Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Did world shift on its axis or is that just mice behind the wall?

Ipswich-based Radio Orwell DJ Harry Rowell interviewing poet Pam Ayres. Why is she so popular? Ver

Ipswich-based Radio Orwell DJ Harry Rowell interviewing poet Pam Ayres. Why is she so popular? Very simply: she rhymes, she scans, she is funny and she writes about commonplace situations. Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVE

There has apparently been a bit of a pillow fight in the poetry world. This news was brought to my attention by a reader of one of the more responsibly-sourced broadsheets.

Had I seen it? No. I didn’t get where I’m not today by paying close attention to what goes on in the poetry world. But I’ll make an exception in this case and relay my thoughts to you.

The poetry world has been “split”, claimed the article, because Rebecca Watts, a poet writing in PN Review (a serious-beard journal) has taken a group of the new female poets to task. Hollie McNish, Rupi Kaur and Kate Tempest, claimed Rebecca, were guilty of amateurism, ignorance and populism.

It’s worth noting this trio has notched up a good few thousand book sales, as well as gathering favourable media attention.

Such things are always viewed rather dimly up in the dreaming spires.

Rebecca (who grew up in the Sudbury area and went to Great Cornard Upper School) received predictably staunch support from the Tweedy Massive but the young literary boot-girls aren’t exactly short of a fanbase themselves.

Although the sound of clashing quills may cause gowns to be rent within the poetry world, so far as most of us straw-chewers are concerned, a spat between some mice in the wainscoting might have warranted more attention.

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I did plough through the tracts written by both sides in the contretemps.

I even skimmed over a few of the protagonists’ verses. Oh, please don’t thank me. I never mind taking the odd bullet for my readers.

With modern poetry, it’s probably best none of you try this stuff at home. Being the heavyweight intellectual that I am, however, I soon became distracted by an article in another publication about 1970s glam-rockers Mott the Hoople.

How lucky I am, I thought, not to be involved with the poetry world nowadays.

This is chiefly because I’ve concluded that many people can’t actually write poetry.

One exception to my sweeping, prejudicial and value judgment-laden statement is Pam Ayres.

Ms Ayres, a genuinely popular poet, really can write the stuff, and as a passing former bookseller informed me: “When I worked in Waterstone’s, Pam Ayres’ books used to fly off the shelves.”

Pam, a witty, self-educated 70-year-old with a gentle West Country accent, is arguably this country’s most popular living poet.

To the so-called poetry establishment she is an anathema. She came to fame in 1975 on Hughie Green’s Opportunity Knocks.

Unlike the almost-as-famous John Cooper Clarke, who asserts that her talent show win was an influence upon him, she does not even possess the counter-cultural cachêt which makes old rock gods queue up to be photographed with her. Nonetheless she effortlessly fills every theatre in which she appears and much of her work stands repeated reading.

Why is she so popular? Very simply: she rhymes, she scans, she is funny and she writes about commonplace situations.

The poetry playroom is a pretentious sort of place, every bit as star-chasing, insecure and self-celebrating as the TV industry. In fact, the modern poetry world could aptly be described as the Showbiz Wing of Academia, if you can imagine such a Frankensteinian concept.

It is replete with people and prizes of whom you have never heard. Many poets, as Julie Burchill once remarked, are “a fat pain”, and I should know. I am one.

When you meet the poetry elite it can be, to quote Cooper Clarke himself, like meeting the Welsh Mafia.“They made me an offer I couldn’t understand.”

As for me, I still make part of my living from the writing and (less often nowadays) performing of poetry. I lived almost entirely off poetry for at least a decade and met quite a few of its self-appointed guardians.

I used to say the English prefer their poets dead. Probably because they seem less embarrassing that way. There are certainly better routes to riches and immortality. No-one ever asked “Is that the poet’s Maserati parked outside Jane Fonda’s house again?”

Supposing you were a famous poet. If, a century later, anyone could quote even two lines of one of your works, and correctly attribute them to you, you’d be doing very well indeed. So never kid yourself that you’re “all that”. Because you won’t be.

The poetry world has been rocked again, has it? Sorry, I must have been distracted by the mice having a row in the wainscoting.

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