Bad poetry in any language

18th February 2000 at 00:00
POETRY AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE. Edited by Martin Bates. White Adder Press (pound;9.99).

This is an unfocused book despite being aimed at teachers in the classroom, especially those engaged with English as a foreign language.

"A voyage of exploration ... between language learning and poetry; between the language of the textbook and the language of life" is how its editor, Martin Bates, describes it. He is the author of four collections and has been a secondary teacher in England, South America, Africa and Iran. One reserves judgment on his writing after the two pieces in the book's anthology section.

There is no reservation, however, in admitting that attempting to unravel the 14 sections of thematic entries and the three designated "areas" of "learning, language and socio-cultural settings" caused headaches. This wasquickly followed by critical dyspepsia on reading the "poems" from an "international" panel of contributors.

With notable exceptions - Edwin Morgan, Christine McNeill and John Liddy from Madrid - submissions are technically inept and emotionally arid.

Poetry is sensation articulated through emotional expression. Its musical quality differentiates it from prose in all languages. It is never foreign and should always be strange. When great, it is magic.

Linguistic boundaries may limit audiences to original speech rhythms but, as with music and dreams, true poetry is universal.

Editor Bates and his fellow compilers should look again carefully at this morass of egos. They need a set intent, a completed image, a focus on educating rather than dissembling if they are to survive this debacle.


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