Wednesday, March 05, 2008
TS Eliot: On Influence & the Tyranny of Readers
In discussion with Roddy Lumsden after an ecopoetry debate last week, I put forward the hope that my new book of poetry represented a new direction for me. Roddy, with his usual cynicism, responded that poets often think their latest books represent new directions, when they rarely do.
Looking at my manuscript of Camper Van Blues again in the light of this conversation, I couldn't manage to divide my poetry from my personal desire to move on, and so was unable to reach a decision on the question.
Having to face the possibility that my wish to grow and develop as a poet, although powerful and sincerely felt in itself, might not be enough to make it actually happen, made me turn for comfort and guidance to that old stalwart in my life: literary criticism.
TS Eliot, writing on 'Ezra Pound: His Metric and Poetry', tells us:
"When a poet alters or develops, many of his admirers are sure to drop off. Any poet, if he is to survive as a writer beyond his twenty-fifth year, must alter; he must seek new literary influences; he will have different emotions to express. This is disconcerting to that public which likes a poet to spin his whole work out of the feelings of his youth; which likes to be able to open a new volume of his poems with the assurance that they will be able to approach it exactly as they approached the preceding."
So, if we accept Roddy Lumsden's comment at face value, and take it on board alongside TS Eliot's above, this suggests a certain poetic complicity at work.
If development has stalled at a particular point in a poet's career, has the poet failed to move on because of some inherent limitation, or are they afraid to move on stylistically in case their readers - editors being among the first and most influential of those - refuse to go with them?
The full text of TS Eliot's 'Ezra Pound: His Metric and Poetry' is available as a free e-book at Project Gutenberg.