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This report is taken from PN Review 170, Volume 32 Number 6, July - August 2006.

Vox Unpop Neil Powell

These are the only two things I know about Daisy Goodwin: one is that she's been described as 'the Nigella Lawson of poetry', though I've no idea whether or not this is a compliment; the other is that she's worried about poetry, if it's not careful, becoming about as popular as morris-dancing. 'Fat chance'must have been the reaction of most poets, whose print-runs are more like print-stumbles and whose royalty statements are remarkable only for their conspicuous lack of royalties. I bet half-decent morris dancers, given a sunny day, attract bigger audiences than poets. But quite why anyone should want or expect poetry to be 'popular'(apart from those royalties) is something of a mystery.

In England, poetry and the mass audience parted company almost a hundred years ago. There was certainly a time, in the early years of the last century, when poetry and popular taste ran in tandem; when poets praised by the TLS - Alfred Austin, Henry Newbolt, Alfred Noyes - sold in large quantities, their work remembered and quoted by ordinary readers. The First World War and the rise of Modernism between them saw to that: snappy fragments of Pound or Eliot tended not to spring readily to everyone's lips, although memorable phrases would eventually percolate through the public consciousness, so that people who've never read 'Prufrock'or The Waste Land quote from them unwittingly, just as they do from Hamlet or from 'Tintern Abbey'. But accidental transmission isn't at all the ...


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