I don't think it's to do with old age itself, I think it's to do with youth.
I seem to have set cats among pigeons with my dismissive list of GREAT
MODERNISTS and of course there's a mass of interesting writing in there,
especially among their earlier works.
But not fair to single out rejection of Stein as sexist, because she's not
just the only woman on that list she's also the furthest out-and-out
extremist of the lot, and is bound to attract a separate reaction.
But it occured to me that someone like W.S.Graham means more to me than
most of those big-persons, and he doesn't get called a GREAT MODERNIST, he
just gets called a good poet by those who've heard of him. Thwaite's book
on British poetry omitted him completely, as Ric pointed out, Davie
attacked him as a failure... He's obvious not a GREAT MODERNIST.
And his work got better and better as he got older, whereas the GMs' work
mostly got worse and worse. I'm sure there are reasons for that.
Which is that there's something about the focus on experiment, novelty,
artistic PROGRESS, which is disabling, which is unable to sustain the art
beyond youth. You become a Great Modernist but by the time you're 60 you're
babbling. Look at Graham's older work, or Rakosi's, or Bunting's, how in
control of it they are, what breadth and simplicity it can hold. Compare
that with what happened to MacDiarmid (a great modernist you know).
Might it be true to say that Bunting's poetry improved dramatically, in
Briggflats, the moment he abandoned (temporarily or not) American
To me this is to do with being interested in poetry as such, and not in
delivering important messages to the world or thinking you are transforming
universal consciousness by disabling language, or, I'm afraid, speaking out
against what you think is wrong in the public world. By "as such" I mean a
personal lyrical/ meditational medium which accepts the innate modesty of
the fact of the individual, more subject to than modulating terrestrial
forces, essentially a testimony rather than a critique. I find that
thinking it that way, the scope bcomes potentially greater and the whole
enterprise more hopeful.
Of those five GM big-writers, only one was really interested in poetry. Two
weren't poets at all. Two of them thought they could use poetry for other
purposes as they got older.
Why should experimentalism be youth-bound? I don't quite know. It's not
modernity as such, I mean one doesn't get into the Larkin groove and start
preferring the Stockport Ramblers to Charlie Parker, or Winston Churchill
to Matisse.... It's to do with certain assumptions and stances towards the
world, I suppose, by which newness gets bound up with "importance" in the
close confines of the "Artistic" -- meaning you increasingly produce what
is only artistically important, (obsession-led) and of less and less use
to the world.
There's a book about this called THE DEMON OF PROGRESS IN THE ARTS by one
Well I ain't going to start defending Graham Greene against Joyce, or
Shostakovich against Stockhausen, though I know which I'll turn to when the