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The Usual Suspects?

I recently received a copy of A Concise Companion to Postwar British and Irish Poetry.  It has chapters by Stephen Burt, Drew Milne, Peter Middleton, and Romana Huk, among others, so I expected its "chronology" at the front to be rather more broad church than the merely mainstream - especially as the chapters by the above critics and poets trace exactly the tensions, rivalries, debates, and hybridities, between a variety of poetics in postwar Britain.  Instead, the so-called chronology is startlingly bare, devoid of almost any reference to other than a certain dominant type of poet - published in almost all instances by Faber, Picador, and Cape.  One wants to borrow Charles Bernstein's term, "Official Verse Culture".

Not that I have a problem with this sort of poetry - it's among the best produced in these isles, certainly - but one would expect a serious academic book of this kind, however concise, to offer a better list.  For instance, under the heading 2003, we get just this: "United States and Britain attack Iraq.  Ciaran Carson, Breaking News.  Lavinia Greenlaw, Minsk."  This is almost comically misleading.  For one, where are the anti-war anthologies of the period - the most important document of that year in poetry, and certainly worth mentioning?  In 1999, they do mention Prynne's Poems, but that's one of very few concessions to the work of the British Poetry Revival, the Cambridge School, or the other tradition of linguistically innovative work in these isles.

There is also short shift paid in the chronology to poetry pamphlets, e-books, DVDs, CDs, blogs, performance events, festivals, or any other Digital Age developments.  The 1950 chronology fails to list works by Lynette Roberts or FT Prince - major figures of the period.  1966 does list Briggflatts.  There are a few books by Denise Riley listed in the early 90s, and some Peter Reading and Tom Raworth.  In the 1970s, they do mention an FT Prince collection, at last - though hardly his strongest.  But they don't list Poetic Artifice, the most important book of literary criticism published in the English language that decade.  I look forward to reading the essays.  I am sure they will fill in some of the blanks.


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Wheeler Light for 'Life Jacket'.

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Wheeler Light currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Life Jacket

summer camp shirtsI couldn’t fit in then
are half my size nowI wanted to wear
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of an afterthoughtin a sinking ship body
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With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.