Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The State of British Poetry 3

Being a review of City State: New London Poetry, penned in the margins, 2009 (£9.99)

The picture on the cover is of fingerprint through which can be seen a map of the London Underground. So far so London: but it says something about the status of British poetry: it goes on under most peoples' feet most of the time. It's hardly noticed by the media, and yet it goes on, beautifully producing.

And here is a good, deep shaft drilled into the poetry of the capital. I don't know what it says about what's going on elsewhere, in Sheffield, say, or Cardiff, or even remoter parts like Cockermouth; but it shows that poetry is in a very healthy state at least in the capital.

What I like about this anthology is its range. There are poets here as Heather Philipson who, I guess, could fit into the latest Bloodaxe catalogue with relative ease. There are others, like Nick Potamitis or the founders of the Oppened readers, Steve Wiley and Alex Davies, who are much more experimental and are carrying on the work of poets such as Allen Fisher and Iain Sinclair. And there's poets coming out of a more performance-oriented stream such as Jacob Sam La Rose, whose wonderfully ironic How to be Black is one of the many highlights of this collection. Holly Pester, too, is a performer, but one of a very different type: her mashups of syntax, semantics and sound probably deserve to be heard as well as read.

Mostly, these are new names to me: except for the very wonderful Chris McCabe, whose first collection The Hutton Enquiry is an essential must-buy from Salt. It's good to see so many young poets in one place, all of them writing in different ways. It's good to see a book that is so diverse: most anthologies have one poem followed by another fairly similar. Here we get the rhymes of Ben Borek followed by the more open-form Siddartha Bose, and a real sense of surprise and adventure.

If it shows one thing, it's that adventure and ringing the changes are still part of the world of contemporary poetry. When the media, if they touch poetry at all, just give us the usual suspects, it's great to know that beyond all that, there's a real wealth of poetic talent about. This is a true anthology of what's going on in poetry now; and even though it confines itself to the capital of this fair land, it's a real barometer of what's going on over the whole country.

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