed in 1985. In another system, a fine of multinational-tax-arrear proportions would be on its way. But at the Scottish Poetry Library this is seen as a mark of love which, of course, it is.