Letter: Poetic visions of the world
Saturday 23 September 1995
Sir: I was interested to read Lachlan MacKinnon's "Digging for Freedom" (Books, 16 September) but sorry to find that his enthusiasm for what he would like poetry and poets to be has misled him.
Essentially, his hypothesis is that there exists a vision of how the world should be and that it is the duty of the poet to provide poems that are "a vital factor" in moving humanity towards that goal. Having decided that this quasi-religious view of poetry is axiomatic, he then feels logically entitled to condemn those who "renege" on this "great work". Thus the rejection of Larkin, for merely telling the truth about life as it is for many people, is wholly justified.
Conversely, Seamus Heaney, as high priest of Poetical Correctness, who is able to articulate such wonderfully Marxist concepts as "writing is labour" full of "musical trueness", verges on greatness. This is not because he is a good poet but because he believes and espouses these "correct" views
At the heavy heart of this recurring debate is the perpetual subordination of poetry to the theories of those who write about it. Most good poets seek to represent truth in their poems.
This is not truth about the role of poetry, it is truth about life, from which real philosophy springs.
Larkin never believed in the "myth kitty" of traditional poets: he told the truth as he saw it, and told it in a simple and more accessible way than, perhaps, any other poet.
Mr MacKinnon is seduced by the idea that there is an ultimate truth, the nature of which he never seeks to establish: his theory and its conclusions are thus merely elaborations of this belief, self-proving and empty.
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