In Merriam Webster it’s the seventh meaning. But it’s everywhere.

I refer to the definition of ‘community’  g : a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society <the academic community>.

Frequently it’s the gay community. Or the deaf community. I am pleased to number myself a member of the left handed community.  Naturally I feature in the female community, though this worries me somewhat, since I had thought this use of ‘community’ was inclined to define itself by exception, like the German Shepherd Dog community or the beard community.

It’s an odd word, ‘community’. Over-used and yet clinging desperately to its connotations of closeness, humanity and support.

Which brings me to last Friday and the ripples caused by Salt’s decision to cease (though not quite yet) publishing single author poetry collections. From The Guardian online we learn that this “hit online poetry community hard” (they probably meant the online poetry community).

I must be a member of the online poetry community, I guess. I interact a lot online and most of my interaction is about poetry. So I ought to be ‘hit hard’, though not half as hard as the Salt dispossessed poets community, one of which (Robert Peake) says as much in the Huffington Post.

But I’m also a member of the poetry publishing community – not that I would normally, as a junior member, have put it that way. Perhaps that’s why I don’t feel hit hard at all. Just particularly interested, especially in some of the thought-provoking comment the news has generated.

There’s Charles Boyle, for example, at sonofabook, with some context; Clare Pollard on ‘The Health of Poetry’; Matthew Stewart on Salt’s exit; Christie Williamson on Salt’s “ability to spark debate and comment”; Anthony Wilson on disappearing poets; and the remarkable Jon Stone on, among other aspects, poetry’s half-life.

I feel concern for the human beings involved in Salt’s decision, of course, concern for both publishers and publishees. But most of all I’m interested in the context. Things change all the time, most of them faster than ever before.

Poetry – whatever it may be – will survive. It doesn’t need business models. It thrives on opposition. It doesn’t need to be useful or justified. It’s a parasite. It will live off whatever opportunities present themselves, mercilessly and with ingenuity. And the individual parasite (among whose community I number myself) is important only to herself. As Stevie Smith said, “The poet is not an important fellow. There will always be another poet.”

3 thoughts on “THE SALINE COMMUNITY”

  1. I can’t agree with Stevie Smith’s comment about poets not being important. Would you say that applies to poets like Anna Akhmatova (the unspoken voice for a nation), and Pablo Neruda? Of the ancients would you say it applies to Homer? These were much more than parasites. They framed and added meaning by the way they chose to describe the events of their time.

    Of course there’s a parasitic element in every poet, but they are so much more than this, too. Poets can be prophets; purveyors of hidden truths, lost ways of life, new ways of seeing things; they can also help us deal with rejection and loss. Poets may write for themselves, but their poems are not only important to themselves. I would say that this makes the poet important too, for without the poet we would not have the poems.

    Some poets are very very important and much much more than parasites.



  2. Well, the parasite part, Tristan, is a kind of extended metaphor joke, I would say.

    As for importance, it all depends how you look at it. I like the Stevie Smith quotation, which is why I remember it so often. I think the poem is the magical thing, not the individual, who herself (or himself) is a product of much more than individual consciousness. I suspect the highest accolade may be to become ‘anon’.

    But it all may be a matter of how you look at it. Our culture places great emphasis on the individual. Not all cultures do.

  3. Poems are magical things indeed, but, for me, part of this magic comes from understanding the person who wrote them, which can often increase the meaning in a poem.

    I also think that poems have a kind of terroir and to try to separate them from this by somehow bind tasting them diminishes them. A poem’s terroir is not its writer (who you rightly say is a product of much more than individual consciousness), but its form/style, allusions, cultural/historical references, dialect and diction: all the things it grew out of. The poet is the gathering place and a filter for all these things and probably much more. But in this, they are a kind of centre.



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