James Fenton Quotes
An aria in an opera - Handel's 'Ombra mai fu,' for example - gets along with an incredibly small number of words and ideas and a large amount of variation and repetition. That's the beauty of it. It's not taxing to the listener's intelligence because if you haven't heard it the first time round, it'll come around again.
I've not been a prolific poet, and it always seemed to me to be a bad idea to feel that you had to produce in order to get... credits. Production of a collection of poems every three years or every five years, or whatever, looks good, on paper. But it might not be good; it might be writing on a kind of automatic pilot.
Lyric poetry is, of course, musical in origin. I do know that what happened to poetry in the twentieth century was that it began to be written for the page. When it's a question of typography, why not? Poets have done beautiful things with typography - Apollinaire's 'Calligrammes,' that sort of thing.
If you're writing a song, you have to write something that can be understood serially. When you're reading a poem that's written for the page, your eye can skip up and down. You can see the thing whole. But you're not going to see the thing whole in the song. You're going to hear it in series, and you can't skip back.
Some people think that English poetry begins with the Anglo-Saxons. I don't, because I can't accept that there is any continuity between the traditions of Anglo-Saxon poetry and those established in English poetry by the time of, say, Shakespeare. And anyway, Anglo-Saxon is a different language, which has to be learned.
When we study Shakespeare on the page, for academic purposes, we may require all kinds of help. Generally, we read him in modern spelling and with modern punctuation, and with notes. But any poetry that is performed - from song lyric to tragic speech - must make its point, as it were, without reference back.
What I want, when I write a poem, is no more than this: that it be preserved in some published form so that, in principle, someone, somewhere, will be able to find it and read it. That is all I need, as a poet, and that is the beauty, the luxury of my position. My lyric is mine and remains mine. Nobody can ruin it.