Thursday 26 April 2018

Why do poets think they lack the write stuff?

John Boland

Miserabilist Mancunian pop star Morrissey, the idol of earnest male students in gloomy bedsits, was born Steven Patrick Morrissey to Irish parents but only ever wanted to be known by his surname – on the grounds that such great composers as Mozart, Mendelssohn, Mahler and Mussorgsky were also known simply by their surnames.

Such effrontery also led him to instruct the people at Penguin books that his turgid autobiography was to be published under the Penguin Classics imprint, where he joins such other illustrious one-namers as Aristotle, Plato, Virgil and Catullus. You couldn't make it up.

Nor could you overestimate the literary ambitions of the late Lou Reed, who thought himself as much more than the purveyor of vaguely avant garde rock songs – indeed, telling journalist Paul Morley that he wanted to be the greatest writer who ever lived, as Morley informed readers of the Financial Times a few days after Reed's demise.

Meanwhile, real writers tend to be doubters who worry that their work isn't up to scratch – Philip Larkin, for instance, confiding in letters to friends that Sad Steps was "pretty unoriginal, just another moon poem", that Cut Grass was "no good, of course" and that his late masterpiece, Aubade, marked "the death-throes of a talent".

Then there's William Trevor, who told the Paris Review he wrote "in a fragile, edgy, doubtful sort of way, trying things out all the time, never confident that I've got something right".

And John Keats, for his part, was of the doleful opinion that: "If I should die, I have left no immortal work behind me, nothing to make my friends proud of my memory."

Well, he never wrote 'This Charming Man' or 'Walk on the Wild Side', but some of us quite like those odes to nightingales and Grecian urns. And Trevor's short stories aren't bad, either.

Irish Independent

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