Novelists vs Poets

I just read a great article in the Sydney Review of Books by Ivor Indyk: On Novelists and Poets.

This was my favourite bit:

“The prejudice against poetry goes deep, and it isn’t simply a matter of it being ‘difficult to read’. I have often heard this criticism levelled at literary novels too – ‘it’s difficult to read’. What actually rises before me at this moment is the phrase, ‘the market says no’, delivered in the same self-righteous whine that David Walliams uses in Little Britain to defer to the authority of his computer. But deeper than the sense that the poets are trying to put one over their readers is the assumption that they are bludgers as well as con artists, and therefore have no right to be in the marketplace at all. I once heard an eminent person declare, on a funding committee, that only novelists should receive grants, because they have to write all day, week after week, for years, and so should be relieved of the obligation to work for money, whereas poets just sit around for months on end waiting for inspiration, and you would only be funding them to waste time.”

It’s interesting, because this attitude towards poets – that they are all crazy, self-indulgent time-wasters – is one that I myself have internalised. In fact it’s something that I like to ham up for comedic effect (I’ll always be the first to point out how crazy, self-indulgent and lazy I am) but maybe it’s simply a situation where I’m saying such things about myself so no one can wound me with them as insults.

Food for thought, at least.

2 thoughts on “Novelists vs Poets

  1. I think poets have it doubly hard, coz you have the internalised ‘poets are lazier than novelists’ but you also have the general ‘writers/artists are just trying to get out of work’ thing. I know you work hard on your stuff.


    • Yeah haha life is tough when you’re a poet. A lot of my best work comes out of the silences in my mind – times when I’m not actively thinking – which can come across as indolence. But poetry itself is intrinsically contemplative.

      Annoyingly, the poems I’ve worked hardest on ‘perfecting’ have been my least successful – the ones that do well both with publishers and audiences are the ones that I just felt compelled to write in a whirlwind of random inspiration. But I think there’s a lot to be said for honing your craft on those difficult ones that never turn into anything, so you have the ability to write well when inspiration does strike. If that makes sense.


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