It's just not poughwyitreeeeeeee

White Egrets,
Derek Walcott (89pp, £12.99, Faber)

I was looking forward to the arrival of the T.S. Eliot prize winning book White Egrets by Derek Walcott; so much so that I had set aside a chocolate biscuit, a cup of coffee and half an hour to do the book justice. I had even cleaned my specs in anticipation. 'Let's see what wins this thing' I said to myself when I purchased Egrets online. Let's see what is accepted as the 'best' by our poetic lords and masters.

After scanning a few lines I became aware that there was a definite rhyme or some form of weird para-rhyme going on! I said surely not! - I'm imagining things! - But no the majority of the book is in rhyming form. After three pages and one bite of my biscuit I gave up.

Now there is some good poetry in here - perhaps some excellent poetry, but why oh why does Faber and Faber and our number one bard insist on 17th Century verse forms in the year 2011? Rhyme after rhyme locked in - it's like putting a gas turbine, fuel injected engine into the Marie Rose. At some point the new technology will come a cropper in the old oak body till eventually the voyage becomes something of a bumpy ride. I mean that kind of voyage needs a register that Mr Walcott's laid back style just doesn't fit. Tradition is one thing but at Faber and other 'mainstream' ventures, there seems to be some sort of poetic ideology that verges on a quasi creative depot imperialism. If it isn't easily digestible and in a recognisable form, then 'old chap' it isn't poughwyitreeeeeeee. That the general public and more importantly the Arts Council won't get it - or worse than that the prize givers won't like it.

Here we have the home of the great innovator T.S.Eliot, Faber and Faber - the man who etherized his patient on the table and made modern poetry, churning out what I can only see as cattle feed. And worse than that that the home of invention hasn't  published a single experimental line in five decades.

Painting has its abstracts, dance has it's innovation, sculpture has its abstracts, opera has it too, but poetry is stuck in the ruins of Tintern Abbey. Would you expect Paul Mc Cartney to use a lute instead of a guitar? Would Tracey Emin's unmade bed
be a Georgian four poster? Could Damien Hurst use a spray gun on the Sistine Chapel? As Margaret Thatcher said: 'only in Britain'. Aye, only in Britain and in British poetry do we do the done to death, same old, same old, lifeless inane clap trap. Only in Britain do we try to drive an art form forward with a structure that rotted and died beside the Lakes and Beneath the f... trees.

It's absurd that the poetry establishment: aka Faber, Carcanet, Bloodaxe etc insist on this total garbage that they insult the reading public with. Oh the old dears in the writers' groups and reading groups will love this stuff, because it keeps them in their comfort zone and reinforces childhood doggerel notions of what poetry should be. That our top poets are being literally forced by poetic imperialism and creative ignorance and arrogance to produce work that they don't really believe in or enjoy and this comes across on the page. That we have poetry with no soul or ambition to be progressive. That the imagination is a thing that must work in sentences and paragraphs and be forced to rhyme. It's like telling Picasso he can paint but only on china cups and with a single hair bush.

The judges of the T.S.Eliot prize said this work was technically flawless

You might set this criteria for gymnastics or for football, but to apply to poetry is to set art in a straightjacket and this criteria just is not relevant to the forces of the mind's eye or the imagination.


    © James McLaughlin 2011