Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The forgettable poem #1

Is an interesting phenomena.
But first a different, less explicable type of forgetting.

Having spent twelve months reading poetry I have to read, I’ve been having a holiday and reading Louise MacNeice’s “Collected Poems.”

In his introduction to the Faber poets on poets edition Michael Longley claims MacNeice wrote some of the finest love poems in the language. For what it’s worth, I agree with him. I’m not convinced by ‘Mayfly’ (one of Longley’s candidates) , but I’d back him on ‘Cradle song’, ‘Meeting point’ and ‘The introduction’.

MacNeice tends to be forgotten. The Thirties are Auden, Or young Dylan Thomas. “Modernism” is on its way to being an established ism and perhaps a university subject. In “The Sinking Island” Hugh Kenner, blasting the thirties as “A dishonest decade”, is too busy assaulting Auden to even mention MacNeice. In the companion volume, “A Colder Eye: the modern Irish writers’ Austin Clarke gets five or six pages. MacNeice, as far as I can tell, doesn’t even make the footnotes.
Why someone this good is so forgotten is an interesting question.

His poems sing. The line is essentially melodic, whether the poem is a short “lyric” like “The Introduction”, or an extended demonstration of Terza Rima like the second “Autumn Journal”. There’s enough technical virtuosity to keep anyone happy. There’s an obvious intelligence working behind the line so that it’s not just a vacuous melody. The poems move in a reconisable urban landscape where most people live, have friends, jobs, go on holiday, fall in and out of love.

Not a critic’s poet, certainly. But a reader’s poet? Surely?

If you can be this good, and mostly forgotten, what does that say about the field of cultural production that is poetry? How can anyone keep a straight face and argue that quality will win through?

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