I’ve always hated the cliché that great art needs to be created by someone starving in a garret. But in the past week I’ve been to talks by 2 poets I admire whose writing was damaged by their material success.
Tonight John Cooper Clarke spoke at the Cambridge Union Society. He was the original punk poet in the 70s, who went the way of many successful rock stars, submerging himself in a bath of heroin. He stopped writing for decades, and has only recently restarted. He read a few of his new poems, which have a similar wry energy to the old days; but you have to regret those missing decades.
Last week I heard Sophie Hannah talk at Lucy Cavendish College, but not about poetry. She has written almost exclusively crime fiction for years now, and her latest book was the revival of Poirot finally allowed by the Christie family. She told an entertaining story of how it came about, and it did make me want to read the book even though I haven’t been a fan of Poirot since I was about twelve. What I took away from the evening was the sad conviction that she will never go back to writing poetry seriously, after having a best seller in around 20 countries. At least John Cooper Clarke eventually found rehab – what hope is there that Sophie Hannah will ever recover from fame and fortune?
So maybe a garret is the answer? As it happens, Darren and I revisited Leeds at the weekend, where we met as undergraduates and where he did in fact live in the garret of a rat-and-slug-infested slum for 2 years. I can’t say that my stays there filled me with much poetic inspiration – just frequent bouts of norovirus.