DOGGEREL IN A GOOD CAUSE by Auberon WaughnAs editor of the Literary Review, I am afraid I havenformed rather a low opinion of the nation’s poets.nEvery week 20 or 30 offerings arrive through the post, and Inoften glance at them before handing them over to thenmagazine’s saintly, long-suffering poetry editor. Withnamazingly few exceptions, these “poems” are prosaic,nconfused, derivative, usually hard to follow, and often quitenunambiguously meaningless. The general atmosphere isnone of gloom, which would not matter if there were anyncompensating originality of perception or joy in the use ofnwords. But the prevailing spirit of dullness and selfabsorptionnproduces no emotion stronger than boredom.nIn Images of Africa (a volume compiled to raise moneynfor the victims of famine), at least, our poets are to be seennin their best Sunday suits, with shining faces. They arenassembled together for what everyone must agree is a GoodnCause. They are not grubbing around for the £10 fee,nwhich is what the Literary Review pays for a poem, andnwhich I suspect is far too much. They are not even grubbingnaround for grants and bursaries from their local council ornregional education authority, although I suppose theirninclusion in this anthology will have done them no harmnwhen next they apply. By and large, however, they arensimply doing their best to help a continent which is beset bynproblems which are virtually unimaginable in our ownnsociety, where “poverty” is defined as being unable to keepnup with the Joneses in the matter of Christmas presents fornthe kiddies. The problems of Africa are the problems ofnabsolute deprivation: hunger and thirst, disease, lack ofnclothing and shelter.nObviously, I would like to claim that, inspired by such annoble ideal, the offerings in this volume are noticeablynsuperior to the general run of what is allowed to pass forn”poetry” in England. Reading through the pages, I foundnfive which seemed to possess some spark of vitality. In thenlight of what I am going to say about the others, it would benas invidious to identify them as it would be to name the onenwhich, for the intellectual vacuity it revealed, its ignorance,nits cynicism and maladroitness with words must surelynqualify as one of the worst poems ever written in thenEnglish language. The purpose of this anthology is not tondemonstrate the worst of what is being written in thenEnglish language under the name of poetry. Its purpose isnto show the sort of thing being written under the name ofnpoetry and only incidentally to demonstrate that even badnpoets can have warm hearts. We must never waiver fromnour central perception that it is all in a Good Cause. If thenbook had appeared a few years ago, it might have savednsome African lives. Even at this late stage, it can do nonpossible harm and might do some good.nEnglish poetry may be in a sorry state, but Africa is in annAuberon Waugh is the author most recently of BridesheadnBenighted (Little, Brown). Invited to write annintroduction for Images of Africa, he supplied the presentnessay, which (unaccountably) the editor declined tonpublish.neven worse one. The difference is that English poetry is atnthe end of its history, while Africa is still at the beginning.nSeventy years ago it was a brave and admirable thing for thenpoet to express himself in lines which did not rhyme or scannand were comprehensible only to those of his closest friendsnor most devoted admirers who were prepared to unravelnsuch clues as they could find. Those were days of explorationnand discovery, when there were important things to bensaid, and when the problems of Africa could engage thenattention of such tortured geniuses as those of Kipling andnRhodes. What is left of this tradition, the tradition of Eliotnand Pound, is a vague equation of obscurity with cleverness,nof self-absorption with art, of triviality with elegance.nThe modern poet for a long time accepted that few peoplenwould want to read him and saw this as a tribute to his ownnsuperiority. Now, in the post-Modernist age, he wouldndearly like to be read but has lost the skill to please.nThis book should perhaps be seen as a small monumentnto the death of Western culture. As such, it might well bringncomfort to a continent which is experiencing physicalntribulations of the sort which beset our own culturenthroughout its earlier history: famine, plague, war, andntyranny. Since the drought in Africa has receded, a newnplague has started up, far worse over there than in its worstnmanifestations in New York and San Francisco. Perhaps thennext volume of British poetry in this series will be devoted tonthe relief of AIDS in Africa. I look forward to it. Anythingnshould be welcomed which gives the nation’s poets somethingnto write about, something to make them feel theynhave a useful role to play.nnnSEPTEMBER 1987 129n