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PN Review 276
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This article is taken from PN Review 276, Volume 50 Number 4, March - April 2024.

from What is Poetry? Philip Terry
A minor genre of poetry, now to all intents and purposes defunct, is the verse letter, alluded to by Wilfred Owen in a letter to his mother of 16 August 1912, where he writes ‘I have had another rhymed letter from Leslie’. It might make the subject of a small anthology, though offhand I can think of only one, sent by William Cow-
per to Mrs Newton on 16 September 1731, which begins:
A noble theme demands a noble verse,
In such I thank you for your fine oysters.
The barrel was magnificently large,
But being sent to Olney at free charge,
Was not inserted in the driver’s list,
And therefore overlook’d, forgot, or miss’d;
For when the messenger whom we dispatch’d
Enquired for oysters, Hob his noddle scratch’d,
Denying that his wagon or his wain
Did any such commodity contain.

Poetry, says Pound, is ‘news that stays news’. But this ignores the fact that the vast majority of poetry does not stay news. Like everyday news, in fact, it is forgotten. Who now reads William Jay Smith, born in Winnfield, Louisiana, 22 April 1918, or James Arlington Wright, born in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, 13 December 1927, both of whom have substantial entries in Contemporary Poets of the English Language (1970)? Who now reads Peter Pindar (pseudonym of the poet and satirist John Wolcot), the friend and contemporary of Keats; who reads Rosemary Tonks (included in Philip Larkin’s The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse); who reads James Russell Lowell (1819–91), a favourite of Wilfred ...

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