Monday, January 04, 2016


The Audience for Poetry

T.S. Eliot, letter to George Barker (January 24, 1938), from The Poems of T.S. Eliot, edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue (London: Faber & Faber, 2015), vol. 1, p. 891:
There is a common error nowadays of making a distinction between poetry for "the few" and poetry for "the many". This is introducing an irrelevance based on political premises. Poetry should be written, not for the "few" in the sense of a small group of highly refined, or socially superior, triflers who are trained to enjoy the obscure and the eccentric and the perverse: but for the "few" in the sense that there are never more than a very small number of people who are competent to judge poetry at all. One must aim to satisfy the best readers of poetry—whoever they may be, because one only know a very few oneself; the rest are scattered and often obscure; and not more than a very small percentage of newspaper critics—sometimes none—is included among them. And the larger public, or "the people", is only the shadow of this unknown or only partly known élite. To aim directly at "the people" is to aim to write the ephemeral, because that is what the people wants.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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