Art can only nourish if it is not consumed . . .

“In an affluent society like the United States, his publisher’s poetry royalty statements make it only too clear to a poet that poetry is not popular with the reading public. To any person who works in this medium, this should be, I believe, cause for more pride than shame. The reading public has learned how to consume even the greatest fiction as if it were a can of soup. It has learned to misuse even the greatest music as background noise to study or conversation. Business executives can buy great paintings and hang them on their walls as status-trophies. Tourists can “do” the greatest architecture in an hour’s guided tour. But poetry, thank God, the public still find indigestible; it still must either be “read,” that is to say, entered into by a personal encounter, or it must be left alone. However pitiful a handful of readers, a poet at least knows this much about them: they have a personal relationship with his work. And this is more than any best-selling novelist dare claim.”

WH Auden, Tradition and Innovation in Contemporary Literature

4 thoughts on “Art can only nourish if it is not consumed . . .

  1. This is excellent — and timely. My husband is a poet, has won a couple of major Canadian awards, yet his sales are tiny. Today he received a royalty statement for his latest book, a selected early poems, and we had our usual laugh about this world we live in gladly but perhaps a little ruefully. Have you done the work you intended to do, I asked. And he said he had, mostly, and had no regrets.

    • It’s amusing coming from Auden. I’ve been watching BBC features on YouTube about the Auden group, and thinking how nothing of its type would be made today. Auden and Eliot were rockstars compared to today’s generation of poet intellectuals.

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