Deaths Of The Poets

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052017022420170225 (R4)

What is the cost of poetry? Must poets be melancholic, doomed and self-destructive? Or is this just a myth? In our new Book of the Week, Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley - both award winning poets themselves - explore that very question through a series of journeys across Britain, America and Europe.

From Chatterton's Pre-Raphaelite demise to Dylan Thomas's eighteen straight whiskies and Sylvia Plath's desperate suicide in the gas oven of her Primrose Hill kitchen or John Berryman's leap from a bridge onto the frozen Mississippi, the deaths of poets have often cast a backward shadow on their work.

The post-Romantic myth of the dissolute drunken poet - exemplified by Thomas and made iconic by his death in New York - has fatally skewed the image of poets in our culture. Novelists can be stable, savvy, politically adept and in control, but poets should be melancholic, doomed and self-destructive. Is this just a myth, or is there some essential truth behind it: that great poems only come when a poet's life is pushed right to an emotional knife-edge of acceptability, safety, security?

Today the poets explore the life - and death - of eccentric poet W H Auden.

Written and read by the authors

Abridged for radio by Lauris Morgan Griffiths

Produced by Simon Richardson.

Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley explore the life, and death, of poet WH Auden.