Saturday, November 04, 2006

You Know You Should Like Them, But...

In David Lodge's "Changing Places" a parlour game between Eng. Lit. lecturers is about books you should have read but haven't. Poet Steven Waling has come up with a new variation on this, on "not liking Auden." "Admitting you don't like someone that everyone else thinks is great feels like letting out a great secret" he says, and its pleasing to have some a poet openly admitting to defeat when it comes to other poets. As it happens, I do like Auden, but kind of agree that its hard to read him. I think its partly because there's not really a good anthology. The little Faber books that introduced by to Pound and others, selected by another poet, falls flat in the case of Auden where a poem is chosen from every year. It's almost as if John Fuller was throwing up his hands and saying "There's so much of this stuff how am I ever going to choose?" and the classic "Selected" is a hard read. My favourite Auden collection is the lightest, "As I walked out one evening" - ballads, songs, lullabies and limericks - and at least it includes "Night Mail" which neither the Selected or John Fuller's collection does. I'm always amazed, reading Auden, he can seemingly do ANYTHING, but that almighty talent is a bit overwhelming. Every time I think about buying the "the collected longer poems" or "the English Auden" I groan a little and go back - perhaps like Waling - to my favourite Macneice poems. I can't say I've been shy about the two poets that I don't like that everyone else seems to, but they tower so much over the last three decades of English poetry that rejected them, also means rejecting much that follows. Like Waling with Auden, I kind of know that I should find more of value in Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney, but they've just never done it for me. I'm not sure if it was a bad experience as an undergraduate being forcefed "Digging" and "View of a Pig" or is something more profound. But I liked "Birthday Letters" and you can't not like "Beowulf" so perhaps its something I'll get over? But I think Waling has hit on something, the poets that you don't like being perhaps more illuminating than the ones you do. I know that in both Hughes and Heaney I don't find the emotional response that I get in the poets I like; why is that? Be interesting what other pet hates people have. I guess since poetry lovers are so passionate about their likes, its more meaningful than disliking prose writers. Sure, I don't dig Rushdie or Carole Shields, but there's plenty more literary fish in the sea - poets, for good or for bad - do bestride their art; and sometimes the literature of the age. Without Hughes and Heaney in my pantheon, there's clearly a couple of missing "giants".

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