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Monday, 9 November 2009

Heavy Weighs In Crown

Sarah Crown of the Guardian has weighed in on the new Bloodaxe anthology, Voice Recognition, edited by James Byrne and Clare Pollard. Following on from Sean O'Brien's recent review of the new Faber pamphlet series for younger poets (including Heather Phillipson), which ends with his bracing reminder that the hard part is the next "40 years" of a poet's career, it is intriguing and informative to see how key critics of the British poetry establishment are beginning to welcome and receive this sudden generational bounty of new poets.

I for one selected - before falling ill - about 30 young UK poets for an Oxfam DVD, directed by Jennifer Oey, to be launched around Christmas. I was spoiled for choice, and hope there is a sequel, as there are many other superb poets I was unable to reach, some of them featured here in the past. My modus operandi is well known: to affirm, encourage, support and announce new talent. I much believe, to paraphrase Bono, that the sweetest song is that yet to be sung. Youth and poetry are naturals together, and while the next 40 years may, in some cases, be the hard part, tell that to Rimbaud, Keats, Shelley, Dylan Thomas, and Plath. They only got the first half, and it was fine. I also think of the poet manque, Scott Fitzgerald.

Anyway, I hope to run an indepth review of that Guardian review soon. In the meantime, let me just say it revealed three interesting things: 1) a conservative reluctance to praise or accept a good thing at face value; 2) a suspicion of anything that might smack of Alverism; and 3) the Faber pamphlet poets were identified as the strongest out of the 21. Number 3 I suspect may be a coincidence - the Faber poets are all good. That's why Clare and James chose them. However, I missed mention of Sandeep Parmar and Emily Berry, among several others. The main odd bit of the review was that a third or more was a critique of the Intro.

I actually think the Intro is weak - taking potshots at wine and bookshop events seems unfair, especially as London thrives on such things. But many Intros are weak or contentious - one thinks of the Motion-Morrison Intro for their Penguin. In this instance, might it not have been better to debate less about the editorial contraption and perhaps simply read as many of the poets as possible? Lord knows, Guardian reviews are often laudatory, so this one rather stuck out for its contending tone.

It seemed curious, to me, to question the central thesis of the book - that a new generation has emerged, galvanised by events, online and off. True, other generations three stars up the charts, and had readings and magazines and pamphlets. But this one seems the most lively, and differently-engaged and empowered, since the Sixties. One can mention Armitage and co. forever, but this latest "gen" has exploded without marketing or artifice - like Topsy it just grew, a force to be reckoned with. This will become clearer when the Lumsden Bloodaxe survey comes out.

The Guardian, so young and hip it is painful in their film and music pages, sometimes seems square and very traditional in its book pages - despite blog references and little cartoons. Perhaps the young guns of British poetry are to be squared off against, but for now, let's throw open the saloon doors and buy them a milk in a dirty glass, shall we?
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