It Never Rains
Since the release of his Mersey Sound anthology in 1967 Roger McGough has done more to popularise poetry and make it accessible than most. Despite this, as he releases his latest collection It Never Rains, he says there is still a very real, as well as a perceived elitism in poetry.
How have arts cuts affected poetry in your experience?
The urge to write a poem, paint a picture, sing a song is primal and will happen with or without an audience. However, although valuable in an educational and spiritual sense, there is no money to be made from poetry and it is regarded as the Cinderella of the arts. Governments continue to view it as such. Also in recent years publishers of poetry for children have become dangerously rare.
The digital world means anyone can be a published poet in an instant. How do you feel about it?
On the one hand the digital world makes access to bad poetry easier. On the other, it can be a democratic vehicle for sharing work and a source of mutual encouragement.
How do you feel about the way the internet subverts language, given that you’re partial to word play?
Inevitably language is in flux, but then it always has been, and I believe that young poets and writers are rising subconsciously to the challenge.
As a working class poet, do you think there is still an elitism surrounding poetry?
Yes, there is a real and a perceived elitism. There have always been cabals and squabbles within the world of poetry, a world with few prizes and fewer rewards. To be popular or accessible is regarded as lightweight and unseemly. I still treasure the quote in an article by a published poet (neither popular nor accessible, I might add): “Poetry is a sacred and difficult art and most people should be dissuaded from attempting to write it.”
How do you strike a balance between humour and seriousness in your poems?
I am one of those people, and there are many of us, who can be serious, but who then become aware of our seriousness and proceed to deflate it. I don’t know if this is necessarily true, but it sounds feasible. What is true is that I can be serious and I can be funny and with experience have managed to keep both sides in order.
Has your subject matter or approach to writing changed over the years?
My subject matter hasn’t changed drastically. Inevitably there are more elegies than love poems written nowadays, but the kid’s poems are the same. Only different. And better. I probably get more satisfaction from writing a poem that appeals to the elusive adult in me, but writing for children raises my spirits. I am lucky to get away with doing both.