Of all fine arts these days, poetry takes the biggest hit, suffering the most depreciation. It seems obvious enough (aside from dabblers dabbling) that not everyone qualifies as a painter, playwright, filmmaker, musician, photographer, sculptor, novelist, dancer. But jot down some thoughts (it’s never been so easy), clump them together into lines of roughly even length (left justified, of course), or have random edges…whichever—and suddenly the status of poet is no longer discriminately applied: conferred on those of appreciable accomplishment, reserved for a distinguished role (one that requires a lifelong apprenticeship/study). Why subscribe to such homogeneity?

So many profitable writing programs (with the idle workshop counting for full credit), so many little magazines and contests. Despite the push…

“Among this host of would-be writers, the majority have no literary gift. This is not surprising in itself. A marked gift for anything is not very common.

When so many untalented people all express a wish to write, the public must be labouring under some strange misapprehensions as to the nature of literature. They must imagine, for example,

either (1) that writing requires no special talent but is something that any human being, by virtue of his humanity, can do if he tries,

or (2) that writing is the only occupation today in which one is free to do as one likes, the only one in modern society where one can act as an individual, not as a depersonalised cog in a machine,

(3) that writing – and this idea, is, I think, particularly prevalent in regard to the writing of poetry – is a kind of religious technique, a way of learning to be happy and good. In my opinion, the public is partially right as regards (2), namely in thinking that the writing of art is gratuitous, ie play, but precisely because of this, their other two ideas must be wrong.”

–W. H. Auden, “So You Think You Can Write?”


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