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theleveller Poetry exposure versus Folksong (31) RE: Poetry exposure versus Folksong 04 Oct 14


Frankly, Betsy, I don't see how you can come to the conclusion that poetry is held in higher regard than folk music on the basis that it has one short programme a week on Radio 4 on a Sunday afternoon. Surely, this is simply a statement of your preference for folk music over poetry. Others would take the opposite view. Some will, of course, enjoy both in equal measure.

I'm not sure what you mean by 'traditional' poetry perhaps you could expand on that but what small amount of Early English poetry we have was probably designed to be recited in public (as, for instance, was Beowulf) and being from an oral tradition was not written down and is therefore lost. Poets like Basil Bunting insist that all poetry should be read out loud by the author in order to fully assess its impact, metre and meaning. To listen to Bunting reciting Brigg Flatts is, for me, an experience that makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck (which A E Housman in his essay, The Name and Nature of Poetry, insists is the test of true poetry) and I would far rather listen to that than, say, the raucous bawling of a group of shantymen. To say that recited poetry can never have the impact of a folksong is, to my mind, a statement drawn from pure ignorance as is your opinion (and that is all it is) that it is dreary, dull and pretentious. Listen, for example, to Dylan Thomas reading his poetry. Listen to sympathetic readings of John Clare's dialect poems. And talking of Housman, poems from A Shropshire Lad have been set to music with wonderful effect, especially by George Butterworth.

I write poetry and I also write songs and, whilst the disciplines are, in some ways, different, there is a broad overlap. I do, however, think that you probably need to overcome your prejudices and listen to some poets reciting their own work (not all do it well, but many can) and stop thinking of poetry as some sort of elitist, high-brow form. Of course, having done so, you may not think it's worth listening to. That's your prerogative, but don't insult poetry and poets simply because you cannot appreciate what they do.


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