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This report is taken from PN Review 130, Volume 26 Number 2, November - December 1999.

Speaking to Seven Dead Miners David Kennedy

Contemporary discussions of the status of poetry often seem to be synonymous with an anxiety about its reception. It is an anxiety which, depending on the writer's position, manifests itself as apparently quite distinct concerns about the size of audience or the quality of readership.

The concern about audience was well put by the American critic Joseph Epstein over ten years ago: 'contemporary poetry has grown not more but less difficult, and the audience still isn't there.' The use of the word 'audience' alerts us, I think, to the fact that writer's anxiety about the reception of poetry is largely economic. More and more people are becoming what might be termed professional practitioners and are competing for the same financial rewards, publishing opportunities and poetry sales.

The concern about quality was at the heart of Neil Powell's article in PNR 125, 'Forgetting How To Read'. The use of words like 'read' and 'readership' alerts us to the fact that the writer's anxiety about the reception of poetry is concerned with the condition and reception of culture in a wider sense. Powell's article laments not the decline in the number of readers but the decline in the number of 'informed readers'. Poetry, it seems, is no longer an art but a carefully marketed entertainment product and a product only needs consumers. The paucity of 'informed readers' is symptomatic, for Powell, of a wider cultural illiteracy.

However, as I suggested above, despite their apparent differences, ...

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