Thursday, 28 May 2009
The fourth day - the day when a certain spiritual and intellectual tiredness normally sets in. I talk in high energy mode and am continually attentive, furthermore my mind is alert, but inside I am sleepy. I am easily moved by things people say or write, then I yank myself back into proper critical mode.
And yet it is unavoidable. People are normally the epidermis of an occasional meeting. Here several layers of skin are suddenly shed - not in the 'confessional' sense, but in that you find out what concerns people. Their dimensions deepen suddenly. Their lives seem at least as substantial as your own. They are not people with a romantic idea about being poets, they want to write because language is what they have and they want shape and meaning, much as you yourself do - and, as it inevitably turns out, there is much to give shape and meaning to.
This is anthology night when students choose two or three poems from books to read. The poems vary and range from the grand to the little, from the funny to the profound. One student, who was a doctor, reads John Berryman's XIVth Dream Song. It runs right through me. "Literature bores me, especially great literature bores me". And the truth of that, the necessary and salutary truth of it, goes deep down without ever making great literature less great. On the contrary it makes it tragic and the slightly crazy, sprawling, yet perfectly cut poem that finds it boring becomes tragic in its turn.
Part of me doesn't give a tinker's cuss about Oxford and its professors of poetry. It bores me. It is, as Blake would have put it, something else besides life. And what's that Marianne Moore line about poetry?
I too dislike it.
And yet, by showing a perfect contempt for it, as she does in the poem, you find it does after all have value. It can even be great literature.