How instant is this age we’re living in? A poet of my acquaintance, a pretty well-know poet actually, has just told me that his next collection, submitted to his not insignificant publishers in good time and in perfect form, has been accepted. They said it was a great book, he told me, something that would enhance his reputation. But it wouldn’t come out until autumn 2012. 2012! We could all be dead by then. The wave of tax-increases we face may well have induced mass Welsh suicide. The bomb might return and there’d be no
This is an instant world where it is expected that the email will elicit an immediate response and the text message be replied too almost as fast as it is sent. The whole population operates as if it were on caffeine overdrive. Only those who have phones “for emergencies” and never turn them on are excluded.
It once was that the advice to young poets was to write the stuff then leave it in a drawer for several months where, like cheese, it might mature. When you came back to it, a good distance now between you and the hot point of the work’s inspiration, you’d be able to tell if it actually worked. If you were onto something. Or was this, in reality, a piece of self-indulgence. Half the amateur poetry in the world actually is. No, that’s an exaggeration. It’s more like ninety percent.
What we seem to have lost in this rush of speed, scrabble for short, screen-readable sentences, and images which hit the spot as you read them is anything considered. Poetry works best when it opens slowly to reveal its wonders one by one. Not everything under the sun has to go bang. Too much of that and your ears will fail.
In the rush to contain costs many contemporary publishers have sacked their copy editors. No longer do we have someone on staff pointing out the difference between “principal” and “principle” or explaining when it’s right to say “most of her verse” rather than “the majority of her poetry”. With the aid of native wit and Microsoft the writer is expected to get it right first time. Many don’t. Take care who you copy. Just because it’s in print doesn’t make it right.
Which brings us back to the long wait until 2012. Why the log jam? All the publisher needs to do is add a cover and get the thing into the shops. And there may be the answer. How many of us actually buy? Clearly not enough.
An earlier version of this posting appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of Saturday 17th July, 2010. #156