An old post from the fascinating The local press as poetry publisher 1800-1900 blog (Research blog by Andrew Hobbs and Claire Januszewski, UCLan.) provides interesting examples of how and why poetry was published in C19th newspapers in England. This concept of the bardic community could usefully be applied to the vernacular authors of the Channel Islands and their relationship with newspapers – in the case of Laelius and Elie, the relationship was even closer as they were newspaper editors. In the case of the Channel Island vernacular writers, one might also argue that the question of linguistic identity also played a part, with Jèrriais and Dgèrnésiais being empoyed as bardic languages.
Poetic behaviour and bardic communities
There are two useful ideas in understanding Blackburn’s poetic culture: Brian Maidment’s concept of the bardic community, and Charles LaPorte’s concept of ‘poetic behaviour’. Maidment argues that working-class espousal of the Romantic idea of the bard encouraged the idea that ‘all individuals possessed the sensibility, if not the skill or linguistic resources, to be poets.’ Some of the poetry published – and unpublished — in the local press suggests that many people believed lack of skill was no barrier, that everyone had the right to express themselves in verse, to indulge in what Laporte calls ‘poetic behaviour’. According to Maidment, these local groups of working-class poets functioned as ‘bardic communities’, with the self-educated poet seen as a ‘slightly more articulate neighbour’. Romantic poets, especially Wordsworth and Shelley, had raised the status of the bardic identity — associated with ‘unlettered’ poetry, ‘spontaneous talent’ — making it very attractive to provincial self-educated writers who were excluded geographically and culturally from the centres of literary power.
In my view, Robert Burns was particularly important – because of his class, use of non-Standard English language, and his ordinary, everyday subject matter.
Maidment identifies four characteristics of bardic groups, based on a study of Manchester’s mid-century poetic culture, all of which were also present in Blackburn:
1. dedicatory poems to fellow poets,
2. group anthologies,
3. the linking of poetry with local pride,
4. use of an expanding range of places and publications for performance and publication, especially local newspapers and periodicals.