I was shelving poetry books today when I felt a surge of gratitude that the readers of this blog (you!) have been open to the inclusion of poetry-- both my own, and the discussion of poetry in general.
This is rare, I can tell you. The world's indifference to poetry is something that has bothered me for at least two-thirds of my life. I'm not talking about my own poetry. I mean poetry in general.
If a person has tried poetry and never liked it-- that's understandable. I commend their honesty. But it bothers me that so many people who consider themselves cultured and well-read seem to feel they can just do without poetry, and don't seem in the least bit ashamed of it.
(By way of analogy, I don't understand or appreciate classical music. I've listened to Mozart's Requiem Mass three or four times, most attentively, and it left me cold. I've tried the same with other classical music masterpieces. The piano quintents of Dvorak held some mild appeal for me, but that's about it. I feel bad about this. I know I'm missing out on part of what it is to be human.)
I'm not being unwontedly idealistic here. Very few people, I imagine, read poetry in the way that they read fiction, or the newspaper, or history. I certainly don't, and never did. Poetry is something that one reads in small doses, at intervals. It's a cordial, not a beverage.
But...even a tiny, tiny increase in our consumption of poetry, as a society, would (I am convinced) make a huge difference to our civlization. It would make us more civilized-- not by virtue of any effects it had (though it might have some effect), but simply in itself.
Our culture is quite willing to quarry Yeats and Eliot and Housman for quotations, and epigraphs, and captions for tea-towels and tee-shirts. Writers of blockbusters and thrillers are quite willing to filch titles from great poets, but their publishers and agents wouldn't even give a second glance to a poetry manuscript that arrived in their offices. That's what Faber and Faber is there for, after all.
But where do people think poets like Yeats and Frost come from, if there is not a culture of poetry reading and poetry publishing?
I'm not just talking about literary life. I'm talking about social life. Why should you be looked at like you are an eccentric if you propose poetry as a topic of conversation, in an ordinary social situation?
So I thank you. I've thrown all sorts of stuff on this blog, and I'm always surprised how willing its readers are to follow my rambles. But the fact that the poetry gets a hearing....that's very rare, and much to be prized.