Thu 21 November 2019
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You are here: Home > Young Writers' Hub > Blog > Famous first words: Why we mustn’t overlook juvenile jottings
Famous first words: Why we mustn’t overlook juvenile jottings
Many poets start young, and the winners of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year award are no exception. So why, asks Judith Palmer, is 'juvenilia' a dirty word? Plus, Brian Patten's confessions of a teen poet

John Keats was something of a late starter. His star didn't begin to shine until he was an age-weary 20, with his first published sonnet "To Solitude". Rimbaud was all but written out by that age. Dylan Thomas, Marina Tsvetaeva, Sylvia Plath and Alexander Pope are just a few of poetry's greats who first wowed the public in their teens.

But rejecting one's early work is also a traditional rite of passage. Robert Browning destroyed his childhood collection Incondita, lest it damage his mature reputation. Leigh Hunt blamed his meteoric boyhood success for a mediocre adult showing.

It's as if the word "juvenilia" was invented to act as some kind of decontaminating quarantine chamber. But is teenage poetry really so worthless? "We do not neatly pass through a discrete period of juvenilia before entering adulthood," suggests the former Oxford poetry professor James Fenton. "Nor are poets cheeses. You cannot prod us and say: yes, this one is now mature; this one needs another six weeks. When we write of people passing from a phase of immaturity to maturity, we are often guilty of tidying up reality, of simplifying experience."

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Source: The Independent

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