The Democratisation of Poetry


I should probably begin by telling you a couple of things about me. After all, we are all the people we are due to a whole range of social conditions, aren’t we?

Most importantly, when I was a child, I had a parent who drilled home to me the importance of song lyrics. Pretty much every album my father owned offered some kind of message, and his collection served to shape my moral compass. I like to think I am a better man because of this. Although, and this is a pertinent point, I am something of a rebel. I have a habit of questioning authority, and want to challenge and disrupt – I want to be remembered, by my friends and family, as a man who stood for good. You can blame Bob Dylan, The Specials, Tracy Chapman, and Frank Zappa for that.

The second thing you should know about me is that I have a passion for education. I completed my degree later in life before I trained to be an English teacher. I am presently an MA student at Edge Hill University, where I am studying Popular Culture. I teach children to open themselves up, to challenge things that are presented to them, to form opinions, and to back those opinions up with evidence, and sound reasoning.

These two things have given me cause to ask a few questions. I suppose, what I am working my way around to saying  is this, who has the right to tell us what is good? How did the literary canon form? Is it time for change? Can we reject the established order of things?

There is without doubt a correlation that can be drawn between Bob Dylan’s Hurricane, Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car, and my position on all of this. While I am taking poetry as my focus here, the same can be said of politics, rock music, film, and pretty much every artistic medium/genre you can think of.

For centuries, the masses, have been told by predominantly straight, white, male critics, that this is better than that. For this reason, there are copious amounts of hitherto unrecognised, and uncelebrated artists, whose work we have never even encountered. What I think things like the established literary canon, literary awards, and even blog posts detailing the ‘100 Books to Read Before You Die’ do, is reinforce this elitism.

There, I said it. Without doubt, poetry has a reputation for pretentiousness and elitism, those moving within the community may agree or disagree, but certainly from the outside, this is the way it is often viewed. But why?

Certainly, the poetry and literature that we teach children in school plays a major role here. It is true that most of the poetry taught on the AQA curriculum is white-centric and, much of it is from pre-1900 too. I refuse to accept that this is the best poetry. Too many highly skilled writers have come and gone since. So, what I call for, is the democratisation of poetry.

I am fortunate to be part of a thriving poetry community, and in my position as a teacher of English, and poetry editor, I have the opportunity to rattle some cages, and rattle them I will. Think about it, if folk have been fed the line that one thing is more valuable than another for long enough, they will start to believe it is true. I intend to use my privileged position and platform to engender the discussion. At The Broken Spine we will always actively promote emerging voices. We will continue to make the case for inclusivity and offer a platform for poets to share their work from.

The goal is not to dilute quality, which is perhaps an accusation that some might throw at us. Rather, we recognise that there is so much talent out there, and we will endeavour to diversify the landscape.    

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