Poetry and the middlebrow Jane Dowson, De Montfort University



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Middlebrow Cultures

University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
 14th –15th July 2009


Poetry and the middlebrow

Jane Dowson, De Montfort University
‘[The ordinary man or woman] reads, not poetry, but sensible reasonable journalists and novelists. … It is a great pity that people should turn away from poetry like this, because poetry is not an alien thing; poets don’t write merely to provide highbrows with something to talk about, or to provide the schoolboys of posterity with homework.’ (‘Why Poetry?’, Clifford Dyment, Listener, 17 June, 1936.)
1. Definitions

‘What does come through in the anthology introductions, as in the burgeoning literary criticism of this period, is the sense of poetry’s capacity to accelerate or counter cultural change. Camilla Doyle’s “The General Shop” poem encapsulates the kind of widely-read poetry printed in conservative papers and popular anthologies: “Yet smart new stores are dull compared / To this which always stays the same.”i This kind of “general-shop” poem is relegated for the very reason that it leaves things unchanged.’ (Dowson, ‘Overview 1900-45’, A History of Twentieth-Century British Women’s Poetry, CUP, 2005, p. 8).

‘Ah! she is vain; she is sick;

She has always wanted to achieve

Something! Something!

But what — ?

Why, something direct, with design;

Not that which goes round and round,

In and out, and back again with

No purpose! no purpose!


Oh! She is half-mad tonight,

The woman at home!’

(from ‘Woman at Home’, Vere Arnot, Time and Tide, July 11, 1936); Women’s Poetry of the 1930s, ed Jane Dowson, London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 186-7.




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