Beyond Criticism: Poetry and COVID-19

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N.S. Thompson

Beyond Criticism: Poetry and COVID-19



In challenging times people will turn to poetry. I was recently asked for a poem to be read at a friend’s funeral. Although he was not a victim of COVID-19, his funeral certainly was and that sad group of five persons was desperate for something to express their grief and perhaps offer some consolation. Heightened moments demand heightened or memorable expression. Given the virus’s knock-on effect on public performance, the radio has given more space to poetry, mainly actors reciting “well-loved verses.” And contemporary poetry? The Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK has created an online project for poets to leave a “living record” which, as Carol Ann Duffy, its director, said “will provide an opportunity for reflection and inspiration in these challenging times.” In the last century both World Wars saw an increased interest in poetry, especially during the first. But whereas the Western Front produced lasting and memorable work, World War II did not, despite the wide number of publications and audience. To say why would require an entire book-length study, but something in our human nature stirs us to critical judgment in literature, as in life, and the consensus of readers and critics has been to favor the first and forget the second. But what of poetry in today’s challenging times?
  Telling a good poem from bad has become ever more difficult. We have given such leeway to the form that it may exist without any identifying features. Enjoying this freedom of expression, many people write and publish under its . . .
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