Sunday, December 18, 2011

Some Optimistic Thoughts For Christmas

It's been an interesting year for poetry, hasn't it? I've bought and acquired loads on anthologies this year; it seems like it's been a year of change in the poetry world. The old guard - well, they still have the increasingly irrelevant awards for themselves - but it's been a year for young poets. The Salt Anthology of Younger Poets, Eighteens (Knives Forks & Spoons) and the Shearsman anthology of innovative landscape poetry all showcase a raft of new poets who are increasingly showing what they can do.

The energy levels of all this new poetry are often exhaustingly breathtaking. Poets like Jonty Tiplady, Amy De'ath, Emily Critchley, Sophie Robinson, Stephen Emmerson, Richard Barrett and many others are doing things with language that are elliptical, innovative and often quite quite beautiful and strange, in ways that didn't seem possible when I started writing 30 years ago. The days of innovation seemed to be over.

And in one sense, they are, in the sense that no-one is inventing a whole set of new forms; the 'heroic' age of the futurists, the dadaists and a whole sweep of manifestos has probably passed. But the fact that more young poets than ever have access to that history seems to be what makes these writers so adventurous. There are still poets being straight-jacketed into the mainstream, and maybe that suits their temperament; but when a click of the mouse can take you to the poetry of Mina Loy and you can access so much amazing stuff online, it's no wonder that things are opening up.

The categories are a lot looser than they were. Though they still exist: the mainstream is still the genre that pretends it's not a genre (the way 'literary fiction' likes to pretend it's not a genre); and there are still those fusty edifices of award-winning Faber/Picador/Cape poets who like to pretend they're the Best, despite history having passed them by. But there's a lot to be hopeful for.

With regard to that Best word: I can understand why Salt used it for their anthology; and why Puppywolf use it for their anthology of Manchester poets. It's a good marketing tool. It looks good in a bookshop. But neither anthology can be an objective view of what's 'best'; the Salt book is one man's view; the Puppywolf book has four editors' opinion. Either way, they leave out a lot of excellent stuff, and include some stuff that I wouldn't consider as good. There is no objective view of 'good poetry' though; and no doubt my choice would reflect a whole different criteria of 'best' than the ones in those anthologies.

They're both good anthologies, though. Occasionally, BOMP in particular has the kind of poem that makes me cringe ('This is poem about brown eyes is really about prejudice gay people' for instance: sorry to the poet concerned, but it just struck me as too much like it should have had the word 'Moral' pinned to its last line.)

I discovered some new writers this year, rediscovered a few older ones; and felt rather more optimistic about the state of poetry than I have done for awhile. A good year for the roses, and for poetry.

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