Poetry, as Lewis Carroll might have said, is a curious thing.
It is written by few, published by ever fewer, and read by precious few.
Yet, when a leader needs to make an important speech, on some occasion of great civic importance, they will invariably reach for quotes from poems. Or their speechwriters will.
Poetry has its abiding power, even in an age when almost no-one reads it.
Why? We don’t know. The reason is partly because we don’t know what poetry is. It defies definition, science. It has even survived centuries of academic inquiry, almost intact.
The poet Robert Graves gave us some insight, by stating that “poetry is inspiration, tempered by common sense”.
He also touched upon the advice that parents invariably give would-be poet children, that they should get into real estate instead, by remarking: “It’s true that there’s no money in poetry. But then, there’s no poetry in money.”
Despite the fact that poetry has become definitively what marketeers call “niche”, it refuses to die out. It has flourishes – new readings spring up, there are slams and festivals… and the literary page of the paper might fasten onto it with an occasional “poetry revival” yarn, but in the end we all know the truth: Poetry is for devotees, dilettantes, and nuts.
As the late Carol Novack put it: “No-one cares about poets, except other poets, and their mothers god bless them.”
All of which makes the arrival of any new collection of poetry something to celebrate. It’s like the arrival of a bonnie baby in a retirement village.
The writing, the editing, the publishing of poetry, are all profound acts of faith in a world of cynicism, of anomie, of blah, of meh.
That those acts take place on a regular basis, and new poetry books do appear, is nothing short of curious - and indeed, miraculous.
Remarks made launching Glass Bicycles, poems by Brendan Doyle,
Carrington Hotel Katoomba, 6 October 2012.