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This article is taken from PN Review 154, Volume 30 Number 2, November - December 2003.

Form and Function IV: Form and Audience N.S. Thompson


IV: Form and Audience

Over the course of three essays, I have attempted to put the case for poetic form against the criticisms generally voiced against it: the task of technique leaves little left over for the imagination; technical facility drains the subject of emotional power and complexity; form no longer serves the metaphysical view of our times. There remains, however, one further area of consideration crucial for the survival of any art and that is its relationship to an audience. This final essay in the series will therefore consider what influence form may have for the readership of poetry and will inevitably extend to general reflections on poetry and its audience. The following comment on the state of the art may seem depressingly familiar:

The state of the present world of poetry is curious and worthy of attention. On the one hand poets and publishers declare there are no readers: poets and readers declare there are no publishers: and publishers and readers declare that there are no poets.


Although this could have been published yesterday, it was written nearly one hundred years ago in a review of 1905 by the critic and novelist Ford Maddox Ford. Ford goes on to say that an audience for poetry must certainly exist, but is simply not being reached; thus, naturally, he wonders why:

Is it lack of enterprise on the part of the publisher or lack of attractiveness in the poet? ...


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