Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Major Poet Syndrome

Interesting rather 'mixed' review of Nathan Hamilton's Dear World & Everyone In It anthology in The Wolf magazine. Interesting not so much for its opinion about the book, so much for what it says about what the reviewer (Todd Swift) seems to be looking for. He seems to be rather anxious to find The Next Big Thing. This seems to be a common thing among reviewers and critics: everyone seems to be looking for the next Auden, the next Larkin, maybe in some circles, the next Pound or the next J H Prynne, if that were possible.

In Todd Swift's case, he mentions that some of the poets could be the next Larkin, Plath or Hill. What he doesn't do, and what I suspect the standpoint of the anthology is getting at, is actually question whether we need a next Major Poet at all. Because whether that major poet likes it or not, it is assumed that this or that Major Poet is the way for everyone to write. He or she becomes the influence de jour as it were.

But what if, instead of trying to look for the one who will turn into the next Major Poet, as if there could only be one top dog, we look to value poets for what they are, not as part of some imaginary league table with winners who get to influence everyone else?

Hamilton's anthology betrays a whole panoply of influences in its pages. Prynne, Bunting, Barry MacSweeney - and yes, probably Carol Anne Duffy and Simon Armitage. No-one can deny the influence of Roddy Lumsden on contemporary poetry, but there's also Rupert Loydell and Robert Shepherd there too. There isn't a single set of influences on young British poets anymore.

Is that not a good thing? Do we need another Armitage or Duffy? Not that there won't be poets influenced by other poets; I can already see Luke Kennard as an influence on newer poets even than these; but another stream is going to be influenced by Keston Sutherland. And another stream is going to be influenced by (name your own...)

A lot of people have been grieving over the death of one of the last Major Poets of this age, Seamus Heaney. Though I suspect he's not that much of an influence on younger poets, certainly he was on a lot of poets my age. Not me, however; much as though I like some of his poems, I can't say I ever hung on his every word. My influences were outside the mainstream, at least once I got to Manchester, and often not even English (I even prefer Appollinaire as a war poet to Wilfred Owen.)

If we can away from the frantic search for the next Major Poet, maybe, just maybe, we can begin to acknowledge the presence of various streams in British poetry that have always existed but haven't fitted into this singular narrative where there always has to be a Top Dog, a capo di capo of poetry, and start to be able to look over at what the other people are doing as simple another part of the rich tapestry that we're all making together.

1 comment:

El Desdichado said...

Excellent post.
Well-said and interesting.

Write On !