STEPHEN KING, THE WELL-KNOWN AMERICAN WRITER, says that a writer must write the type of book/poetry that he/she wants to read. In his work, Culture and Anarchy, Matthew Arnold (1822 – 88), the English poet and literary critic, argued that a society needs more than the gratification of the individual, more than scientific knowing and material greatness. Taking Swift’s notion of sweetness and light, Arnold reasoned that people must have a curiosity and passion ‘for things of the mind simply for their own sake’. He saw the poet’s role as aspirational and inspirational in spreading sweetness and light in society.

Arnold’s vision is quite close to the Latin vates, meaning poet and diviner, a role that James Joyce saw himself fulfilling. In the words of Joyce’s alter-ego hero, Stephen Dedalus, in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

I will go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated consciousness of my race.

James S. Atherton, in his study of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, points out that this role of a seer is the unifying thread in Joyce’s work. Undoubtedly, Joyce’s writing has a strong autobiographical strand but, Atherton concludes:

No psychoanalyst could account for the encyclopaedic sweep of Joyce’s fantasies.

John Cowper Powys (1872 – 1963), the English writer and critic, described his mission in writing as trying to establish a connection between the invisible forces of the cosmos and individual consciousness. Similarly, his brother Theodore Powys (1875 – 1953), also a novelist, believed his writing explored the good and evil in the universe.

Ted Hughes (1930 – 1998), in Poetry in the Making, almost echoing Arnold’s vision of the poet, said:

. . . I assume that the latent talent for self-expression in any child is immeasurable . . . by showing to a pupil’s imagination many opportunities and few restraints, and instilling into him confidence and a natural motive for writing, the odds are that something – maybe not much, but something – of our common genius will begin to put a word in.

Do you think that a writer/poet has a role beyond that of entertaining the individual reader?

Do you think that a writer/poet should challenge people’s preconceptions and force them to face a deeper vision and reality beyond their own experiences?

Do you think that such a role is irrelevant in our times?

Would you read a novel or poem that is not an ‘easy read’ but pushes you beyond the familiar?

How would you describe your own role as a writer/poet?

How would you describe your ideal writer or poet? If you have a particular writer or poet whose work inspires you, please share an extract of their work.

— Golden Langur

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