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Knock Knock: Are Poets Funny?
Maybe… sometimes… though perhaps not always as our headline might reveal. The Telegraph speaks to Christopher Reid about his new book, Six Bad Poets.
Are poets funny? It’s hard enough to know whether poets are allowed to be funny through their work. But funny in their lives? Aren’t they supposed to be tragic figures who feel the intensity of the world’s pain, to the point of unamusing mania?
A meeting with Christopher Reid makes these questions trickier. When we meet, he looks up at me over his spectacles and I remember that this is a man who has edited Faber’s poetry list, and so been a formidable tastemaker; and then I worry that I’m wasting his time as we pad around the South Bank looking for a quietish place to talk. He is also a poet who is now best known for A Scattering, which was the Costa Book of the Year in 2009: it is a sequence of poems that commemorates Reid’s late wife, Lucinda Gane, who died of cancer in 2005.
And yet we’re here to talk about Six Bad Poets, which he calls a jeu d’esprit. It’s fun to read, and fun to talk about: if David Lodge were a poet, you’d hope he would come up with this. The book is a novella-length poem about six self-regarding, opportunistic poets shuffling between Soho and Hampstead while making each other’s lives difficult. The structure calls for fiendish cleverness on the part of the poet, but Reid has relished the challenge. “I knew it would be hard work, and that was the fun of it. I set myself a very unlikely to succeed project and then simply went at it with maximum intensity.”
It’s the opposite experience for the reader, though. Almost everyone reads it in a single sitting, and the plot whooshes you along. Talking about the characters with Reid feels like gossip, and even though you can imagine his cast crawling into The Pillars of Hercules after a boozy book launch, none of them is recognisably based on a real poet.
The idea of linking them in a narrative had occurred to Reid 15 years ago: “I only had the six characters, and they were all pretty well fully formed in my head, so it was simply a matter of aiming them at each other and seeing what happened when they coincided and collided.”
Read on at The Telegraph.