the fear of the word

I started to write about the results of the Mslexia poetry survey yesterday, but ended up going off at a bit of a tangent.

I’d stumbled across a news item on the Poetry Book Society website which referred to the survey under the eye-catching headline “Mslexia Poetry Phobia Report”, and was immediately distracted (yes, my life is full of tangents and distractions) by the phrase “a condition known as metrophobia”.

Whether Mslexia drew any other conclusions from their survey, I don’t know, as the whole PBS focus is on this fear of poetry. They reproduce an article from the current issue of Mslexia which starts:

Poetry phobia, or ‘metrophobia’ as it is technically referred to, is a morbid fear of poetry.

‘Metrophobia’?? What sort of a word’s that? Who decided that that was the technical word for poetry phobia? It reminds me of those dubious lists of words for groups of animals: a murmuration of starlings, a murder of crows, a ballet of swans… (A lengthy compilation of such collective nouns can be found on the Kennel section of the Hints and Things website.)

If someone had asked me what I thought metrophobia meant, I’d have wondered if it was fear of public transport. Or perhaps of being buried in free newspapers.

I’m not particularly good with Latin roots, and never studied Greek, but the dictionary of etymology tells me that ‘metropolis’ is derived from the Greek words for ‘mother’ and ‘city’. So ‘metrophobic’ sounds like a perfect word for someone with a dominating mother.

Even if we accept that we’re connecting to the ‘metre’ family of words (whose etymology is to do with measure) I don’t think it’s a good choice.

People who fear poetry, tend, in my experience, to fear obscure modern poetry with its lack of clear scansion and rhyme scheme. If it were the metre that distressed them, surely they’d be afraid of songs and music, too?

As far as I’m aware, the survey was directed at women who have some connection with the magazine, i.e. “women who write”. Which presumably accounts for the PBS using the phrase ‘educated women’:

A survey conducted by Mslexia magazine suggests that one in every nine educated women actively avoids poetry as a reading experience, one in eight feels ‘intimidated’ by it and one in six is irritated because she finds it ‘deliberately obscure’.

Which allows me to link back to the idea of being “accomplished”. As I noted the other day, in Pride and Prejudice, it’s suggested that, “A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word [‘accomplished’].”

Personally, I’d like to suggest that some knowledge and appreciation of poetry be included in that list.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

4 thoughts on “the fear of the word”

  1. I can understand a fear of poets. When you see one of these deranged, hirsute, unkempt creatures brandishing a fearsome bundle of manuscript, it’s best to run and hide, or at least to stop your ears. But I can’t understand a fear of poetry, and I think the phrase really means “dislike of poetry”, which is an entirely rational feeling, since so much of what is called poetry is at best boring, at worst profoundly dislikeable.

    Is there a word for “fear (or dislike) of people who make up pretentious pseudo-Greek compound words when simple phrases like ‘poetry phobia’ would make much better sense”?

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    1. In the article about poetry phobia one of the defensive mechanisms was given as:

      “Disapproval: where poetry (and poets) are seen as suspect in some way, as morally corrupt, effete, mentally unstable, left-wing, or otherwise threatening to the status quo.”

      “Deranged, hirsute [and] unkempt” says pretty much the same thing. But I’m not sure it’s the deranged, hirsute and unkempt poets who write the boring and profoundly dislikeable poetry.

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  2. Need to reread Pride and Prejudice.

    Deranged hirsute unkempt ?
    Anyone bought poetry from a – bearded ha – poet outside a library selling his stuff ? Overcome that phobia ….

    James

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    1. Did you ever see El lado oscuro del corazón – ‘The dark side of the heart’ – where the poet stands on street corners / accosts drivers at traffic lights and recites his poetry for ‘la voluntad’ – whatever the audience thinks it’s worth? (It’s been a while, so I don’t remember the details.)

      In Madrid a lot of homeless guys hand out scrappy photo copies of hand written verses on the metro or round bars etc.; they are mostly deranged, hirsute and unkempt.

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman do this, though there are plenty of women who clean car windscreens at traffic lights or who beg on the metro with a child on their hip.

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