Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Glamour and the Danger

Having often enough repeated the Martin Bell dictum (more something that Martin once grunted as an answer to something I asked him) to the effect that: Poetry should not be taught in schools: it should be a secret and subversive pleasure, I have been asked to write something about it, and then talk to it: in other words, I suppose, defend it.

I do think there is an important truth in it, so my argument would involve something like this:

...Another enemy Bell sees, as witnessed by the poems, is the classroom, that group of sheep and goats the teacher is supposed to guide towards a sheepfold of starred A grades, or whatever seems feasible under the circumstances. The class is a group. Bell, I suspect, sees poetry as essentially a singular, solitary, perhaps even necessarily lonely series of encounters with something vital. Poetry, he may well believe, is the opposite of parties and groups and institutions. A class behaves like a class or gang in some ways, but a poem is often a deep communication from one mouth to a single pair of ears. A class is composed of single pairs of ears. Poems are to be listened to intently. Or so he may think, and it might be worth while considering the possibility that poems might be desperate, fastidious outsiders, like Baudelaire, or thieves of fire like Prometheus (those referred to earlier in the piece as Bell's "shining rebels" in his poem 'Ode to Groucho').

Bell considered himself a Muse poet – his relationship was, as he saw it, and wrote, with the same Goddess that Robert Graves worshipped, that is to say a being that took you, took you alone, rode you, led you through Dionysian revels and terrible desire then discarded you, as the Belle Dame Sans Merci did the knight-at-arms. That poetry was in some way dangerous.

If you consider this to be adolescent (and I don’t) take it up with Robert Graves, Thomas Wyatt, Sappho and a good number of marvellous poets, not with me. It is in any case worth remembering that the class is composed of adolescents whose instinctive notion of poetry may be an early form of the same vision. They are not all responsible commuting citizens preparing for middle management or sound employment of any kind. Glamour is second nature to them: they are very ready to find things dull.

Something along these lines and more...

All day in university, preparing and meeting.

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