Wednesday, 15 June 2011

And the Dead White Poets Came Down and Imbued Him with Their Glory

A few months back, Magma Poetry started an interesting debate about the word 'poet' and who the 'title' should be given to. The debate has just started up again, so I thought I'd share my thoughts. Further details are available here.

Some of the definitions of the word, given in the comments section, seem needlessly elitist and snobbish to me. But I think the problem is a semantic one. Magma used the word 'title', which suggests being a 'poet' is an honorific, perhaps only granted by the Queen and Parliament, rather like 'knight'.

But surely it's a job description as well? The original blog author, Rob Mackenzie, offers this interpretation, and as a working poet you'd think he might carry some authority on the matter. However, not all the blog readers agree, which seems an odd contrast to me.

Must a poet wait for the great Dead White Poets to descend and grant her a title? Must he wait for a conclave of Oxbridge professors to ratify him? Must they speak only in iambic pentameter and only write poetry all day, even while they starve?

'Poet' may, in various cultures and at various times, be a title. But I live in the 21st Century, and the dictionary says a poet is a person who writes poetry. That's good enough for me. Anything else is an argument about 'worthiness', which is something modern poetry has been trying to disentangle itself from for decades.

Let people call themselves what they like and enough of the prescriptivism already.

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