'The Cult' of Modern Poetry: my take on Rebecca Watt's controversial article.


Rebecca Watt’s recent article ‘The Cult of the Noble Amateur’ has divided opinion.


Rebecca attacks ‘Instagram’ and ‘Spoken word’ poets who start off self publishing their work and then get picked up based on their sales – for example she lists Rupi Kaur and UK poet Hollie Mcnish.

She argues that this unfiltered poetry, which goes through no editor and (she believes) is written by authors who have not even read much poetry themselves, results in a death of poetry as an art form.

This is interesting to me, because although I am in favour of experimentation and all forms of poetry – and I love to read poems covering as many diverse subjects as I can – I find that in general, traditionally published work is richer in imagery and has a considered style. I find that I read poems with metaphors and oxymorons again and again, to find their different meanings.

What Rebecca Watts is attacking then, is the idea that this poetry is celebrated for being ‘accessible’. Does poetry have to be accessible? To me, this seems an easy no, but with my marketing hat on, to reach a larger audience, sales of Rupi and Hollie’s ‘simple’ (according to Watts) books are a testimony to this being a yes…

“Kaur’s publisher Kirsty Melville insisted that ‘the medium of poetry reflects our age, where short-form communication is something people find easier to digest or connect with’.

The reader is dead: long live consumer-driven content and the ‘instant gratification’ this affords.”

I think to say the reader is dead here is overstating the point – sales of poetry are rising more than ever before, but I know myself that when Amazon offers me 4 months free Kindle Unlimited reading, I take it and I end up glued to my phone…in between Facebook and Twitter.

My own attention span for reading has decreased – my own attention span worries me. We shouldn’t veer away from ‘difficult’ poetry – some of the ‘hardest’ poetry is written by writers at the top of their craft and there is so much to learn if we just concentrate (and log out of social media for an hour).

"The ability to draw a crowd, attract an audience or assemble a mob does not itself render a thing intrinsically good: witness Donald Trump."

I have found this to be true. I am not a massive fan of Rupi’s poetry but of course, checked it out after I heard the hype surrounding it. There are some massively underrated poets who deserve the hype but aren’t as internet savvy!

“As Paterson argued in 2004: ‘Poetry is a wonderfully therapeutic thing to do at amateur level; but amateur artists and musicians don’t think they should exhibit at the Tate, or play at the Wigmore. (Serious poets, I should say, don’t start off amateurs, but apprentices – just like any other vocation.)’”

I think Watts is trying to make a point about exalting poets who are mere ‘apprentices’ in their craft – I don’t think this is as worrying as she makes out, however. Popularity is not synonymous with talent, in all areas, and I can celebrate a young poet as well as a developed author without much worry about the ‘apprentice’ taking over the world – because if they do, that’s great, and good for them. If people love their work, I can’t deny their right to their personal tastes and I wouldn’t want to. There is a place for both ‘types’ of poets I feel.

If anything, the rise of the successful, young female poet is a welcome trend when I think of all the women writers in the past who had their work hidden from public glory injustly, or were denied the right to write.

If you are intrigued and want to read more about the trends of contemporary poetry, you can read my blog post here: https://www.flyonthewallpoetry.co.uk/single-post/A-Dangerous-Trend-in-Contemporary-Poetry

And Rebecca’s full article here: http://www.pnreview.co.uk/cgi-bin/scribe?item_id=10090

#opinion #RebeccaWatts #Poetry

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