In Competition No. 3040 you were invited to submit a poem against poets or poetry.
Plato started it, but over the ages poetry has been accused of many sins: elitism, aestheticising horror, inadequacy as an agency of political change. In what was a wide-ranging and spirited entry there were references to Shelley (‘poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’), and to Auden (‘-poetry makes nothing happen’), and to much else besides. Commendations go to Nicholas Stone, Mae Scanlan, Brian Allgar and Nigel Stuart. The winners take £30, except Basil Ransome-Davies who pockets £35.
There ’s Chaucer the gofer, there’s ode-machineHood,
There’s Herbert the God-bothered parson.
There’s Shakespeare the aspirant. They’re only good
For wiping a metrophobe’s arse on.
There’s Whitman the mystagogue, out of his tree,
There’s Tennyson, bearded and smelly.
There’s Dowson the dipso, and Cummings the twee.
They give me an ache in my belly.
Pound’s Cantos are voodoo, they chargrill your brain,
While Stevens amounts to a riddle
And Ginsberg the Windbag leaks verse like a drain.
The bastards are all on the fiddle.
They hijack the language and grind it up fine
Into tiles for a fancy mosaic.
Go stick your damn tropes where the sun doesn’t shine.
I am ad infinitum prosaic.
Good God, the verbiage, the guff
That gets itself laid out in print
By those who seem to weave their stuff
From contemplated navel lint.
They cast loose, looping lines to catch
Some fluttering passing thought in flight,
Or, given feelings words can’t match,
Plough on just trotting out the trite.
Worse still are those whose grandstand works
Come shrouded in some borrowed myth,
So if they have a point it lurks
Buried deep in thickening pith.
For anything that matters, prose
Will win as it has always won;
And every self-styled poet knows
That poetry gets nothing done.
Every iamb, every trochee, every anapestic joke he
Tries to tell is more annoying than the last one.
With each spondee, with each dactyl, she seems flaky as a fractal.
Are they stoned or drunk or trying to pull a fast one?
When their measures wax erotic, they look weirdly unexotic.
All those rhymes and rhythms they keep having fun with
May be just benignly strange, or may pose some grave moral danger,
So beware the foolish straw their gold is spun with.
Some are Beat and some Romantic. All their egos are gigantic.
Keep your distance when they try to draw you close.
Their metaphors are snares that will catch you unawares,
And their similes are like a fatal dose.
Some are living, some are dead, some are Sylvia and Ted,
And you wouldn’t want to drink with them or date them.
The way they play with words, like a chef with dead, plucked birds
Makes you wonder why God bothered to create them.
They live on British sherry and the goodwill of the fey,
They cannot drive, so always go by train.
You’ll find them all in standard seats for which they cannot pay
As, in vague, sepulchral voices, they explain.
‘We read at schools, at colleges, with luck, the BBC,
Reciting from slim books we cannot sell.
It’s vital work; we’re passing the baton of Poetry.’
Is the thing picked up? The poets never tell.
They live on tiny payments from yet smaller magazines,
From residencies, festivals and worse.
They’ll look askance if once you ask what any poem means
And despise you if you dare to call it verse.
They live by liberal morals, partner-swapping like as not,
In garrets filthy, though their hands are clean.
They think it’s work, composing rhyming, florid tommyrot
Which they hope will earn a medal from the Queen.
Is there anything worse than an evening of verse?
How anyone one stands it — to me it’s a puzzle,
I refuse to consume a paltry pantoum,
I swear that I’ll never indulge in a ghasal.
All poems romantic or, worse still, pedantic,
intended to render me vexed and distressed,
and sonnets Shakespearian, dull, antiquarian,
even Petrarchan, I’d bin with the rest.
I’ve demolished my brain on an unwreathed quatrain
and sestinas conducive to premature death,
I’m avoiding the hell of a vile villanelle
or a sad Sapphic ode, till I breathe my last breath.
Poets? My mission’s to set up petitions
to curb the offenders, with no recompense;
no time for apologies, burn the anthologies,
make penning poems a hanging offence.
No. 3043: poison pen
Ian McEwan was challenged on the Today programme to come up with the beginning of a novel inspired by the current confrontation with Russia. Let’s have a short story from you inspired by these events. Email entries of up to 150 words to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 4 April.
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free