Books: Stop all the clocks. It's the Sunday poetry slot

Next week we begin a new series demystifying modern poetry. Ruth Padel explains why busy professionals - and everyone else - should read it
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The Independent Culture
With the death of the poet Laureate, poetry itself is suddenly an issue. Do we need a Laureate? Do we need poetry at all? Isn't it a bit of anachronistic elitist baggage we can do without? Can't pop music do the business instead?

A year ago I wrote a piece in the Independent for National Poetry Day, saying the people who especially miss out on contemporary poetry now are the busy professionals. Politicians - like Mo Mowlam, who wants Paul McCartney for Poet Laureate - or lawyers or the media. Many novelists, publishers and journalists never read it. Like Bridget Jones, many of these people did English at college. They read Keats then, but wouldn't dream of picking up a book of poems by Carol Ann Duffy now. When they fall in love or someone dies, they turn for emotional support to poems they knew at school. They simply haven't time to find out which new poets can give them something profound and new; they see modern poetry as a closed shop with nothing to say to them.

A lot of readers wrote passionately back. Some were fans of "Poems on the Underground": some said Shakespeare was the only poet worth a row of beans. Many said: "We may miss out, but we're also dead busy. Poems in newspapers don't always repay the energy required to puzzle over them and some make us feel modern poets address each other rather than the public. So why bother? We haven't time to browse and can't trust media hype or cover-blurbs. How can we find what's worth reading?"

So to answer that, and give a taste of what good living poets do - something that is different from popsong, and gets its effect by words alone, but is not at all elitist - we thought we'd try reading a poem here each week. A "Sunday Poem" slot. It will give non-hype information about each poet: what they write about, where they are coming from. But its main purpose is to read the individual poem and examine how it works: why I, as another poet, think it is interesting and worth enjoying.

Poetry in English is lucky like no other poetry. The poets do many different things - they are social workers, jazz musicians, arts administrators, radio producers, hospital secretaries,teachers. But they also come from wildly different national and ethnic backgrounds. I told a Frenchwoman recently that "English" poetry includes work from Australia, the Caribbean, Canada, America, Pakistan, Ireland, Scotland, India, Jamaica, Africa and Wales. She staggered me by saying, "These people have eaten your language."

We think of it the other way round - that we have been undeservedly enriched. "English" poetry is nourished by the whole world; English-language readers are unique beneficiaries of that. Yes, there's more to read than if you were say, Norwegian. But there's also more variety of experiences, sensibility, voice, musicality and point of view.

This cultural diversity is reflected in subject-matter and angle. "English" poetry says no subject is intrinsically non-poetic: it is what you do with it that matters. The poems speak to perennial feelings, but start out from anything: supermarkets, driving tests, rock records; goalkeepers, hitch-hikers, script-writers; being adopted, the agony of being fat. As well as experiences both personal and universal; myths, dreams, mothers, sex, children, death, love, racism and politics.

Tell us how you react: if you want something different; if you agree or disagree. We will start with a series of six. If you like them we may do more. I will try to share what I see in the poem, straightforwardly and objectively, hoping you find something here for you. For you to, above all, enjoy.

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