Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Poetry, Criticism, and Moral Values

On my Facebook wall (for those of you who can see it) at the moment, there’s a very interesting discussion on a set of reviews and, by extension, on the nature of reviewing generally and, extending further from that, on the state of UK poetry today.

One of the most interesting points is how reviewers tend not to question a poem’s moral values and, instead, examine its technique, narrative and subject matter. But the moral outlook on the world (or lack of it) exhibited by a poetry collection is obviously an important part of what it does. One commenter suggests that critics maybe lack the confidence –or ability – to look at such issues. Or perhaps it’s because the current values of our society say that all moral truths are relative, and there is heavy pressure on critics to reflect only on how poems say what they say, but not on what they are saying, the values they espouse behind their narrative and subject matter.

Critics and reviewers aren’t moral censors. Poets have to be free to express the unpalatable, the difficult and offensive, without being censored. But if they do, they ought to expect critical reaction, some of it hostile, rather than silence and a quiet sidestep into technical considerations. Reaction is surely welcome or they wouldn’t have published the poems in the first place.

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