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This report is taken from PN Review 90, Volume 19 Number 4, March - April 1993.

Letter from Ireland Gerald Dawe
Hostility to poetry, whether conscious or unconscious, begins when critics assume that poems and myths are only peculiar ways of making factual statements.
      W.B. Stanford, Enemies of Poetry (1980)


The 1980s saw a major if subtle change occur in the social placing of writing in Ireland. Political patronage, commercial sponsorship and public relations seemed to move hand-in-glove with the promotion of 'The Arts'. There was a steady ideological shift towards popularizing the Arts in general. Editors, commentators, critics and others 'in the media' were encouraged to appear more popular and populist than the next, more tuned-in to the 'real' issues. As an indirect result, audiences became markets, symbols sales, prizes and awards promotion pitches, Art 'an angle' and literary supplements, interviews and profiles literarily little more than gossip columns, seeking controversy, or recycled publishers' blurb.

Popularity, accessibility and entertainment turned the key words of recognition into a byword for artistic success. What this all meant in creative and imaginative significance was no longer primary. Any hint of critical circumspection was caricatured as academic and elitist posturing. And in a way this kind of aggressive eagerness was useful in so far as it blew away for good the cobwebs of the past which cloyingly gathered around the very (pious) idea of literature in Ireland. Similarly, the tired acquiescence in the impression that writers were two-a-penny and taken very much for granted also went, more or less. The '80s, ironically, gave a sense of dignity back to writers ...


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