April 08, 2007

Plymouth and the Trojan Frog

Tony Lopez is to be congratulated on a very successful (if over-academic) conference at Plymouth University – “Poetry & Public Language”. One of the high points for me was Will Rowe’s opening paper - which I am pleased to say he has said I can reproduce here soon. Other highlights for me where the papers presented by Piers Hugill and Allen Fisher. As with all this sort of event some of the most interesting dialogue takes place in the coffee breaks and over dinner.


Oddly though, the paper that most fired me to response was the worst. Richard Kerridge’s preamble to it can be read on Carrie Etter’s blog at
http://carrieetter.blogspot.com/2007/04/underlying-propositions.html. She raves about it but maybe that is because she works with him. Anyway, the most damnable phrase of the paper comes at the end: “poetry could not have any subject matter more important than this [climate change]”. I don’t think I have actually come across this thing called ecocriticism – though maybe I have since nowadays sticking ‘eco’ on the front of anything makes it the thing of the moment. The paper was illustrated with a poem by Kathleen Jamie (Frogs), a range of excerpts form J R Prynne and from a forthcoming work by Tony Lopez. It is instructive that the only ‘transparent’, mainstream poem mentioned in the whole conference came here. It was flagged up as an early Green poem. Prynne was analysed primarily as an ‘eco-difficulty – “insistently rejecting apocalyptic discourses” and I couldn’t tell how the Lopez fit into the original thesis. I have had a number of conversations in the past about how the mainstream conservativism of British poetry renews itself – since the 1970’s it has been through the appropriation of dialects and regionalism and communities of identity (Black poetry, Gay & Lesbian poetry, etc), and here we have its next potentiality: environmental poetry. If they aren't doing it already, I expect eco-poems from Armitage, Duffy and Motion are coming to Waterstone's soon. Subject matter – the very idea is fundamental to pre-modernism – which no-one can disagree with, a poetry fit for the curriculum, a poetry a government department could probably even draft access performance targets for. At one point, Kerridge declared that all the natural sanctuaries have been violated. Though this is one of those apocalyptic declarations that are supposed to sadden us and rally us to save the planet (without any ideology that could actually achieve change): I find sanctuary in the City so the notion that natural ‘sanctuary’ has been violated, its viscous threat punctured, is a source of some relief.

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Richard Kerridge said...
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