Friday, December 16, 2011

The poetry wars

From the occasional newsletter from the Victoria University centre of the International Institute of Modern Letters

Everyone knows that poets make no money. But sometimes those who own their copyrights, often literary estates, do rather well.  The latest news of this sort to reach us arises out of the row between Helen Vendler and Rita Dove over the former’s review of Dove’s new anthology of American poetry. It would seem that The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry couldn’t afford to include poems by Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg – something that would presumably have troubled the poets themselves, were they alive.
We don’t know how permissions fees work out in New Zealand.  Sometimes there are none at all. We’ve heard it said that Denis Glover and Allen Curnow (or their publishers) used to work in tandem in terms of poetry anthologies, successfully negotiating fees way above what other poets could command – but of course sad mortality means we have no way of checking the accuracy of this.
Then there’s the thorny business of poetry and sponsorship and ethics. UK poet Alice Oswald has been in the news lately for withdrawing from the T. S. Eliot shortlist on the grounds that she disapproves of the award sponsor.  She has elaborated her thinking in a Guardian comment piece.
The Economist’s Prospero was quick to offer another view while the debate was made explicit in an exchange  between Geoff Dyer and William Skidelsky, the Observer's books editor. The latest voice in the discussion is that of poet Gillian Clarke, who is one of the Eliot judges. 
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