Thursday, June 14, 2007

Great Poets

Just found this, part of today’s blog entry by George Szirtes:

I think all poets should try to be great poets. This does not mean being a famous poet, or even being called a great poet, but it does mean a determination to try to tell the world as it is in all its misery and grandeur…Beyond that I am a sceptical and reasonable being. The moment that I begin to think of myself as a great poet I become useless and should be shot.

Poetry is always Elsewhere. It is beyond people (or you yourself, for that matter) proclaiming you either wonderful or rubbish. None of that really matters at all. You sit and write the best poems you can. You may play, compose rhymes and squibs and occasional verses. One should overflow a bit, nor ever be so solemn and po-faced as to think one must be 'significant' all the time. But there, at the heart of the project, there should for all poets, be a demand beyond career, beyond competence, beyond poesy, to half-sing, half-speak the world back to itself in language, to give life back in language to those who live it.

I like the bit about overflowing and not always being po-faced and about the demand “beyond competence", and all the rest of it too.

I don't think I will ever be a 'great poet', although I guess that if I ever started to believe I was on the point of becoming one, I should also be shot. Aiming to be one, in the sense above, is another matter.

The aim of writing great poems is also another matter. I think I would like to write a great poem, even just one great poem in a lifetime, more than I would like to be a great poet. I'm not sure which is the more difficult!


Matt Merritt said...

I like that too, and I think trying to write a great poem, and then another, and then another, is what it's all about, even if you never succeed. If I ever managed just one, I'd be satisfied.
I'm not sure I even believe in the idea of a great poet - some poets might write more great poems than other poets do, but they still write bad ones too.

Liz Bassett said...

I also like the part about not getting too caught up in being over sincere. And it's a good reminder to all of us not to worry too much when our poems are turned down or place too much importance in the times people choose to print them (I've experienced both this month). Carol Ann Duffy says that when you write you should just try to tell the truth. To be as honest as you can in words.

Rob said...

I thought these were beautifully succinct paragraphs.

I suppose, Matt, if poets keep attempting to write great poems, that's the only way to have a chance of becoming a great poet. And yes, all poets write bad poems. It's the good ones and great ones that give a poet his/her worth.

Liz, good to hear from you. Are you going to start a blog? And yes, we should write what we feel needs to be written, irrespective of what gets accepted or rejected by editors. Writing it all as well as possible is the main thing.