It is an apt time for Don Paterson's Selected Poems to come out from Faber (mine is in the post) - because it cements his status as the next poet down the rung from Paul Muldoon, in terms of British/Irish poets of ludic excellence, working in the less-avant garde part of the field. And now here comes Jon Stone, whose School of Forgery is the Poetry Book Society Recommendation currently. I spoke with Stone last night, at the same time as Owen Sheers, and it was a pleasure to be in the company of two major if opposed English stylists, who both dress well. Stone, in person, is slight, slim, dapper, and very pleasant. He has the manners of a modest dandy. His poetry is entirely predicated on the artifice, puzzling, and pop culture nous that one associates with Muldoon, Paterson, and, perhaps, Roddy Lumsden, but also, differently, is more directly influenced by Japanese culture.
No British stylist since Wilde has so openly celebrated their Japonisme. I would say that lurking behind all this facaderie is F For Fake, the great Welles film, which Stone may have seen or simply inhaled; I feel kinship to this poetry (and not just because he seems to reference an early Alistair MacLean poem of mine) as I too love the twins Oscar/Orson who together reforged what the media's mutating mask and mirror means. And Jon Stone has as many Os as Orson too! Oh.
Of course, Stone also pays lip service to Oulipean ideas of constraint, and Lumsden/Chivers new formalism/hybridity, via Keston Sutherland via Charles Bersntein via Christian Bok (umlaut optional). This book of his, from Salt, is exciting in the way that the new Kennard may be, and we hope the Berry Faber will be - that is, it is not just good for a young poet good, but good in the way that (once) Why Brownlee Left or Quoof was good - it raised the bar, it threw down a new guantlet, it - choose your trope. Eyewear has long believed that there is a generational shift in the UK that begins, more or less, in 1963 or '65. That catches Paul Farley, Daljit Nagra, Oswald, Paterson, etc... basically, meaning, poets born less than 50 years ago are new and different, intriguingly so. Family resemblances are one thing, but slice this generation off at 1970, and you really begin to see a whole new world of wonder. But, to really break off into what the YBPs are about, think of 1980 as your new borderline. We're talking about poets just around 30.
Stone was born in 1983. Berry in 1981. The Berry Stone generation (one could add Ahren Warner and dozens of others here, see Lung Jazz, etc., but this will do for now) is very much its own kind of thing. And it is bracing and fun and lovely to really sense and see this shift happening, as we live and breathe. Now back to Stone's debut. It is brilliant, in ways that most UK books of poetry haven't been, ever, really. The density of clever wordplay in 'Mimic Octopus' is Muldoon/Paterson, but the tone is stranger, more tense, odder: "now black as the bunraku puppeteer". Muldoon never let you forget he was from Moy. Paterson is laddish enough to remind you of the football scores. Stone speaks knowingly of manga and Musami Rikko. Of course, Stone is belated - China is the future, Japan a decadent past, and manga is very 90s. I used to write poems about geisha and Sailor Moon was anime I story-edited when Stone was 11.
But the sincerity of affectation, the aesthetic sentimentality, of these poems, is a new beast. There is skill, craft, technique here, and off the shelf pop references, but also a step-change level of intricate game-playing. For want of a better word, this really is dandyish. It's European stuff. Rich, thick, arty, revelling in the accessible opacity, the frostwork jouissance. Nothing wrong then, but the avant-garde isn't usually this rewarding. And Stone has the linguistic panache to pull it off. Anyone can claim to be a magpie decadent avant la lettre. Stone does it. And does it fearlessly. School of Forgery fakes its own up-to-date poetic mastery so well, it manages to become what it merely gestures at: a state-of-the-art masterpiece. English poetry was perhaps last this differently, oddly smart with Christopher Reid's Katerina Brac. Is Bric-a-brac back? For now, we must turn on to a new Stone, over and out.