Most people walk by on the other side of the road. Some run for the hills. A few are interested (and then tend to divide into cliques and not speak to one another). And for a few of those few, life is insupportable without it. Although during the past thirty years poetry has become increasingly peripheral to the general cultural life, ‘the noise made by poems’, as Peter Levi called it, is still a sound that no other literary form can make; and most so-called serious publishers still pay it some form of lip service, even if only in the form of anthologies for children.
Yesterday I picked up the Faber July-to-December 2008 catalogue – Faber, the most renowned publisher of poetry in the business, so many of the greats of the past century on its list that you wonder why it hasn't been investigated by the monopolies commission, and the website chirps that ‘Faber continues to be at the vanguard of poetry publishing’. Anyway: ‘Original Poetry’, says the catalogue's contents list, and you turn to page 68 and there’s a book of interviews with Heaney. That is the ONLY book. There is not a single book of poetry.
There is, on the other hand, a 16-page section of ‘Seasonal Books’. Sample titles: The Complete Book of Mothers-in-Law, Is This Bottle Corked?, What is Mr Darcy’s First Name?
CBe will be publishing in the autumn new translations of poems by Francis Ponge, one of the finest French poets of the 20th century. Calvino called him ‘a peerless master’; Picasso once lent him his hat. Faber published a book of Ponge translations a few years ago, but it’s unavailable now.