Friday, 9 July 2010

Has sex always sold poetry?

Just a quick thought but I'm reading 'Wildly Dangerous' by Catherine M Andronik. It's an introduction to the big 5 Romantic poets, aimed primarily at teenage girls (I'm guessing.) It details the biographical histories of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Byron and Shelley with some of their most famous poems inbetween chapters. It's quite well written considering the audience and has some nice 'human' touches but primarily it relies on the salacious details of the lives of these particular men - lots to choose from I know. Two thoughts initially struck me:
1.) I could write like this and it might be really good fun although not sure how much of a market there is out there - any ideas?
2.) These were really good anecdotes for getting my students interested in the poets next time I teach them - in the same way I use those about Shakespeare or Owen.

However, the second point made me realise that I was equally at fault as the writer of this book. Is it not enough to let the words of Byron or Shelley sell themselves? It is not as though the Romantics didn't make much of this element of the human condition in their writing, so why is it that I feel that I need the content of a tabloid newspaper to capture the imagination of their modern audience before I allow the words to do it? After all, 'She Walks in Beauty' ( remains one of the most amazing pieces of writing ever.

I could try to justify my behaviour by saying that all literature or in fact all topics need a human element to sell it but poetry by its nature is a reflection of humanity - especially that of the Romantics. So why does this remain the case?

Has poetry lost its mass appeal? Or is it more likely that the Romantics were famous then because they wrote poetry that reflected those same salacious stories? Or is poetry always about sex?

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