FESTIVAL OF CHICHESTER: In praise of George Orwell's poetry
Dione Venables, cousin of his first muse, is delighted to report that George Orwell's poetry is finally starting to get the attention it deserves.
Last October, Chichester-based Dione brought out George Orwell the Complete Poetry. For the Festival of Chichester, she will discuss the response so far to the publication.
Dione offers a talk George Orwell: What poetry? in Chichester Library on Thursday, June 23 at 7.30pm. And the good thing is that she has certainly set things moving. Amazon is commissioning an audio version of her volume, bringing in an actor to read the verse alongside Dione who will be reading the context she gives for each of Orwell’s poems. It’s all vindicating her belief that Orwell’s neglected verse output was worthy of much wider consideration: “The poetry is a completely-different area to his prose, and I just feel it gives you completely-different access to this other side to Orwell that you see. You get to know him more personally than you do in his other work.”
Dione is the first to admit that not all of the verse is great: “Some of the schoolboy stuff is thoroughly stupid, but even in the stupid stuff, you can see his education because he is mimicking the style of various extremely well-known poets of the period.”
“There are 42 poems in all. When you ask academics why nobody has written a book about them, they say there were not enough and that apart from two or three, they were not good enough. They said there were only 26, but I managed to find 42.
“But now I am just so happy that it has been taken up and bought by so many people. It is now on its fourth print run, which isn’t bad. I just thought it would trickle on. It is not Nineteen-Eighty-Four and it is not Animal Farm, and nobody has ever heard of me. But actually that was the reason I was able to put this book together. The academics would not risk their name on it. I didn’t have a name to risk!
“What I find so interesting is that the poems are so varied. He has got a lovely touch with him. He can be wonderfully sensitive and produce a picture in your mind. But at the other end of it, in the poetry he has got a humour which doesn’t come across in his books.”
Dione’s point is that the poetry has been unjustly overlooked: “Some of it is absolutely wonderful. Some of it is pretty average, and some of his schoolboy efforts are dreadful, but the whole point of writing poetry is that it expresses emotion. It’s something different altogether to other forms of writing. When you are writing a poem, you are feeling deeply about something.”
And that’s why, Dione believes, through the poetry, you glimpse a different side to Orwell.
“The poetry brings out a nicer person, a more human person. It shows his softer side. You think of Orwell as a writer who writes in a very direct, no-nonsense style. His writing is very positive. Poetry is quite different. You cannot be that positive in poetry. You see something different about Orwell.”
But Dione concedes context is important – which is why for each poem in the book she has given a description of where it comes in Orwell’s life.
George Orwell the Complete Poetry was published by Finlay and is available from Scarthin Books (£8.99 plus £1.26 postage) from their shop on 01629 823272 or via email at [email protected]
Tickets £4 each, available from Chichester Library (01243 777351) or through Chichester Tickets (01243 813595).
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