Here's another response from Peter Knaggs, in three parts, to Martin Hayes's recent poetry book, The Things Our Hands Once Stood For.
Don’t believe a single word your English lecturer tells you about poetry (i)
by Peter Knaggs
They will tell you about Spencer and Chaucer
and the renaissance
and the romantics, Keats, Shelley,
Tennyson and Byron
and they will tell you about Auden and Pound
and they will tell you how Larkin wrote an essay
about TS Eliot
and that he defended Andrew Marvell and the metaphysical poets
and they will presume
the whole lecture theatre knows about
but why would they? They are students
of English, students of poetry
and it seems a betrayal to me
to have all these lecturers
peddling at the taxpayers cost, all this poetry written
by white aristocratic males.
Ask him or her; professor, please...
Where is the poetry by the black women?
Where is the poetry by the working class people
who of course had ink
and quills and articulacy? Or is it something of
our view you cannot tolerate, the whiff of our sweat?
And so the presiding ideology of times past
kept these voices silent;
these people invisible.
So now the academics carry on
keeping the radicals, the blacks, the punks,
the white working class invisible.
Don’t believe a single word your English lecturer tells you about poetry (ii)
until you have read a book they have written
and this book,
should you find it verbose, erudite, complex
intellectual and referential to history or Greek myth,
a coded piece of text
that maybe goes over your head or sends you to the library
for Bullfinch’s Mythology, which they shorten
to Bullfinch’s as if everyone reads it every day,
or maybe, maybe, maybe, trust your instinct here,
it is boring as shit, this lecturers’ poetry,
dull as dishwater.
No. Don’t believe a single word your English lecturer
tells you about poetry,
these people who have never been in a bookies
or a pawn shop or a taken a payday loan
who know everything about cutlery
and how to use it
but sweet FA
about how to use a pen for anything
apart from marking.
Don’t believe a single word your English lecturer tells you about poetry (iii)
In the celebrated grounds
of our universities, where we would hope
curiosity would be encouraged
there are questions we might ask of our English professors.
When younger were they entitled to free school dinners?
Have they ever shoplifted
a tin of beans for their supper?
Have they worn down their last pair of shoes,
till the sole and upper flap
like Goofy’s trap?
Have they TWOCed?
have they ever had to sign on for benefits, really had to?
Have they ever had a social worker?
And of course they will laugh, charmed
at your inquisitiveness and tell you how hard they worked
to get where they are
and I’m sure they believe that they have,
but if they have never done any of these things mentioned,
never lived one single day in their precious lives one inch
from the abyss, never been anywhere near the edge
they will never be able to call themselves a poet.