Sunday, 30 January 2011
A Smattering of Mattering. Darwish and Ayyappan.
There have been awards doing the rounds, Costa to Jo Shapcott, Eliot to Walcott, Picador to Richard Meier. All very worthy winners and everyone on the short and long list are worthy of some recognition from, not just other poets, but other people ( I sometimes wonder whether other poets and other people inhabit the same universe). If you want the low down from someone who was at the Eliot reading you should go and have a read of Baroque in Hackney’s blog
I live in the sticks and don’t get up to London a great deal so I regard myself as an outsider and observer of such things. You read about them and you may have a little bet with yourself about possible winners or hope certain collections do well because you enjoyed the poems or were moved by them but even as a published poet I don’t feel that involved with the world of the big prizes and media attention.
Now I may be saying that because I have no hope of achieving any or I might be saying it because it is true and of course both may be true at the same time. I will not go into any navel gazing about this only to say that I might be more involved if the prize business helped poetry matter more to people in general. I sometimes wonder if ‘mattering’ matters at all. Something really matters if its absence threatens your physical survival; food, water, warmth, shelter being the basics. Things really matter if they threaten you emotional well being; nurturing, love, a sense of worth to validate your existence. Poetry and literature in general may inhabit the grey areas that filter into and help establish not just an individual’s sense of worth but a society’s.
In some of the poorer countries in the world, poets are revered, they are part of the fundamental fabric of society, poetry does matter to many people other than a select few. Ok here a few poets get media coverage but somehow it always seems very polite, a tad nice and respectful, even a tad quirky as if writing about a poet is being slightly eccentric. Where is the fervour that poets in some parts of the world can generate? Take the death of the poet A. Ayyappan in Kerala. He virtually lived on the streets, always a bit disheveled, drunk on occasions but he had twenty collections of poems to his credit and thousands came to pay their respects when he died three months ago. Likewise when Mahmud Darwish, the Palestinian poet died, thousands came to his state funeral. Their work mattered to people and continues to matter, and perhaps poetry matters the most when you have less to loose and so much more to gain than a prize.