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'We can't choose to be poets'

2 May 2015

‘For the perennial breed of poets, to be neglected is an occupational hazard. Most of us deserve it. Nobody says most plumbers deserve it, but plumbers have to deliver. It doesn't really matter whether a poet delivers or not. If poets don't come through with the goods, nobody will be affected except them. It won't be a case of the ruptured boiler flooding the parlour. It will just be a case of nothing much at all.

But that's the very attraction that has drawn so many men - and, increasingly, otherwise sensible women - into a crazy game of hazard with almost nothing at stake. Because they have all guessed the truth: that the thing must be its own reward...

The sad and glorious truth is that we can't choose to be poets. Poetry must choose us. A poem has a will of its own, and wants to get into us and grow, like a germ.'

Clive James, whose latest poetry collection is Sentenced to Life, in the Observer