Bit quiet yesterday. I was trying to think up some cartoon ideas (came away with about five or six) plus there was a “major incident” in the town. A recycling depot caught fire and caused a blaze that people could see as far away as Manchester to the east and Formby on the coast to the West. I was distracted all day, popping my head out the window to watch the smoke plume, which resembled something from the Iraq War. Most interesting thing to happen around here in years.
Today, I’ll be drawing more, though my mind is already drifting. The Guardian had an interesting story of a man who wrote his wife a poem every day for 25 years. It caught my eye because I’d also noticed another story on there, a few days ago, when they were talking about what it was like writing a poem a day for 1000 days.
I suppose the repetitive nature of the task appeals to me. It’s a continuation of the habit I mentioned a few days ago with regards to learning anything new. “Just do it” is a powerful motivation.
However, poetry seems a little different. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what the guy did. It’s a touching tale. Yet in terms of the quality of the poetry, well… that’s another matter. There are certainly some rough patches, lines which have been awkwardly inverted to land on an easy rhyme –“Wretched sciatica my love is burdened by” – but what strikes me is how impossible it is to define good poetry.
Impossible? Well, perhaps not entirely but there are few areas of culture where so much relies on the eye of the beholder. That’s why I have no real interest in poetry since I finished my PhD. It’s galling to study it for so long and so deeply and then sit in a room with people judging poetry only to hear the levels of pseudoism go off the chart. I have almost no toleration for pseuds, which I put down to my working-class northern bluntness. Having an ear for poetry is rarer than I ever imagined and lots of appreciation isn’t about words but concepts. I also hate to say it: identity too. So much of our appreciation of poetry is wrapped up with identity politics; either explicitly or implicitly.
I think it was I.A. Richards, the critic who used to teach at Cambridge, who would give undergraduates work with the names of the author removed. He forced people to value the words rather than the famous name. It’s the same with the guy writing his poem a day. The value of the words is impossible to unwrap from the value of the biography, the high concept of the poem-a-day. More broadly, this is the problem we seem to have with our celebrity culture. Objectively speaking, Donald Trump has been a failure throughout his life. Yet he becomes president because celebrity infuses him with a value he doesn’t intrinsically possess.
It’s my old hobby horse so I won’t dwell on it much more. Somebody asked me the other day what I’m doing with The Snoot. I’m doing nothing anything with it. Agents didn’t want to see it. I didn’t try publishers because they won’t accept work that hasn’t got an agent attached. I jokingly suggested I should offer it a celebrity to put their name on the cover and let them take all the credit in exchange for a percentage of the profits. I was joking but this is closer to how modern publishing works. I suspect I’d be so much better off if I could accept work as a ghostwriter, except I’m stubbornly loyal to my own identity and relationship to my work.