O Carol Ann Duffy, O my purist heart!

Carol Ann Duffy’s comments on texting as poetry have returned scathing criticisms. The story is here: Carol Ann Duffy: \’Poems are a form of texting\’.

And one of the responses I like best is here at Textual Chemistry.

Yet I must confess I find some of the ridicule and censure Duffy is drawing excessive. There’s no quibbling that Duffy’s comment quite outraged my own purist heart. Her statement was unfortunate and should have been better thought out and better-phrased; she should have separated a certain technique of working with words and thought-spaces (compression, expression in short spaces and short times, pith and gist and urgency all packed into travelling texts and tweets) from the elusive ‘attainment’ that is poetry, which quality must be present in addition to craft. As they are separated in the write-up above from HT and as they will be separated in the opinions of many from literary backgrounds. More, she spoke for herself, not for her position as poet laureate or the folks who know poetry and its history, and will therefore be crucified for not fulfilling a role.

I cannot defend Duffy, but I do think we should remember to take a poet’s words with some metaphorical salt: Duffy’s statement is acceptable, but only at the furthest metaphorical reach. Besides, we writers should take the effect of social and technological changes on art forms (both high and pop) seriously. I mean technologies as tiny connectors/enablers of social change, and the presence of a vast number of youth who do not (like to) think like us. If Duffy’s aim is to turn mass activity into some effort at thought-full activity (we can’t take away the technology, so we must make the best of it), surely that intention could be accepted, even if it was ill-couched.

Of course we won’t have poetry like the poetry of the past any more, maybe not even poetry as we know it in the future. If it comes, poetry will come out of the marrow of these new times, and it will be up to us to recognise it for what it is. Now let’s hope Duffy herself amends her original hyperbolic statement, perhaps even her agenda, for most won’t sieve her words for good intentions or read them metaphorically.


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