THE TIME THAT SUNLIGHT TAKES TO REACH US
A debate on how we can write poetry in the 21st Century

THE TIME THAT SUNLIGHT TAKES TO REACH US
or HOW CAN WE WRITE POETRY IN THE 21st CENTURY?


On
January 1st, 2002, I sent the piece below  adapted from a correspondence at the end of last year – out via e-mail and snailmail, inviting responses before the end of the month.

I really do think that we can’t write the same things as people have before us, because the way we ‘see’ things, what we ‘feel’ about things, has changed. Just because something is ‘genuine’ or ‘real’ or even utterly heartfelt doesn’t mean it makes a good poem. That’s a beginner’s argument – and you know it! Poetry isn’t about biography or experience, it’s about language and – if you want – some notion of ‘truth’. But truth isn’t the same as experience or narrative, story or epiphany.

I’ve been reading post-Wittgenstein philosophy/theology this week [Richard Holloway & Don Cupitt] and they point out that we [humans] are always slow to change, we seem to be conservative by nature. We wanted the earth to stay at the centre of the universe, just as earlier we wanted the earth to be flat, and we’re the same with language and psychology/philosophy: we now know we don’t think in narrative and neat order, we now have ideas of rhizomes, fragments and cut-ups – chains of interlinked narratives – as a metaphor for the way we live. We know we invent the world through our language, that language doesn’t just equal an object, and that each of us is alone in our little created world. Previously photography and then film changed the arts, now science is having an effect.

So it’s very difficult to make sunlight or the blur of a bird’s wing a metaphor in today’s poetry [or many other images], because we now understand these ideas in different ways. We know about chaos theory, we know about fractals, light/heat, the ozone layer; the time that sunlight takes to reach us, and the red/blue shifts involved.

We can seek solace in old-fashioned and traditional ways of writing, but I don’t believe it can work anymore. We need complex, new ways of writing because we know this is a complex, changing world. We know, for instance, we are media led. We know that in
England we are prone to romanticising the countryside, desiring a picturesque landscape with cows and green fields. Life isn’t like that though, it’s about food chains, nature ‘red in tooth and claw’ and urban development; transience, change, secularisation…

I seriously think we may be at a point in time where some themes can’t be dealt with in poetry – or not in an obvious way. If the content/subject is what’s important then there are always clearer ways to get to more people than poetry.

          Rupert Loydell



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