Monday, 7 December 2009
Ends and breaks: young poets
Today I said goodbye to a group of young undergraduate poets from America. They were such a bright bunch from top universities, bristling with reading - particularly modern but all the general greats as well as Dickinson and Whitman. I liked them a good deal and parting with them after three months or so, with a day a week, was, for me, an oddly sentimental occasion. We have fun in class, at least I always try to make it fun, but fun with passion and intelligence, so we laugh while we concentrate. And that makes for warmth of feeling.
I think one of the hopes of the humanities is to bring the best out of people by bringing out their humanity. The arts can do this particularly well. They can, but don't always, since the arts, especially the making of them, involves vanities and vulnerabilities. Artists cannot be insensible nor can they lack a sense of self: all they can do is to affect insensibility at times, as much for protection as anything else, and they can try to look cool. But sensibility is not enough. Nor is cool. Humanity is a matter of dimensions.
Writing, at best, is a wrought set of dimensions within which it is possible to live. The young poet moves from self to language, makes a self inside language. That language provides its dimensions, the dimensions within which a written self can live. And through those dimensions it begins to explore the world, which is out there and not the self alone, but the wind and the cold and the cry of animals and the whistling of the planets and the voices of others.
It has been a very long day and tomorrow is no shorter. I am down in London at the Hungarian Cultural Centre in Maiden Lane with the US author Arthur Phillips and with Tibor Fischer, discussing 1989. University in the morning, train in the afternoon, event in the evening, train at night.