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In defence of poetry and poets by David Prater [Australia/Ireland]:
Recently I came across the following quotation from a newspaper column written by Irish novelist and satirist Flann O’Brien in the mid-1940s:
Having considered the matter in – of course – all of its aspects, I have decided that there is no use for poetry. Poetry gives no adequate return in money, is expensive to print by reason of the waste of space occasioned by its form, and nearly always promulgates illusory concepts of life. But a better case for the banning of all poetry is the simple fact that most of it is bad. Nobody is going to manufacture a thousand tons of jam in the expectation that five may be eatable. Furthermore, poetry has the effect on the negligible handful who read it of stimulating them to write poetry themselves. One poem, if widely disseminated, will breed perhaps a thousand inferior copies. The same objection cannot be made in the case of painting or sculpture, because these occupations afford employment for artisans who provide the materials. Moreover, poets are usually unpleasant people who are poor and who insist forever on discussing that incredibly boring subject, ‘books’.
How to dignify such toejam with a response? Where to begin? Perhaps with the obvious: that at first I was struck by this piece’s wit, its ‘droll humour’ already familiar to me from my reading of O’Brien’s novels, including The Third Policeman, At Swim-Two-Birds and The Poor Mouth. Shortly after, however, I started to seethe inside. Despite the influence of the voice of reason inside me whispering Mate, it’s what they call a joke, I began to recall the many and various occasions previous on which I had been told the same thing by some insufferable goon puffed up with self-righteousness, two glasses of clearskin wine and a pathological loathing for “the Left”. I recalled also an observation made by Pam Brown, namely: “Poetry is the only art form that is constantly asked to assess its relevance.” Clearly, one person’s joke is another’s insult; and clearly, also, O’Brien’s ‘droll’ - no, acerbic - wit, while moderately humorous, is representative of a systematic bias against my profession that I no longer find funny.
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At 9:52 PM, Blogger tristan replied:

oh dear !

it was a joke and it was fifty years ago !

so stop being so grumpy & get on with the important stuff    

At 7:24 AM, Blogger michael replied:

poetry will be saved when it becomes so unfashionable that no one goes to it except those who really require it & are willing to hunt it down.


At 6:06 AM, Blogger Nathan Austin replied:

This comment has been removed by the author.    

At 6:07 AM, Blogger Nathan Austin replied:

O'Brien's critique of poetry's profitability resonated with this, from an interview with Charles Bernstein: "As James Sherry once remarked, if you take a sheet of plain white paper, perhaps it’s worth a penny, but if you write a poem on it, it’s worth nothing. It can no longer be sold."

Bernstein uses this as an example of poetry's alternative economic system — one he describes as both "negative" and "exchange-based" — that, in turn, leads towards a democratic ethics.    

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