Monday, February 25, 2013

Excess All Areas?

"In New Lines (1956) Robert Conquest advocated 'a sound and fruitful attitude to poetry', after the self-expressive 'excesses' of the poetry of the 40s, the mistake of the generation was to give 'the Id, a sound player on the percussions side under a strict conductor, too much of a say in the doings of the orchestra as a whole.' Instead, felt Conquest, a 'new and healthy general standpoint...[demonstrating a] reverence for the real person or event' was required [my italics]."

Nathan Hamilton from the introduction to Dear World and Everyone In It, the new anthology of young poets from Bloodaxe.

This is interesting: are we seeing a new revival of excess in poetry, a new generation of poets who, like the 40s poets, feel they have nothing to lose by going over the top in terms of imagery, feeling, ideas, in terms of the shape of poems and the page? It seems like there are very few, or certainly a lot less, younger poets writing those well-behaved, sensibly-clothed poems the Movement advocated. Maybe it's a consequence of the recession and its continuing uncertainties, or the rise of new media and the access to all kinds of ideas provided by the Internet; but there does seem to be a seachange in poetry, away from neat lines, controlled metaphors, regular verses and tentative feelings into something wilder.

This is true I think even of those young poets who are now beginning to be published by Faber & Faber: such as Emily Berry, a poet who is not wildly experimental, and maybe owes something to early Armitage but who is really entirely her own voice. There's something devil-may-care about the poetry of young poets which is, to my mind, very refreshing. So it's not just about the old binaries of avant verses mainstream; it's about wearing a very unsuitable pair of pumps to walk up Goat Fell, and surviving the attempt. In fact, some (not all by any means) of the new experimental poets look a bit too like the previous generations for their own good.

I don't know how long this will last, or whether it will have a lasting effect; all I know is that I like it. It's about time for a little excess: maybe we're partying while the Titanic of this nation's economy is sinking and we're ruled by a party of puritanical blame-the-poor-but-not-the-bankers Tories, but it's producing some great poetry.

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