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I treated myself to Seth Godin‘s newish book The Icarus Deception recently. It is both dense and light, profound and easy to read. Usually I put it down crying.

The premise of the book is that the old industrial model of working and living (you go to school, get qualifications, then do a job like millions of others) is over. In its place is the ‘connection economy’ where, thanks to advances in technology, individuals now have an unrivalled opportunity to connect with each other across the globe. The shorthand he uses for this is ‘being an artist’ and ‘making art’.

The book is called The Icarus Deception because the part of the Icarus myth we forget is that he was also warned by his father not to fly too low.

I have just got to the bit where he talks about the mindset necessary to make art that connects with people: resilience, detachment, passion, commitment and vulnerability. And somehow this got me thinking about one of my first poetic heroes, Gerard Manley Hopkins. I studied Hopkins at A level and then at university, in a kind of rapt but puzzled delight.

We learned on day one that his poems were radically different from what others were publishing at the time; most were not accepted for publication during his lifetime. We learned that he was a Jesuit priest and loved to find God in nature. We also learned that he had one friend, Robert Bridges, famous in his lifetime but whose chief claim to fame now rests on his promotion of Hopkins’s poetry after his death.

His religious faith seemed to cause him anxiety as much as it did delight. Were he alive now we would probably say he was bipolar.

It seems inconceivable to me that any poet starting out now in contemporary Britain would opt for the conditions Hopkins lived under, namely: solitude verging on loneliness; periods of intense depression; and, worst of all, complete lack of recognition for his art.

Think of all the things we take for granted in the connection economy, the prizes, the mentoring schemes, the festivals, the networking on Facebook and Twitter, the blogs (!), and now think of a life without any of that save one man you occasionally dare to send your poems to, your champion and curator of your reputation, which in any case you will not live to see. It is insane, isn’t it?

If anyone obeyed the instructions spoken at the end of  Seamus Heaney’s ‘North’, it was Hopkins:

Compose in darkness.

Expect aurora borealis

in the long foray

but no cascade of light. (North, 1975)

I am a great believer in the ‘power of the group’ theory of creativity, which says that creative artefacts, including those in the fields of science, politics and sport, are usually made by individuals who are connected to others with similar passions and concerns. Yes, I know in order to get my work done as a poet I need to sit alone and walk and mutter and face down that proverbial empty notebook, but I also know that to get it out there and start connecting and evaluating what I have made, what Godin calls shipping, I need to have a group of like-minded people around me, even if they are far away.

The evidence seems to show that Hopkins lived most of his artistic life without that kind of connection. The amateur psychologist in me (you know you do this too) wants to say that ‘No worst there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief’ is the inevitable product of living in deep isolation. The realist in me wants to say Hopkins would have written it anyway, whatever anyone thought.

You can read ‘No worst there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief’ at the Poetry Foundation website

You can find links to other poems in the Lifesaving Poems series here.