Poetry in motion

Over years and years poetry has been transformed from a very vibrant and central public role in British society to gimmicky antics.

The items about the Scottish Poetry Library, including Joyce Caplan’s letter (18 February), are sufficient to focus on this almost indiscernible but dramatic transformation.

In Scotland, as recently as after the Second World War, poetry had an impact politically and culturally. In particular, the works of Hugh MacDiarmid were in that meaningful theatre of the world where politics and national cultures mattered, as they have mostly always mattered.

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There might have been a time, mind you, when poetry mattered more than even they did.

Now, poetry is a sort of quirky out-of-venue music hall antic, a hippy-happening. It has to be half on the paper (or far less than this) and more so on a podium.

Doubtless there have been efforts over the years to disempower it like this. Perhaps it doesn’t matter (this, in itself, is a statement indicative of the new place inhabited by poetry).

At least Peter Wilson’s letter (17 February), however narrowly architectural the context, does touch on a more meaningful relationship when, for example, he comments: “At a time when Scotland’s identity is so much a subject of debate, it is imperative that, as a national cultural institution, the Scottish Poetry Library should make a responsible contribution – it is, after all, its raison d’être.” That is being at least conscious of this kind of thing.

Ian Johnstone

Forman Drive