Monday 20 November 2017

Mad dog poetry and Michael D

I see that the poetry establishment has predictably leapt to the defence of President Higgins by debunking the critic who dared to decry his verse -- Paul Durcan, insisting that Kevin Kiely had "no competence" to talk or write about poetry and Theo Dorgan going so far as to "fear for his health".

Perhaps Kevin Kiely went a bit far in his Books Ireland piece by deeming Michael D's verse a "crime against literature", but he offered a spirited and, I thought, persuasive justification when interviewed on radio by Pat Kenny, and anyway he was only echoing poet Carol Rumens.

Rumens recently trounced one of Michael D's poems When Will My Time Come as "cushioned in platitudes." Indeed, she recalled Northern Irish poets of her acquaintance describing rubbish poetry as "mad dog shite" -- a category, she argued, into which the poem in question "effortlessly slips".

Durcan and Co are reacting as if robust criticism of Michael D's literary endeavours is somehow a dreadful slur on a sainted figure.

The less partisan may feel that both Rumens and Kiely are merely saying that self-expression is not the same thing as art and that dressing up aspirational thoughts and feelings in heightened language is probably best kept to one's private journals or a small circle of friends.

Michael D has many admirable qualities and it was for these rather than his verse that we made him our President. So why the outrage at criticism of the verse?


Perhaps Kevin Kiely should have entered his piece for the inaugural Hatchet Job of the Year award, which has been won by Adam Mars-Jones for his withering Observer review of Michael Cunningham's novel, By Nightfall -- beating such other shortlisted contenders as Geoff Dyer's putdown of Julian Barnes's latest novel and Mary Beard's demolition job on Robert Hughes's Rome.

Launched by the Omnivore website, the prize was conceived "not to punish bad writing but to reward good and brave and funny and learned reviewing". I'm all for that.

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