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The Guardian's Modern Poetry Classics

The Guardian is one of the more left-leaning, liberal, newspapers, but whenever it reports on Poetry with a capital P, it tends to be about as radical as The Daily Telegraph or The Sun.  Witness its big spread in Friday's G2 section, which, to its credit, emphasizes the good news that "Poetry" is alive and well in the UK, and, according to Don Paterson (cue that photo of his blue piercing gaze) selling as well as much literary fiction.  Alongside this lively piece, is a brief canonical to-read-list, by Sarah Crown, suggesting 8 "essential poets": Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Sean O'Brien, Don Paterson, Craig Raine, Geoffrey Hill, Jo Shapcott and Alice Oswald.  Not one of these poets, of course, deserves to not be listed - they are all very good poets, and a handful of them may be touched by genius.

Still, it seems a little wearying to see that this establishment list is offered as the main example of what's on offer today - after all the hoopla in the main article.  These are the poets published by Faber, Penguin, and Picador - top list poets from large presses.  Not one poet on the list is from Bloodaxe, or Carcanet, Salt, or represents the other traditions in contemporary UK poetry, such as performance, or late modernist, or for that matter, Black or Asian, or post-colonial, poetics.  Further, "Poetry" tends to be equated with British poetry, without really indicating how global English-language poetry has become, or how fragmented and multiple it is, in terms of style and intention.

One sees how, conservatively, reputations are consolidated in London, through prize-winning, and publication.  My quarrel is not with these poets, whose poetry is all excellent, but with journalistic lists that exclude different options for readers, readers targeted precisely for their relative ignorance of the subject.  Nor does The Guardian ever mention the politically-engaged poems and poets of the UK, of which there are many.  Also missing is mention of the little magazines and small pamphlet presses like The Wolf and Tall-lighthouse, Oystercatcher, and HappenStance, where so much now happens - or indeed blogs like Eyewear and many others.  As often is the case with such articles, the intention to big up poetry, but the usual lazy reaching for comfortable Rolodex yields relatively stale and over familiar news.  In this case, the article is good news, but it could have been even better.

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