'"The Observed of All Observers": Biography in poetry'

by
November 2004, no. 266

'"The Observed of All Observers": Biography in poetry'

by
November 2004, no. 266

A biographer follows the life of a chosen person or a chosen group or people, or perhaps a particular scene or epoch. An autobiographer, like a snail outed by the Sun, looks back at his or her tracks and tries to explain how he or she got this far, possibly hinting at vindication or in more extravagant mode, self-immolation. Unfortunately I am a poet, and a prose writer only to earn a living. My field is verse, but l am involved on a daily basis with literature in diverse forms, especially journalism, broadcasting, and reviewing. I believe also that I am a secret biographer and autobiographer, as so much of the poetry I write and read shadows the functions of biography.

For that reason, I shall begin by quoting from some of my own writing. I shall read a few short extracts from a poem I wrote several years ago while I worked in advertising. I was a copywriter, and the fine irony of my engagement shows in the name of my supposed expertise: I was assigned to the soi-disant Creative Department. As the American novelist Peter de Vries wrote, the energy expended in advertising is the most conspicuous example of waste in the history of the world. Thus many of us in the sad band of copywriters tried to pursue our real calling by writing our own works in the boss’s time. And we often took the life around us as subject matter.

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