Working alone on a poem, a poet is of all artists the most free. The poem can be written with a modicum of technology, and can be published, in most cases, quite cheaply.
Poetry carries its history within it, and it is oral in origin. Its transmission was oral. Its transmission today is still in part oral, because we become acquainted with poetry through nursery rhymes, which we hear before we can read.
Imitation, if it is not forgery, is a fine thing. It stems from a generous impulse, and a realistic sense of what can and cannot be done.
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.
The iambic pentameter owes its pre-eminence in English poetry to its genius for variation. Good blank verse does not sound like a series of identically measured lines. It sounds like a series of subtle variations on the same theme.
One does not become a guru by accident.
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.
Free verse seemed democratic because it offered freedom of access to writers. And those who disdained free verse would always be open to accusations of elitism, mandarinism. Open form was like common ground on which all might graze their cattle – it was not to be closed in by usurping landlords.
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.
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.