BY CATHARINE MORRIS
T. S. Eliot once said that he could understand wanting to write poetry, but not wanting to be a poet.
At a Royal Society of Literature event on Monday – which took place in a luxuriously comfortable lecture hall at the Courtauld Institute, Somerset House, and consisted of conversation, readings, question-and-answer session and wine – David Harsent asked his fellow poets Lavinia Greenlaw, Emma Jones and Ahren Warner what they thought about that.
Harsent himself made the point that, since almost all poets need day jobs, to say “I’m a poet” is to make a kind of statement. Often the response is “startlement, becoming puzzlement, becoming a kind of sneer, followed by a fear that poetry might become a topic of conversation”.
Warner tends not to use the phrase. Jones does occasionally, sometimes for the sake of owning her addiction, as she put it; and it amuses her to write “poet” as her occupation on landing cards: “they look at you as if you’re a unicorn crossed with a serial killer”. But she often has difficulty with what they say next: “What do you write poetry about?”; “Why?”; “I didn’t know there were poets any more”. . . .