Lumley attacks ‘obscure’ new poetry
The actress has been lambasted as old and out of touch for her controversial views on modern verse
Amelia Hill , social affairs correspondent, The Observer
When Joanna Lumley agreed to pen an introduction to a collection of poems, she probably thought she was simply doing a favour for an unknown poet in need of a publicity boost. Instead, the Absolutely Fabulous star has caused controversy by publishing views on modern poetry that have offended some of Britain’s best-known writers.
Rather than limiting her comments to the book in question, Lumley attacked contemporary poetry, dismissing ‘so much’ of it as maddeningly obscure and, at worst, self-indulgent. At the other extreme, she argued that less demanding poetry risked becoming humdrum and commonplace.
The actress was a judge for the Booker Prize in 1985 and led readings of Sir John Betjeman’s poetry at the 1996 unveiling of a stone tablet to the late Poet Laureate at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.
Lumley wrote the controversial introduction to Liz Cowley’s forthcoming book, A Red Dress and Other Poems. She went on to say: ‘It is a rare modern poem that achieves the balance between being challenging and accessible.’
Lumley praises Cowley for preferring to call herself a writer than a poet: ‘Liz would never dream of describing herself as a “poet”. She even dislikes the very word “poetry” because she feels there is a divisive ring to it, as if the genre were up there on a rarefied pedestal.’
But her comments have drawn the wrath of many of Britain’s leading poets. Ian McMillan, presenter of BBC Radio 3’s The Verb, poet in residence at Barnsley football club and a contender for the next Poet Laureate, accused Lumley of being ill-informed. ‘I suspect that she hasn’t read very widely because she’s ignoring the fact that poetry in the 21st century is a broad church,’ he said.