Marketing poetry?

by Simon Collings

‘Wash away the January blues…’ the email said. What could this be: a special offer from Majestic Wines? A winter-break in Cabo Verde? A free day-pass for the local spa? It was none of these, but a mailing about events organised by the Poetry Society. Last year, this same organisation invited its members to hear ‘searing new works’ at the South Bank in a commemoration of the First World War.

The Poetry School employs the same corny puns in selling its courses and events. This month it mentions downloadable courses to help get your poetry ‘blooming.’ At times the hyperbole becomes farcical. This puff for Helen Mort’s current Poetry School course for example:

What’s on your mind? Or rather, what’s in it? Neuroscience is now so popular that some scientists say ‘you are your brain’. … This course will look at how poetry often tackles the same fundamental questions as neuroscience about what it means to be human. You will …look at poems that challenge the idea that the brain is confined to the body… no scientific knowledge is necessary.

Shouldn’t we be disturbed by such inanities?

In a 2005 interview the American poet Rae Armantrout said: ‘There are times when, as a poet, I feel like an exasperated technician of language. The language has been variously blunted and distorted by advertising and media in general. I have to (we have to) monitor this, keep up with it in order to make the distortions audible.’

Surely poetry organisations should be defending the richness and expressiveness of language, using it with imagination, not debasing it with cliché.