Skip to main content

The Big Seven

Speaking of "the canon" and modern poetry - The Guardian is publishing seven pamphlet inserts this week, starting today. They've selected seven poets: Sassoon, Eliot, Auden, Larkin, Plath, Hughes and Heaney. Now, the first thing to say is, this is a good group - almost all would make most people's top 10 or 20 list of significant poets from 1908-2008. Clearly, the emphasis is on British poetry, and also on the second half of the twentieth century (just).

What is worth noting (though Eyewear in principle supports the mass distribution of poetry to newspaper readers at all times) is that this is completely a list taken from Faber and Faber's stable of poets. Now, they also publish Frost, Dylan Thomas and Wallace Stevens, in the UK, so Faber's top ten would still have been very admirable. And one might have added Lowell, Moore, Berryman and even Thomas Hardy, and they'd have been Faber, too. Ditto for W.S. Graham. Yeats seems curiously missing here - isn't he the greatest 20th century poet? Where is Hart Crane, or Langston Hughes? Other women, besides the iconic Plath? Post-colonial "voices"? An Australian, an Indian, a Canadian...

It might have been refreshing, and more open-minded, if the pamphlets had been compiled with several other publishers too, therefore leaving a little more room for something (even slightly) surprising (this list confirms, rather than enlarges, what people already think they know about modern poetry). For instance, John Ashbery or Frank O'Hara might have been included, or a contemporary poet like Riley, or Prynne. That is, drawing on the excellent catalogues from Carcanet, Bloodaxe, and smaller presses - where some major poetry has and does appear.

This series is informative, and welcome - but it also says more than it perhaps intends about the current state of the "canon" for British poetry readers: it is solid, safe, traditional - and all-too-willing to overlook whatever is not exceptionally mainstream; little place for the maverick, or the marginal. That being said, these are all poets to love, and let's have more of them.
3 comments

Popular posts from this blog

AMERICA PSYCHO

According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…

DANGER, MAN

Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…

OSCAR SMOSHCAR

The Oscars - Academy Awards officially - were once huge cultural events - in 1975, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Shirley MacLaineandBob Hope co-hosted, for example - and Best Picture noms included The Conversation and Chinatown. Godfather Part 2 won. Last two years, movies titled Birdman and Spotlight won, and the hosts and those films are retrospectively minor, trifling. This year, some important, resonant films are up for consideration - including Hidden Figures and Moonlight, two favourites of this blog. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington will hopefully win for their sterling performances in Fences. However, La La Land - the most superficial and empty Best Picture contender since Gigi in 1959 (which beat Vertigo) - could smite all comers, and render this year's awards historically trivial, even idiotic.

The Oscars often opt for safe, optimistic films, or safe, pessimistic films, that are usually about white men (less often, white women) finding their path to doing the right thin…