Discovering the Relevance of Words
As a Creative Writing teacher, I’ve always told my students that it is not our job to rip apart the poem, but rather discuss the poem, figure out how it may pertain to our own lives, and work to understand the context in which the piece was written. In other words: why should we care about it? That being said, I don’t agree with Larkin. If the poet is the only one who should care about the poem itself, why bother to submit it? Why bother to put it in a book? Why bother to do anything beyond hang it on the wall, and admire it until the next one is written, and then wash, rinse, repeat?
There are countless bedroom poets in this world – the ones who write in their journals, put down the final punctuation, and tuck the book away until some other burst of inspiration comes their way. Or there’s the Facebook or Twitter poet, who used to be the MySpace poet, who posts poetry on status updates and “notes” and walls. But even these poets seek an audience – regardless of the quality of work, it’s still their work that they want others to see.
Phillip Larkin published several works of poetry, so that in itself seems a bit hypocritical to me. Now, maybe I’m taking this the wrong way. Maybe he just doesn’t want people tearing it apart, trying to bypass the authorial fallacy, and accusing the author of doing, thinking, feeling something he may have merely made up – after all, his poems are just for him, and no one else, right? If poets are , to quote Shelly, “the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” then how do they legislate without at least attempting some voice in what’s going on in the world?
It used to be that poets, along with philosophers, were banished, thought of as truth seekers, and no one wanted to hear their questions – or more that no one wanted to face the answers. Poets would speak, and wonder, and opine about current issues, and simply hope that someone would question along with them. While poets are no longer banished – in fact, the poetry movement seems to be riding a strong high at the moment – it seems that Larkin is saying that we should leave it alone.
Now, Larkin passed away in 1985, and didn’t have an opportunity to see where poetry was heading. The vision of performance poets, and slam poets, is an attempt to get the world to notice. To be acknowledged rather than unacknowledged. They want people to learn from their words, hear their words, and do something because of their words – even if it’s to simply have a conversation.