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This item is taken from PN Review 245, Volume 45 Number 3, January - February 2019.

Letters to the Editor
IAIN BAMFORTH writes · Your most recent editorial relating Christian Wiman’s recollections of his American poet colleagues in ‘He Held Radical Light’ had me thinking. Like so many poets I too have stared the prospect of radical failure in the face, and of course felt just like A.R. Ammons at his poetry reading, although never sat down in the middle of one having just announced to a cluster of incredulous listeners that the reading was going to stop right there and then. Jacques Derrida might have suggested that Ammons had failed to turn up in his own poems, to be sufficiently present. Whatever original intentionality they possessed was now lost in the illocutionary act, and were ashes in his mouth. Perhaps other, parasitic factors were at work. One of Derrida’s sources, the analytic philosopher J.L. Austin, put in these terms: ‘as utterances our performances are also heir to certain other kinds of ill which affect all utterances’.

Yet Ammons clearly never felt disgusted enough with being a scriptor – a poet committing words to the page as opposed to a lector, or reciter of his works – to give up being a poet: he went on writing until his death in 2001, and the Ammons’ poems I know, curiously enough, don’t seem to object to leaving a scientific lexis (geology, botany) in the keeping of the ordinary demotic. It may be that he needed the paradoxes of the written form, as in Plato’s Phaedrus, which is an indictment in writing of writing itself, to convince himself that he could get poems down on paper, and repeat the act. And do it without any determinate person in mind. Osip Mandelstam (whose work Wiman has translated) explains how it’s done, in his essay ‘Concerning the addressee’ (1913): ‘Poetry taken as a whole is always sent to an addressee who is more or less remote and unknown, an addressee whose real existence the poet cannot doubt, lest he doubt himself.’

LETTER TO THE EDITORS OF THE GUARDIAN which they declined to publish · Dear Editors, Simon Armitage writes [in the Guardian, 2 November] about the role of the Poet to represent these islands’ traditions as someone who is ‘admired by both their fellow poets and by the public.’ But Richard Lea’s report outlines the government’s advisory committee which Minister Jeremy Wright says ‘reflects the whole of the UK and the new ways we consume poetry’.

Readers do not have to be especially perceptive, however, to observe that no writers are part of the process. Arts Council leads, festival and competition promoters and arts CEOs, yes but no writers, and in particular none of the ‘fellow poets’ Armitage values.

Not one member of the committee identifies as a poet or as a poetry critic and, perhaps predictably from a government whose members have derided expert opinion, there is no member recruited from any of the many universities which research and teach courses on poetry.

Maybe the next Laureate will fit the description Armitage proposes, but if so it will be doing so by guesswork, and it is just as likely these advisors will, in spite of best intentions, skew the decision-making away from the art of making poems.

This selection process depends too heavily on the opinions of arts professionals, many without expertise on poetry, and should be revised so as to involve working writers · JOHN MCAULIFFE, Professor of Modern Literature and Creative Writing, Co-director, Centre for New Writing, University of Manchester 

This item is taken from PN Review 245, Volume 45 Number 3, January - February 2019.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
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