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Sunday, 20 December 2015

EYEWEAR'S POETRY PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR 2015 - DON SHARE



A few years ago, when I first moved to London (after a few years in Paris), it was possible to bemoan the lack of any true Trans-Atlantic poetry exchange. The vital modern link between London and Chicago (and NYC) pioneered by Pound and Eliot, and then the Faber and Alvarez initiatives that allowed Lowell, Plath and Berryman to be household American names in the UK, were a thing of the past.

True, some Cambridge experimental poets had links to Americans like Dorn, and others to Ashbery, but mainly, a distance had drifted into view, and the so-called various languages, American and English, were firmly entrenched, as "two solitudes".  Meanwhile, 21st century poetry had lost its ways.  True, we had some critics offer their guiding poetics, like Bernstein. For awhile, Roddy Lumsden and Salt did a good job of trying to sort this mess out. Eyewear in 2012 also started building bridges. But still, most Americans never read a British poem anymore, and vice versa. All this changed a year or so ago.

Don Share - a mild-mannered, if brilliant, poet, scholar, critic, anthologist, with a background in a Penguin Classic on Seneca, and a spell running the Harvard Poetry series - became the Poetry Foundation's new Editor of Poetry magazine. Poetry was already an iconic magazine, more heard of than read in these British isles, and under Christian Wiman's solemn, intelligent editorship was already a quality journal that every poet in the world wanted to appear in.

But it was not any more relevant, or exciting, than half a dozen other magazines, which we could all name. It was not the most indie.  It was not the most inclusive. It was not the most international in reach. It was not the most eccentric, surprising, and stylish. Wiman was a poet and critic and editor of brilliance, and his work is to be honoured. But Don Share is a rarer creature even still - for he is an editor of genius.

What does such a claim mean? Precious little perhaps in this Digital Age, except, just as JJ Abrams is the go to guy to reboot something classic, now the poetry world has its own master rebooter - Dr Share - and not since Wordsworth has a name meant so much more than something to sign a book with.

For Share shares.  He has made Poetry the place where poets meet in this new world.  Online, and in print, every kind of poet and poem and poetry - so long as it is potent, effective, genuine and vital - appears under his expertly curated editorial open door policy - a policy that once seemed practical, then quaint, then foolhardly, then impossible - but renewed under Share is not only plausible but essential.

In the year of To Pimp A Butterfly, in the age of Ferguson and Trump and Daesh, month after month Share has astonished readers with a breadth of taste and selection opening readers up to what new, fresh, young American, British, Irish, and other poetries, actually sound like, now. Open as never before to Hip Hop/ rap poetics, for instance, Poetry is about as cutting edge as Pound's Italian razor from 1915, when he began cutting out a lot of guff.

Poetry the magazine and Foundation has its detractors, sure, - envy is always a presence in the poetry world - and some of its critics no doubt have a few good points - but nothing so big and generous and brave is ever going to please those who seek to set terse, grim limits. Sylvia Plath once said to Alvarez that "the little say No, the big say Yes."

Don Share is about as big as they come in the poetry world - a poet who has put his own strikingly clever and engaging poetry (some of the best of his time) to one side, in the service of editing and promoting thousands of other poets. All editors are generous. But none more so than Share - and daily he amuses and informs thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of readers, on social media, as no poet has before.

Don Share, in 2015, is the global face of American poetry - dare we say, of world poetry in the English language? And there is nary an edge of canon-crushing, cant, or cruelty, in his statements or judgements.  His vision is kind, if firm. His sense is humorous, and compassionate. His imagination is lively, avid, roving, and never-shut.

If we had a dozen Share-alikes (of all genders and races and ages, natch) running the other top mags and poetry publishers, we might have a total renaissance. As it is, there is only one Share, and he is doing a pretty good one-person job as it is. Thank you, Don, for changing how and why we read poetry, and Poetry.

Here's to Eyewear's Poetry Personality of the Year 2015!

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