Sunday, 24 January 2010

breakfast of champions?

I’ve written elsewhere about the hegemonic nature of the British poetry scene (and no doubt I’ll come back to the topic again) but a week of listening to the works of the finalists for the TS Eliot prize on Radio 4’s Today program made it only too clear what’s at stake. If I had to nominate what was just plain wrong about so much of this work I could do no better than to quote a line or so from Hugo Williams’ volume West End Final (Faber, if you need to ask). A piece concerning a failed relationship notes that a tea towel was ‘draped over a chair like your signature’. In my semi- comatose state I wondered how a signature could be draped over a chair. Then as I came to my senses I realised that Williams was simply unaware of what the language he was making use of was actually doing. He’d thought up a simile and just plonked it in the poem without regard for where it might lead. Like just about anyone who becomes eligible for an award like the Eliot (or, more correctly, anyone who is allowed past the poetry establishment’s gatekeepers), Williams is adept (if that’s the word) at using the signifiers of ‘poetry’ without finally producing what I’d call a poem.

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