Modern poetry, Kosovo and others

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The Independent Online

If modern poets wrote better, people would read them

If modern poets wrote better, people would read them

Sir: Your article on the initiative of the Arts Council and Poetry Book Society (13 March) to encourage more people to read poetry by "living" poets, sadly assumes the way to do so is by compiling lists and encouraging bookshop promotions. All very amiable, but when the quality is still lacking the poetry-loving public will instead revert to the dead. The only consistent way to get people to read modern poetry is to get poets to write better poetry.

Modern poets seem primarily obsessed with using too intellectually ornate language (presumably to impress their academic scholars) which goes straight over the heads of the book buying public and alienates the majority of their potential audience. The public need something that they can relate to. There is nothing "new" on offer that captures the imagination, nothing to encourage, to inspire nor indeed (writing as an amateur poet myself) for us to aspire to. Andrew Motion's efforts to bring poetry to the fore deserve high praise, particularly given the material he has to work with. But the danger is that the public, will pick up a book by a modern poet deemed to be "good" only because it is better than the rest on offer, and will not look twice the next time a genuinely "good" poet is recommended to them.

I have no desire to appear too scathing and must qualify (or perhaps disqualify) what I have said by being honest and admitting that I have not read a great deal of modern poetry - but only because what I have read has discouraged me from reading any more. So, for me, and I'm sure for a lot of other people too, it's back to the trusty poets of old.

Croxley Green, Hertfordshire

Kosovo is no model for peace-keeping

Sir: To claim, as your leading article of 19 March does, that the Kosovo UN mission is a model of peace-keeping and nation-building is to ignore the fact that more than 1,200 persons have died in the past four years while more than 1,000 have been abducted and that very few of 200,000 Serbs (two thirds of the pre-war population) who left in 1999 have returned to the province.

In addition to that, during the UN administration, Kosovo has grown in importance as a trans-shipment point for Asian heroin on the way to Europe, to the point that international agencies now claim that 40 per cent of the heroin sold to Europe and North America comes from that province. It is not a secret that the Albanian separatist movement is largely financed through drug-trafficking.

Finally, to say that 17,000 international troops are there to protect the ethnic Albanians (about 2 million of them) from depredations by Serbia (currently without any police or military presence in the province) and the Kosovo Serbs (currently fewer than 200,000) is to misunderstand the purpose of the UN mission.

Emmanuel College, Cambridge

Sir: Blaming the events in Kosovo on "ancient hatreds" shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation.

The violence in Kosovo is the result of the enormous frustration of all Kosovar people about UNMIK's inability to solve the country's political and economic problems turning into anger. When I was working in Kosovo recently as a political development consultant it was clear that the residual goodwill for the international community left over from 1999 was being eroded fast by the growing perception among the people that the UN was a block on the aspirations to independence shared by over 90 per cent of the population.

The inability of the UN to deal with Kosovo's economic crisis, problems with electricity supply and seeming unwillingness to hand power over to local politicians only exacerbated the problem, as did the nervousness caused by the election of a nationalist government in Serbia.

It would be a tragedy if the international community used the current situation as an excuse to continue to fudge the province's political future, as a long-term political solution can only be built on the certainty that Kosovan independence will provide.

The Campaign Company
Croydon, Surrey

Lapper sculpture  

Sir: Disability Arts in London (DAIL) magazine welcomes the choice of the sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant by Mark Quinn for exhibition on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square.

The choice of Quinn's statue has been criticised on the grounds that the work is all message but not art. It is clear that much of this criticism is caused by discomfort with the subject matter. Disabled bodies are only accepted when attached to a "worthy message".
Alison Lapper Pregnant is one of the few examples in the public domain of disability portrayed in an assertive and uncompromising composition and does much to counteract the usual depiction of disabled people as victims.

A large body of work by disabled artists exists but prejudice continues to ensure that it remains unseen. Ironically, in an interview with DAIL in 2002, Lapper expressed her frustration at having herself conceived the idea of creating a marble sculpture of her body but, unlike Quinn, she was not taken seriously and could not afford to execute the work.

Disability Arts in London Magazine
London NW1

Shameful defeatism  

Sir: Shame on Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and his talk of the "inevitability" of a terrorist attack (report, 17 March). He may know something we do not of course, but even so, the public expression of such abject defeatism is a failure of both nerve and duty.

The presumption that the cause of the terrorists may not be disputed and that death and defeat await our best endeavours (echoing the poet Thomas Gray) denies the people hope, and without hope we surely cannot live. We need be neither fantasists nor dreamers to hope, and it is his job to discover the grounds of hope for us, not the reverse.

We shall of course be vigilant and shall take whatever precautions lie in out power. Meanwhile his job remains to best their worst and at the same time, in his wisdom, discover the means of reconciliation upon which a final peace must depend.

Dartington, Devon

Sir: Dr James A Crupi's interpretation of the Spanish election result as bringing into question Spanish "courage" and "resolve" is simplistic, arrogant, and insulting (Letters, 16 March). Two million Spaniards took to the streets of central Madrid in defiance of the terrorists, who a day earlier, in central Madrid, had massacred 200 of their number. This was a moving spectacle which showed both the courage and resilience of the Spanish people under the cloud of mass murder.

The terrorist attack did alter the Spanish election, but not in the way being suggested by Dr Crupi and other commentators. The bombs in Madrid violently resurfaced a mass polarity of opinion between the government and (according to polls) 90 per cent of the electorate who emphatically opposed the war in Iraq.

This was not a damaging day for democracy; it exemplified all that is good in democracy. The Spanish government had been acting against the interests and wishes of the Spanish people and had been duplicitous in the process. This was revealed to the Spanish and they voted Aznar out. Had they blindly supported their leader in the face of terrorism, and unquestionably followed his policies under the guise of patriotism, then this would also have been an election result influenced by terrorism.

Newcastle Upon Tyne

Sir: Howard Jacobson argues that too many people are engaged in a misplaced attempt to "empathise" with those who participate in terrorism (17 March). To me, he is making the incorrect (if all too common) assumption that to seek to understand something is to automatically condone it. Based on a profound respect for the sacredness of life, I believe that all killing is wrong.

I also believe that individuals are responsible for their own actions. However, to be able to actually do something about violence, it is imperative that we understand what causes people to commit violence. All human beings are capable of killing or sending others to kill; to treat those who do so as being simply "beyond the pale" is an indulgence that does not solve anything.

If we can discern the root causes of violence and address those causes, we stand a chance of making the world a safer place. This is not blaming the victim, as Mr Jacobson suggests, but rather a pragmatic effort to prevent the suffering of further victims.


Village under threat

Sir: John Prescott might, if he acted quickly enough, be able to save Gittisham village ("Millionaire evicts tenants to put Devon village on market", 19 March), if he amended the Town and Country Planning Act so that use otherwise than as the principal residence of the owner constituted a material change of use.

The need in such cases to obtain planning permission would give local authorities the opportunity to exert some control over rural depopulation against the influx of second-homers. It would also take a substantial amount of steam out of the property price spiral by slowing down the buy-to-let sector. The only downside for the Government is that Gordon Brown might not be pleased that the rate of increase in the inheritance tax take would also be lessened.

Ashford, Middlesex

Xenophobic origins

Sir: It is an undeniable fact that many of us are wary of strangers. Deplorably, this sometimes leads to direct hostility to outsiders, and the most easily identified "outsiders" are immigrants, particularly those of a different colour to the indigenous people. That an anthropological study claims to have identified the source of this is interesting but you assume in your leading article of 18 March that this information will be used to justify xenophobia.

On the contrary it is useful in combating xenophobia as it helps us to understand its primitive origins and to rationalise the feelings away. To deplore the search for knowledge, as you do, in case some people might misuse the answers, is akin to the churches resisting the writings of Darwin, which are also sometimes used as a justification of racism.

Cranleigh, Surrey

Road etiquette

Sir: Where we live here in rural north Cornwall, almost all B roads and lanes are very narrow, so narrow, in fact, that when confronted with a car, or tractor coming in the opposite direction, local folk pull into the side at a suitable spot to let the other vehicle pass.

This courtesy is invariably acknowledged by the other driver with a thank-you wave or, in the dark, a flash of one's headlights. Oddly, visitors to this area, quite possibly even those from the nicer, more salubrious boroughs of London, are unaware of this rather quaint local custom and, almost without exception, take our courtesy for granted, speeding on past us as though their lives depended upon getting somewhere else very fast.

Indeed the grander and more expensive the car is, the less likely one's courtesy is to be acknowledged. Could it be that north Cornish local folk are simply better-mannered and less arrogant than the visitors from up-country. Surely not?

St Breward, Cornwall

Holmes' helpers  

Sir: Sherlock Holmes' "network of boys" in John Walsh's comparison of Oscar Wilde and Conan Doyle (Review, 18 March) was called the Baker Street Irregulars, not the Bow Street Runners (a real police force). They were rewarded for taking part in healthy outdoor activities such as helping to catch criminals.

Bromley, Kent

There is more  

Sir: Robert Fisk's article on Spanish troops in Iraq (18 March) mentions the Brigada Multinacional Plus Ultra and translates it as "International Brigade Above All Others". Plus Ultra means "More Beyond". The term originates from the times of the Greeks, when there seemed to be nothing beyond the Gibraltar strait - "Non Plus Ultra". These words were incorporated into the Spanish flag until Colombus reached the American continent, and proved that there was something beyond. The "Non" was dropped, living us with Plus Ultra.

Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

Waste of style  

Sir: Instead of binning dozens of books, magazines, ornaments, CDs, tapes, mini-disks, clothes, shoes etc Dylan Jones (Review, 18 March)

could have taken them to Oxfam, Traid, Mind, Barnardos, Shelter, Scope or any one of a number of charity shops who would have put them to good use. If the only reason for not wearing that jacket was a hole under the armpit, why didn't he get in mended? The torn clothes could have been taken to a textile bank for recycling.

Brighton, East Sussex

Language lessons  

Sir: Further to your correspondence on how children learn languages, my eight-year-old granddaughter emigrated to Glasgow, and within two months had a perfect accent.

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

Service charge  

Sir: Today, at a motorway service area, I paid £3.49 for a scone, butter and an ordinary coffee. Is this a record?

Long Melford, Suffolk