Ever seen the Pixar film Ratatouille? The tale of Remy, the rat who is a dab hand with haute cuisine. His journey to owning his own restaurant underpins the plot, but then there is Anton Ego, the cynical restaurant critic who also has his own journey of redemption.
See, Remy’s idol was the wildly popular (and deceased) chef Auguste Gusteau, whose motto was… Anyone Can Cook. This drove Monsieur Ego to distraction; he misinterpreted what Gusteau meant. He thought it was being suggested that Everybody Can Cook, which he believed was patently not the case. Only at the film’s end does the penny drop in his mind. What the old chef meant was that it does not matter who (or what, in Remy’s case) you are. Your gender, race, social class, privilege, education…. Doesn’t matter. Wherever you come from…. Anyone Can Cook.
Poetry is inclusive. Anyone Can Write Poetry. It is not the preserve of the academic, of the white Anglo-Saxon, or of the middle classes. The subject of elitism (and its twin, accessibility) is worthy of an editorial in its own right, which I may come back to another time. Here, let’s just assume that Gusteau was right.
However, that does not imply that Everyone Can Write Poetry. There is a crucial distinction here that often gets muddied. I sometimes hear it said that Poetry is for everyone and whilst that is certainly correct in terms of the enjoyment and appreciation of poetry, to suggest that everyone can write it is clearly incorrect.
I can’t play the guitar. I could learn. It would take practice, and time. I’d need to listen to people who can play it as part of that learning process. I could perhaps achieve a basic level of competence with enough hard work, but I doubt I would ever be a John Williams or an Eric Clapton. Alongside the work and practice I doubt I have the facility with music, the spark of talent that differentiates the competent and the gifted.
So, three cheers for inclusivity in poetry. But let’s also tread the line between anyone and everyone carefully. Celebrate good writing without being emotionally incontinent. There is a place for objectivity.