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This article is taken from PN Review 7, Volume 5 Number 3, April - June 1979.

The Poet, the Public, and the Pub Neil Powell

A Proper Gentleman, Vernon Scannell (Robson Books, £3.95)

'WHAT SHOCKS the virtuous philosopher, delights the camelion Poet.' Virtuous philosopher or not, those who award subsidies to poets should attend carefully to that letter of 27 October 1818 from Keats to Richard Woodhouse. 'A poet,' Keats continues, 'is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity-he is continually infor [ming] and filling some other Body-The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute-the poet has none; no identity-he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God's creatures.'

Keats was right. We may know that a 'poet' is a man who writes poems, but we have no means of identifying the characteristic of poetness in his appearance or his occupation or his environment or even his chosen method of working at his craft. This is the first unsuperable difficulty in appointing a Resident Poet: his poetness can't be pinned down. Early in Vernon Scannell's account of his adventures and misadventures as a Resident Poet at Berinsfield in Oxfordshire, it becomes clear that this question of the poet's public identity is going to perplex the locals. The day after his arrival (he was given an uncarpeted, uncurtained, almost unfurnished ground-floor council flat, unwittingly jumping the housing queue), he was interviewed for The Book Programme by Robert Robinson, who then turned his attention to a group of shopping housewives: ...

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