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This article is taken from PN Review 186, Volume 35 Number 4, March - April 2009.

Letter from Belgrade James Sutherland-Smith

C.B. Fry, Edwardian athlete, cricketer, and scholar, once declared that he was tempted to become a minor poet, assuming that the definition of a minor poet includes a period of sustained activity rather than occasional dabbling in the art. Fry did not do so and later, with his wife, he set up a private school with a somewhat controversial reputation. It has always been a matter of touch-and-go whether a casual attraction to poetry becomes the real thing and, even when one starts being seen out with the muse, just how long the affair will last.

I am tempted to believe that poetry never gives up poets despite their many claims to the contrary. Simply, poets give up poetry whether it is after that first adolescent crush, or in one’s twenties after poems published in magazines, or after more substantial success earning greater approbation and perhaps a living through an academic career or writing prose. Sometimes poets give up through a lack of success, as with Hardy, and sometimes because poetry conflicts with another vocation, as with Hopkins. Sometimes poets mature and their emotional and intellectual growth makes the task of finding poetic form for strings of vocabulary, whose meaning is never quite precise, wobbling like the light from remote stars, curiously futile. The apologetic ‘poetry seems to have given me up’ may actually hide a polite contempt for those who still presume to write poems or bafflement at one’s internal alteration. Often poets start writing after ...

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