Eyewear blog today surveys the world of British poetry, and compile a list of the twenty (20) most "powerful" individuals in "British poetry". Both terms are obviously contentious, and no apology can be made for not parsing them endlessly here. Critical work requires some jargon. Anyway, we know what British poetry is, mainly - it is poetry published in Britain, or written by British poets, or both, or how those two sets overlap. This list notes those figures who most potently shape what contemporary British poetry is - materially, ideologically, editorially, critically, and literally (in the act of creating it). Notably, there are few academics or critics-only on this list, because British poetry has few extremely well-known and powerful poetry critics or scholars able to shape the canon, or cultural reception of poetry in these isles. We have no Helen Vendler or Marjorie Perloff, to be exact.
We have no Harold Bloom. A. Alvarez no longer weighs in, and few others have his former heft. Those on this list come closest to that sort of power to decide what poems, poets, poetry books, and poetics, will be published, read, well-reviewed, taught, and prized. And, it must be noted, we need to problematise the idea of agency here, because even these figures, vital as they are, and sometimes controversial, are hardly omnipotent. Nor do they comprise some sort of "establishment" - there is not one British poetry establishment, anyway, but three or four, which overlap. Nor are these figures necessarily to be celebrated, per se: this isn't a list that says this is good, or right - just, this is as it is.
There may be a few names left off this list, and I have left several respected friends and colleagues off, who are very influential, important and should be more influential, but no argument can be easily made to remove any that are here - there is a brute facticity to these choices. These are names to conjure with, and they are, for the most part, famous names. They are mostly the names of professors, laureates, editors, and award-winners. The British (or English, at any rate) are often discomfited by the idea of anything as inelegant as use of power - but cultural power is the only power that poets are likely ever to have or exercise, and to deny it exists leads to a state of dis-empowerment for many. The hope is, by creating such a list, power can be explored and utilised for the maximum cultural good, in future.
I have not listed those with the economic power to fund or defund, however. No one here is a bean counter or politician.
The list is in alphabetical order.
CAROL ANN DUFFY
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