Best Of Lists?

In the world of poetry, there is always a fine line between cronyism and advocacy. After all, as I posited in another post, given the relative neglect of poetry books, friendship between poets is a vital part of getting the work "out there". Eyewear itself selects some books and poets to review and mention; logically, this excludes others. However, an issue may arise, when the main newspapers (I am thinking in this context of the British ones, but the point applies more widely I suspect) run their end of year Christmas Books lists. There is sometimes something farcical about the process; though not always. Naomi Klein, for example, used her space in The Guardian to draw attention to a Canadian book little known in England, which seems noble and useful. The poetry book that got mentioned the most (three times) in The Guardian was Rain. Published by Faber and Faber, and written by Don Paterson, it is a strong collection from a major Scottish poet. However, it is not even the only good Scottish book of the year - one thinks of Roddy Lumsden's latest, which is an extraordinary exploration of various forms. And there are many other books, some from smaller presses, by less well-connected poets. I invite readers to leave the titles of their favourite books here. I suppose my point is well-known and inevitable: some reputations snowball, and accrue a momentum of their own. Paterson now has the sort of momentum once connected to Seamus Heaney. This is in part due to the work itself, and partly due to branding and extraordinary success at winning prizes and accolades. It does not hurt when a poet is advanced into the market, and the papers, by a leading publisher. Given the relative ubiquity of Rain on best of the year lists, a paradox emerges - is it a wasted vote to draw attention to an already widely-acclaimed book on such a list - or a useful thumbs-up only swelling the consensus? The poetry world, like all other fields, is a pyramid, that narrows at the top. Those at the pinnacle of their careers attract more attention and are more widely read, which perpetuates their position. My research into the Forties poets offers many examples of excellent poets, like Terence Tiller and Lynette Roberts, who somehow failed to make it to that pinnacle position. The regretful nature of memory, among poetry readers, is that so often, those not at the very top end up entirely forgotten all-too-soon; until another generation dusts a few of them off.

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