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Goethe was a professor-administrator, Villon a pick-pocket, Whitman a loafer, Chaucer a civil servant, T.S. Eliot a banker and company director. Kipling spent his first seven working years as a reporter on a small Indian newspaper (where the type-setter praised his poems as “very good, Sahib,” when they neatly filled a blank space at the bottom of a column). There is life for poets beyond a college campus. One of Australia’s major lyric poets, John Shaw Nielson, was a farm-laborer and road-mender, and half-blind to boot, while the bush balladist Banjo Paterson, author of “The Man from Snowy River,” was a Sydney lawyer.
Today the “basics of food, shelter and water” are not hard for a person with brains to find, and a good poet has to have brains anyway. On the other hand, I know of very few if any major poets who emerged from, or even survive immersion in, the easy, cosseted life of university creative writing schools and departments. Poets, like other creative artists, should not expect the way will be easy. J. K. Rowling, not exactly a poet, but a considerable creative artist, wrote the first Harry Potter stories in cheap Edinburgh cafes, existing on a supporting parent’s pension and trying to keep out of the cold. Eric Hoffer, a considerable American philosopher and intellectual in the better sense, worked as a longshoreman, and there are many other examples. Conservatives, of all people, should not be ashamed of getting jobs in the real world. Yes, they would often be abused, conspired against and/or ignored by the left cultural establishment, but genuine quality has a way of very often coming out despite this.
I do agree that some moral, emotional and other support for poets is necessary if they are to succeed, as are publishing opportunities and mechanisms (which self-publishing on the Internet etc. lacks) for quality-control. I appreciate the poems which some readers have sent in, but it cannot be said that they are widely known — which illustrates another aspect of the problem. (Well, I guess they are a bit better known now!)
What we are looking at, perhaps, is a whole systemic failure of cultural conservatism, and in other arts as well as poetry. This is much worse, I think, in countries like Britain and Canada than in the U.S., but is a problem everywhere. There is no reason conservatives should not be artists in the widest sense. Obviously the government/university has supplanted the private patron. The poet of the past who wrote to please a private patron had to at least please someone. The poet who writes to gain a government grant or “creative writing” chair now only has to have the favor of his or her own cronies (or “peer group”) sitting on some committee (and those on both sides of the table know their positions could be reversed next time round). Remedying this is not simple, but one thing needed is private patrons of intelligence, taste and discrimination. Who knows what might happen if some conservative philanthropist or culture-warrior with good literary taste, imagination, intelligence and adequate capital, set up a good-quality conservative poetry magazine?
Another problem I have identified from the Internet is that poetry is being taught very badly at schools.p>Thomas E. Stuart’s letter is certainly eloquent, and echoes thoughts I and certainly many others have had from time to time. Yet I think it is really overly pessimistic. Look at the huge successes of The Lord of The Rings , the Narnia stories, even Star Wars and Harry Potter, as well as countless other works (including, as another correspondent pointed out, a lot of country music). It is still stories of patriotism, heroism and the celebration of traditional values that are the most successful, and for which there is a huge appetite. I guess that is another way of saying that our societies are still full of decent people. But is some ways they lack a voice and an inspiration. br> — Hal G. P. Colebatch br> Nedlands, Western Australia