I was speaking this morning with the fine older British poet, Alan Brownjohn, about the deaths this last weekend of Peter Porter and Alan Sillitoe. We agreed it was a terrible loss. Brownjohn has been doing his part these last few days to publically discuss and properly mourn Porter - a major figure in Britain - by writing in The Guardian, and recording a talk on his work for the BBC. Porter's Selected (Picador, 2010) is just now out, shaped with the editorial eyes of Don Paterson and Sean O'Brien, and is an impressive 400 or so pages. One person's Collected is another Selected - it reveals the sheer scope of his achievement over the past 50 yars. If American readers were tempted to buy one book by an "older British poet" this year, Porter's Selected might be a wise place to start.
From a poet in his 80s, now, to a poet who is just in her 20s. Annie Katchinska is perhaps the youngest of British-based poets to have already achieved something of a genuine name for herself; her rise is meteoric, and has some of the precocity and excitement that surrounded the young Dylan Thomas. I for one knew of her work a few years back, when I published her early poems online, and I am sure she was no more than 16 then.
Katchinska was born in Moscow in 1990, and currently divides her time between London and Cambridge. One of the other ways in which support for and interest in younger poets is generated in the UK is via the Foyle prizes. She was a Foyle Young Poet of the Year in 2006 and 2007. She was included in the previously-mentioned Bloodaxe anthology Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century.
Intriguingly, the pamplet (chapbook) has come into its own in the last few years in Britain. There is a major new award (the Marks) for best pamphlet of the year, and several small presses, such as Tall-lighthouse, Hearing Eye, Oystercatcher, and Pig Hog, have generated much excitment with their collections. Faber and Faber, the UK's leading mainstream poetry publisher, with its venerable back catalogue of greats like Pound, Eliot and Stevens, and recent poets like Hughes, Larkin, Heaney and Oswald, is preeminent in its field. Faber decided to enter the chapbook game for young peots, with Arts Council funding, last year or so, and selected 8 poets for the initial run (Fiona Benson, Toby Martinez De Las Rivas, Heather Phillipson, Jack Underwood, Joe Dunthorne, Sam Riviere, and Tom Warner). Katchinska was selected to be "Number 6" in this series, and so her Faber New Poets pamphlet has just been published.
Katchinska's work is, as the two poems below might reveal, filled with surprising twists and turns of diction and syntax, at once energetic, and yet able to embody older tones and access more established traditions. Her work is zippy, strange, sometimes erotic, often in-yer-face, and almost always truly surprising. She writes, it seems to me, the newest kind of British poetry, which has the flush of youth, and the unimpressed daring of the 21st century - a decade that has been there, done that, and hungers for something perhaps simpler, something certainly different.
Oh my love my little jug of grape juice don't tell me there's a time and a place,
and don't tell me your weepy tale of the clearing you found, with the archways and nets
and the wildlife pressing scrambling up, where every spike and thorn was your mother
or father and the yadayada yellow and green light made you sick.
Now come, now come, let me take you, let's go back --and I hope we'll see it,
the stone bird hanging upside down on a rope dirty and featherless swinging in a wind
that shocks your mouth to a perfect red star I can eat. And I promise to keep you alive
should your heart make a noise and spin into bats. Give me your neck. I tell you any air
you drink in my presence will burn like a beast.
Restless, I am.
pinned in my bulk humming,
only a black plastic leash running
into me, steady steady
feeding its energies --
I close my eyes, wait, feel
the fizz of that. But right there, a woman
glowing, silked in herself
who can stand with a cold drink and crackle
I want as she sips. And see --
the man who bawls JACOB, MY NAME
IS JACOB to the other soggy faces --
he's a staggerman, a crumpleman, a little
dribblespittleman, I taste him
on the inside of my cheek.
These pickings. The curve of shoulder, waist,
the slack workshirts, she calls Jacob a dickhead
with a ball of red tongue.
Always this pulp.
Meanwhile forever my hard cubic torso --
oh, scour me clean with your kiddyfists
before the lights thud dark
and the moon spills
when I can't lift my dead eyes to look.
poems by Annie Katchinska