Eliot the Banker


TS Eliot was a banker.

This fairly common bit of trivia about one of the 20th century’s foremost English-speaking poets, and the post he held when literature, presumably, wasn’t providing him with enough of a livelihood to pay the bills, popped into my head this week as I was darting around between work, home and Southbank Centre. As it would happen – of course – work at my new job was busier this week than at any prior, and I found myself with barely enough time to attend all the events I wanted, less time to assimilate what I’d experienced, still less time to write about it all.

I make this point not to bemoan my inability to mediate a compromise between finding a way to pay my bills and finding – or perhaps I should say making – the time to write but to note how both reassuring and inspiring it was to witness the diversity of commitment to poetry on display at the festival this week. You could barely have a greater study in contrasts than Sean O’Brien’s very academic lecture on Michael Donaghy versus the boisterous hip hop-inflected rhythms of the performance poetry of Power in the Voice, Joelle Taylor and Breis.

Yet whether it was hearing O’Brien championing the legacy of Donaghy; listening to Al Alvarez, Eva Hoffman and Nick Laird do the same for the work of Zbigniew Herbert; being absolutely bowled over by the eloquence and insightfulness displayed by the guys from St Aloysius School in Power in the Voice (no way was I nearly that articulate or mature at the age of 15); or reading the many thoughtful and brilliant responses of the other bloggers – all told it was the awareness of there being an international community unified in its commitment to poetry, whatever forms and avenues and interests that may take, that was most powerful.

I haven’t found, or made, the time to process all the events of the week, to mull it all over and start shaping into my own narrative. What I mostly just want to do, at least for the moment, is to leave it alone. To let it stand untouched, my response mainly visceral, and to simply utter the banality: I liked it; you should seek it out because you will like it; it was, well, good.


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