Welcome To Talking Verse

This blog is dedicated to discussion on poetry.

Poetry, on the European side of the Atlantic, has hardly progressed since the early 20th Century. Whilst in the USA poetry continues to evolve and present itself afresh.

Part of the reason for this is that the issue of poetry has been debated widely in the USA whereas in Britain, for example, you will be hard pressed to find anything that challenges the status quo of poetry.

There have been a few attempts: the Liverpool Beat poets made an short-lived impact during the early 1960s, but they could only offer a poor imitation of a style from the USA.

A handful of poets in the 20th century did make an impact. Basil Bunting and Tom Leonard shook up the established schools. But compared to the US the impact is small. Whilst other art forms have managed to progress over the years, poetry has stood still. Only the narrative has altered to keep abreast of the times.

Many people look to poetry to ‘tell’ them something; as if poetry were some form of journalism or propaganda. The laureateship of Carol Anne Duffy has only reinforced that view. But it is not simply a case of blaming the poets. Duffy is only responding to a demand that arises out of a society that pushes art for other ends, rather than simply art for the sake of it.

Today there is a wide awareness of poetry, the internet is weighted down with poetry sites that offer varying degrees of quality. Poetry is as valid as any other art form but only as long as it operates as an art form. Poets should not be seen as harbingers and the audience should look for meaning rather than rely on the poet or critic to provide answers.


This blog welcomes essays and book reviews about poetry. Please do not submit any poetry. If you wish to use a blog to submit poetry then I would recommend The Poets' Graves Workshop.

All submissions will be read and editing suggestions may be put to the author before being posted. Rejection by the author of any suggestion does not preclude it from being posted on the site.

Talking Verse follows no particular school of thought and has no other remit apart from the widest debate on matters of poetry.

Please submit here

Saturday, 12 May 2012

On Brownjohn Land.

A Fortnightly Review of
The Saner Places: Selected Poems
by Alan Brownjohn
£10.99 | Enitharmon Press | 60 pages

By Anthony Howell.

THE SEAL AROUND my freezer door has perished.  I ring Smeg, and learn that it is called a gasket, and will cost more than a new fridge to replace.  I feel that I am in Brownjohn Land.
With so much of his focus on the small vicissitudes of life rather than on its more grandiose themes, Alan Brownjohn might be the Giorgio Morandi of contemporary poetry.  I cannot help but associate Morandi, and his humble arrangements of boxes and jars, with the Italian novelist Italo Svevo.  Born some twenty-five years before Morandi, and a friend of James Joyce, Svevo was part of the modern initiative, yet wrote in a seemingly conservative narrative style.  His subjects, however, are notably devoid of heavy significance.  His Confessions of Zeno is written as the biography of a man who wishes to put things straight for his analyst, to whom he has gone in an attempt to give up smoking.  The style is decidedly anti-’Beethovenic’ – and the same could be said for much of the work of this very English poet.  Like Morandi in visual art, Brownjohn occupies an ambiguous position.  Is he an ironic modernist and a metaphysical force, or is he just a throw-back to Betjeman, as Morandi was a return to figuration?

Certainly he shares certain Slough-like aspects of the landscape with Betjeman.  Eight-a–side railway compartments with no corridor – such a gift to rapists!  And the  drab bombsites of the post-war years providing the footprint for supermarkets.  The poet teaches at prep-schools, or attends office parties where squeakers unroll, but very often there is a sense of the countryside out there in the dark, or in the background, a heritage under siege – grumpily expressed in ‘Farmer’s Point of View’.

I own certain acre-scraps of woodland, scattered
On undulating ground; enough to lie hidden in. So,
About three times a year, and usually August.
Pairs of people come to one or another patch. They stray
Around the edges first, plainly wanting some excuse
To go on in; then talking, as if not concerned,
And always of something else, not what they intend.
They find their way, by one or another approach,
To conducting sexual liaisons – on my land…

Friday, 20 January 2012

Carol Anne Duffy and the Poetic Equivalent of Ambulance Chasing


I hold my hands up and freely admit that I have never had much time for Carol Anne Duffy’s work. I feel that her position as poet laureate reflects a devotion to making poetry ‘relevant’, leading to a debasement of the art of poetry itself.

From the outset what marked Duffy’s laureateship was not a commitment to the art of poetry but a flouting of her own liberal views (particularly playing to the gallery of The Guardian readership). In her first ‘poem’ as poet laureate, Duffy tackled the scandal over British MPs expenses. The fact that this was done in a poetic form: that of a sonnet; does not detract from the question of whether it works as a poem or is just simply a piece of populist doggerel. Most of Duffy’s writing, as laureate, deals with issues such as environmentalism, AIDS, the war in Afghanistan and even, embarrassingly enough, David Beckham. At times it seemed that the role of laureate came to resemble a schoolchild’s attempts to please his/her English teacher: what could be termed ‘fridge magnet poetry’ if you like.