“A Poem is never finished, only abandoned” Paul Valery (1871-1945)
Even though Scottish literature is still on the incline and fiercely popular, it seems that somewhere along the way we have lost sight of the poet. Perhaps not even just the poet himself but poetry as a genre. What was once a well-read and celebrated breed of writings has now became a lost, maybe even diminished art form. Is poetry dead or is it merely been abandoned to give way to new art forms. No longer a mass market genre, poetry has rapidly become a niche medium, yes, still with somewhat of a following but with very little recognition and availability. So where did the poet go? When did we stop producing or reading books filled with odes, and sonnets, dittys, and limericks, free-verse and lyrical devotions? Is it a sign of our times or is poetry simply out-dated?
The art of poetic writing first gained popularity in Scotland back in the 18th century when a man named James Macpherson began writing beautiful odes and poems to his sweetheart. His poems then went on to be published and not only did he become a hugely successful poetic and historical writer but also managed to inspire a legion of new writers such a Goethe and our very own poet and lyricist, Sir Walter Scott. This period in time was given the title of the romantic era. Romanticism is said to have derived from the age of enlightenment and became a movement in which emphasised emotion and imagination over logic and scientific thought.
Our most noted and celebrated poet was born during this very era and was regarded as a pioneer of romantic poetry. His name was Robert Burns or Rabbie to you and me. His influence over Scottish poetry and writings led to him becoming a cultural icon and the national poet of Scotland. Even still, he is the most famous poet and son of Scottish literature. He not only held influences in Scotland but gained historical status all over the world. During this period of time reason gave way to sensibility, emotion to logic. Is this perhaps a factor in the loss of poetry’s appeal and popularity in today’s society?
Robert Burns also influenced another of our most famous poets, a man named Hugh MacDiarmid. This was the man who fought to dismantle the romantic notions of Burns writing and break what he thought was a ‘sentimental cult’ that dominated Scottish literature. MacDiarmid became the pioneer of the next generation of writings, he was instrumental in bringing the notion of modernism to the masses. He abandoned the use of romanticism in his poems and replaced this with variations of politics and realism. He went on to achieve a great deal of success both as a writer and as a politician before standing accused of plagiarism for sourcing materials for his writings from various established pieces of literature. His response to the accusations was this “The greater the plagiarism, the greater the work of art”. MacDiarmid’s objective in using the plagiarised texts was to explore the idea of a world without God where all his poetry would become scientifically verifiable. Therefore rendering the intent of the romantic era out-dated and useless. He succeeded.
A hundred or so years later came along another poet, Edwin Morgan, who became Scotland’s first official national poet, poet laureate and the present Scottish Makar. His poetry was neither full of romantic notions nor scientific value. He was and still is a social commentator, writing about modern society and working class values. Even though many poets came before him and tackled similar subjects in their writings, his are the most notable in Scottish literature. With his penchant for writing about social realism and everyday life rather than imaginative creations or notions he originated a new breed of poetry, one in which reflected the real rather than whimsical hypothesis. His writings opened the door for a new and exciting use of poetry, one that continues to this day but seems to have become redundant, both in readership and publishing.
So what happened to one of our most loved and read genres of literature? Why has it almost become obsolete?
The most notable answer to these questions would be that it is simply a sign of our times. With new media taking over and new mediums of literature coming to the forefront, perhaps poetry has lost its place and value in these modern times. Poetry has been replaced by the short story, song lyrics and the rap artist. A new genre of fiction is taking over the literary world called flash fiction, a story that is told in as few as 250 words. With these materials readily at hand and our continual lack of time to spend reading books, it is no wonder poetry seems to be diminishing. Also I think that the popularity of poetry has faded due to the very cynical world in which we live. The poet, the poem and the whole concept of poetry still carries romantic notions, ideas of creativity and imagination. As a society, I feel that we have become somewhat jaded and less open to the suggestions of descriptive literature. Readers don’t want to have to interpret books, they are used as a form of escape far more than an educative resource. Even more noticeable than all this though is not only does poetry no longer have the readership, but there are very few publishing houses willing to produce a volume of poetry unless the writer is already established as a novelist.
Poetry may be diminishing, it may be out-dated. But it is not dead. And there is hope. Carol Ann Duffy has just been named Poet Laureate, not only is she Scottish and one of our leading poets but she is also the first woman to ever receive the title and accolade. Poetry may not be readily available in print but there are many websites dedicated to showcasing the talents of up-and-coming poets. Poetry competitions still prove to be extremely popular and one of Scotland’s favourite authors, Janice Galloway has just released her first book of poetry.
Perhaps it is time for a new breed of writers or poets to re-generate and breathe some life back into poetry, just as our predecessors did back in the day. If the publishing houses are reluctant to publish new writing from contemporary poets then perhaps the availability of online journals and literary magazines should prove to be the sanctuary of the poet and those who still take an interest in reading modern poetry.
To para phrase the quote from Paul Valery, I don’t think poetry is finished, merely abandoned. We just have to regain the sentiment that it once carried as a genre of writing, embrace the times in which we live and unite the two. Poetry is an exciting medium, not only does it come from the soul but it creeps into your soul. It inspires both poet and reader. Somehow it has became misplaced, we simply have to re-discover it and allow it to consume our Scottish hearts, once more.
Janice Galloway‘s collection of poetry ‘Boy book See’ is available now.
Scottish Poetry Library: with info on poetry, events, competitions etc:
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