Friday, 1 May 2009

'Limits', you say?

Apparently, Carol Ann Duffy's poetry 'consistently pushes the limits of form and language'.

I'm not bothered about who becomes the laureate: it's a crap job for crap poets to write crap poems to crap spec. If Duffy wants the job, I'm pleased for her, and it seems some mark of progress that a writer whose sexuality 'would not play well with Middle England' a decade ago is not thought of in the same terms now (this is not to say that we don't have a long way to go.) Beyond identity politics, though, the likely appointment is reflective not only of Establishment (whatever that means) tastes, but - as the mood of vindication in the broadsheets suggests - those of people often entrusted with providing the nation with a cultural mirror.

Duffy's visual equivalent would be someone like Beryl Cook - cheeky, even scathing, but not the kind of artist who could be honestly said to be even glimpsing the limits, let alone 'pushing' them. And yet when you dare to point this kind of thing out to people, you're all too often met with a vague and yet pissed-off charge of 'elitism': you're a 'critic' who wants to spoil the 'fun' for everybody else. The consensus seems to be that British people should not be allowed to admire artwork more complex than L.S. Lowry; the argument which points out that the potential enjoyment of modernist and abstract art, poetics, and music by the general population is hampered by a covert (and not so covert) ideology of say-what-you-see realism which is instrumental to Britain's real elitism is generally given short shrift.

So it's not the appointment of Duffy that is the problem here: it's the media's celebration of her simultaneous 'difficulty' and 'accessibility'. The former is a fantasy, and one which is applied to far too much British poetry which has not earned the tag. The latter is still more problematic: 'accessibility' seems to be one of those business-speak buzzwords, implying that most people are too stupid to make their own decisions about everything else out there.

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