Poetry and Privacy questions a set of relationships – critical, authorial, and existential − between poetry and the public sphere. Its main contention − that readings of British and Irish poetry rely too often on a thesis of public relevance − arises out of a more general conviction: that the relationship between poetry and the public sphere is negatively woven. It is undoubtedly true that poetry and criticism are bitterly aware of their marginal status. Both have lost confidence and direction. In public life as in literary life, we have entered a period of deleveraging and disavowal, of recanting and retrenchment. This seems a good time for emptying out some old ways of thinking about poetry. Large claims were made for poetry in the 1930s and large claims were made for literary criticism in the 1970s, but they have led to no obvious outcomes in the public world.
The major response of poetry to its marginal position has been promotional in outlook and anti-intellectual in spirit, and in the context of burgeoning creative writing courses universities host a poetic class both anti-academic and hostile to intelligent scrutiny. Each needs the other but the result is trimmed expectations, the dominance of populism and a poverty of ideas.
In essays on Derek Mahon, Glyn Maxwell, Robert Minhinnick, Seamus Heaney, Sylvia Plath, John Burnside, Vona Groarke, David Jones and W.S. Graham, John Redmond seeks to introduce a sense of pragmatism into the relationships between poetry and criticism (academe) and poetry and social or political relevance. It opposes is the determination to read poetry in publicly oriented ways, the determination to make it fit with one kind of public program or another. The essays in this book offer fresh appraisals of noteworthy poets while creating a portrait of British and Irish poetry in a new century in which in politics, society and poetry there is a broad sense of an ending, and ask how poetry might progress in the future.