Thursday, October 28, 2010

Look Out: It's the Rialto Young Poets!

There's lots of young poets about. Suddenly, fresh young voices are jumping up out of the woodwork all over the place. Some of them sound a bit like what's gone before, others sound different. Voice Recognition, from Bloodaxe, was the first anthology to pick up on the young, along with City State: New London Poets, which confined itself to the capital. Both these anthologies are unusual in British anthologies in having both mainstream and more experimental voices swimming alongside each other, and the last two issues of The Rialto have continued this trend.

Nathan Hamilton, the guest editor of this section of the magazine, has been given about a third of the last two issues to publish these new voices; and he has, as they say round here, done a grand job. As with other collections of new poets, we have a plethora of new names to add to the mix, with a few familiar names. So we have Chris McCabe and Luke Kennard, Heather Philipson and Paul Batchelor; but we also have Ian Neames, the splendidly named Eileen Pun and Penny Boxall.

Hamilton's thesis is an interesting one: he sees the emergence of a generation of poets who are less bothered about the whole experimental/mainstream division. Some are producing interesting hybrid work, of whom he names Luke Kennard as the chief exponent. Kennard's narratives are often absurdist, funny and decidedly odd, often in prose (though here he's represented by two poems.) One can see this hybridism, though, even in a poet like Heather Phillipson: funny, and often with a philosophical edge, juxtaposing ideas but also making a kind of sense.

Some of the names I've read before include Emily Critchley, associated with the latest version of the Cambridge School but very much her own woman; and Amy De'ath, whose poem in issue 69 is, among other things, a feisty feminist declaration of intent:

I bit to chew and chewed down hard to make it known
That I am not here for smiling, coyness, shyness, or was it something
I had in mind grinning growling yakking making my
presence felt or manning up...
From Lena on the Beach
That this selection is deliberately so diverse feels like a real change in the air to me. For the first time maybe since the sixties, there seems to be a genuine movement to break down some of the barriers between poetries. A poet like Toby Martinez las Rivas, for instance, whose two long-lined, meditative poems are a highlight of issue 69, seems to owe as much to Geoffery Hill as to Barry MacSweeney. Todd Swift has tried to promote this hybridisation for some time now; and I think he may be onto something.

Even the poets who seem most comfortable within the mainstream style are perhaps less trying to ape the Armitage/Duffy style than to try to set out their own stalls. I'm quietly optimistic that this next generation will bring up many more surprises.

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