Why Read Poetry? Paxman, The Public & Fear of Uncertainty

Photo: Vagner Vidal/INS

Poetry came into the spotlight recently when Jeremy Paxman, chair and judge of the Forward Prize 2014 – one of the most prestigious poetry awards in the UK – suggested that poets be subjected to a public inquisition to explain what their poems mean. Paxman is a journalist, writer and television presenter, well known for his hard-nosed, interrogative political interviews and, in truth, the comments said more about Paxman than Poetry.

He criticised poets as writing for each other, rather than for public consumption, prompting much public and on-line debate about the relevance of poetry. Some of the furore arose from the fact that he issued two statements – the first in his official capacity as judge and the second, an interview in a national newspaper where he gave the inflammatory ‘inquisition’ quote. To my mind, the official Forward Prize judge’s statement is the more revealing.

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