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Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets

I was glad to receive, in the post, a new anthology from Carcanet, to be launched next week. It's Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets, edited by Andrew Johnston and Robyn Marsack. I think it is safe to say that Anglo-American poetry is more influential on, than influenced by, the Commonwealth poetries of Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, and that few poets from these important nations ever get the wider readersip they deserve.

New Zealand has not been that well-served in the past by major international collections, so this is a significant book I look forward to reading and commenting on this spring and summer. Some of the poets gathered here will be known already - such as Curnow, Manhire, Tuwhare, and of course C.K. Stead, the important critic of modernist poetics. One ominous sign, though - the Introduction speaks of ardent literary nationalism finally managing to free NZ poets from the "well-behaved and predictable" British models.

I myself think a lot of damage has been done, in Canada and elsewhere, to poetry, in the name of nationalism, especially the sort that thinks rootedness and sense of place trump sense of tradition and the canon - and doubly so, when the canon being defied or deflated is the one that runs from the Gawain poet through Chaucer, Milton, Donne, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Hardy, and on to Thomas, Larkin, Bunting, Prynne etc. - in short, no need to entirely break with "Britain" to define one's own poetics - and, more to the point - why does each nation require its own poetry signature or manner? Poetry is often best when transnational - the modernist model I prefer.
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