Byline: Zulfikar Ghose

Much of today's English-language poetry seems to be written by people who believe themselves to be poets, but have little knowledge of poetry. They remind me of a student I had some years ago, who drove around in a car with 'POET' as the license plate. Supposedly, to see 'POET' marking the car behind one on the highway was like seeing 'POLICE' or 'AMBULANCE'; one's immediate reaction was to pull aside and let him advance. His car's nose always in front of him, he was ahead of his time, and his followers, all proclaiming, 'I am a poet, therefore whatever I produce is poetry', which nowadays seems to be the conviction of many a compiler of broken lines, are causing quite a traffic-jam.

No doubt there could be a new, exceptional genius whose work has not yet come to light, but most current poems, even by poets enjoying a prominent reputation, seem to be the work of people eager to be seen as poets without giving evidence that they have absorbed the important developments in American and European versification. It's akin to lifelong vegetarians writing recipes for beef.

These thoughts came to me when I opened Octavio Paz's Alternating Current to check a quotation and found myself re-reading his book. Any poet writing today is fortunate to have among his or her predecessors of the last hundred years some very great poets who also wrote some of the finest literary criticism, and for the new poets to remain ignorant of their ideas is like a botanist describing lush jungle fauna and flora while living in the desert. Let me rehearse some of the key ideas of the principal predecessors whom I've no doubt repeatedly quoted before.

Paz says, on the first page of Alternating Current, 'The object of poetic activity is essentially language: whatever his beliefs and convictions, the poet is more concerned with words than with what these words designate.' This is a radical and, for most people April 28, 2019 Facebook Count

if they comprehend it at all an unpalatable idea, for all humans are cocooned in a nest where each twig is a carefully selected prejudice. We're so centred on ourselves that we attach a religious truth to our beliefs when any objective perception will show that all ideas are a speculative rearrangement of words to arrive at a plausible confirmation of reality, a passing conviction that a poet's language transmits singularly in a moment's illusionary vision. This is why we value originality, for, as Paz states, 'the...

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