Skip to main content

Smith On Lung Jazz and Kingston MA Poets Pamphlet

Barbara Smith reviews
Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam
Edited by Todd Swift and Kim Lockwood
Cinnamon Press/Eyewear Publishing, 2012
The Hallelujah Chorus
Kingston University MA Poetry
Various poets, 2012

Back in autumn of 2008, seventeen young British Poets were selected for inclusion in The Manhattan Review (Fall/Winter 2008-9), as part of a feature on young British poets. Indeed, I went over to London the following March of 2009 and witnessed some of the selected poets read from their work at Oxfam, Marylebone, to a large, very receptive audience. In introducing his selection in The Manhattan Review, Todd Swift described poetry’s “British Empirical tradition” as still having a sense of the “neo-classical, or Romantic, mode”; that language had become the battleground; and that the British avant-garde tended to “disrupt or reconsider the lyric stance, and investigate language from a philosophical position.” He went on to assert that the poets he had selected “may, or may not in complex and creative ways [have] disentangled themselves from this fertile muck”, with the proviso that it was a “provisional report on an unfolding present”.

It was also acknowledged that Roddy Lumsden was completing editing Bloodaxe’s Identity Parade (2010), a much broader anthology in scope and range, which encompassed contemporary British and Irish poets. Swift concluded in his introduction by observing that the original seventeen were “less possessed by the demons that haunted post-war Britain”. Generation Next for poetry indeed. I recall enjoying some of that seventeen entrance the audience with the wide variety of styles and forms as well as their confident communication of their work to the listening public. Most of that original line-up (bar about four poets) found their way into Lung Jazz. The selection criteria being simply that the poets consider themselves part of the British poetry community and had been born in or after 1970.

Given these two previous forays (also thinking of The Salt Book of Younger Poets and Voice Recognition, also from Bloodaxe) it could be questioned why we need another anthology of young contemporary poetry. The answer is two-fold: it raises funds and awareness for Oxfam: “allowing poetry to make something happen” as well as showcasing “poems that define a generation.” So, the poems themselves are doing the talking: some as unfussily polished as Princess cut diamonds, such as Emily Berry’s ‘Devil Music’ or Liz Berry’s ‘Horse’; others as wide to the possibilities of language and comprehension, with Tony Williams’ ‘A New Metal’ or Rufo Quintavalle’s ‘Names and the animals’; still more playing with quotidian observance, like Ben Wilkinson’s ‘Open Return’, and of course there is humour, such as the playfulness of Sophie Hannah’s ‘The Dalai Lama on Twitter’. It is a pity that the poems are not organised ‘speaking to each other’, but that is an ordering which creates its own problems; instead the editors have opted for alphabetisation, which enables easy retrieval.

When asked about essential things to do when becoming a poet, one of the things often mentioned is the need to read poetry. Not just the Robert Frosts, or Marianne Moores, or Sylvia Plaths, Elizabeth Bishops, or Eavan Bolands but reading what is new, what is now happening in poetry. That’s why contemporary anthologies serve as a good place to start sipping and supping at emerging poetry, even as they are arbitrated by others. It may be that this taste will lead us, hopefully, to follow, support and keep on reading the poets we have enjoyed and engage with those whose work is more challenging as we move forward, whether as readers or as poets.

The word anthology derives from the Greek, a gathering of flowers, and has been subsumed into literary culture to mean ‘a gathering of flowering verse’ – quite appropriate given the range of work gathered into Lung Jazz. Describing it in floral terms, one could think of the recent trend for seeding wildflower meadows – a variation on old and universal themes but with definite zinging poetry pops of neons and acids and a reworking of formal patterns These poems are for reading now and reading again in decades to come, when we look forward to seeing who will withstand the vagaries of time.

On to an anthology of a different kind: The Hallelujah Chorus from the Kingston University’s MA in Poetry. Here we have twelve poets presenting their work in a stylish pamphlet. How do you describe such a gathering? As a, “heterogeneous, eclectic group of styles and approaches”, according to Dr Swift, their erstwhile poetry tutor and mentor.

Witness the erotic undertow of a Cato Pedder, in the poem that gives its title to the pamphlet, ‘The Hallelujah Chorus’ ‘You’re turning over your engine / in the garage of my womb’, giving an old trope a new swing. Or see how one poet looks to the ephemera of passing phases of youth in Robin Thomas’ ‘For the Duration’ “When this lot is over / I’ll rip off this uniform.” How about the menacing intrigue of a poem like Justin White’s ‘Comfort’ whose narrator “can’t sleep / without it” – it being a gun – or is it? This too is an interesting taster – perhaps we will be reading some of these poets in future poetry anthologies.

Barbara Smith is an Irish poet and blogger.

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog


According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…


Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…


The Oscars - Academy Awards officially - were once huge cultural events - in 1975, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Shirley MacLaineandBob Hope co-hosted, for example - and Best Picture noms included The Conversation and Chinatown. Godfather Part 2 won. Last two years, movies titled Birdman and Spotlight won, and the hosts and those films are retrospectively minor, trifling. This year, some important, resonant films are up for consideration - including Hidden Figures and Moonlight, two favourites of this blog. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington will hopefully win for their sterling performances in Fences. However, La La Land - the most superficial and empty Best Picture contender since Gigi in 1959 (which beat Vertigo) - could smite all comers, and render this year's awards historically trivial, even idiotic.

The Oscars often opt for safe, optimistic films, or safe, pessimistic films, that are usually about white men (less often, white women) finding their path to doing the right thin…