In the UK, poets seem, like fish, to first appear in schools - darting about and flashing their stuff in unison, thus often establishing a period style, or styles, that define a moment. One thinks, especially, of the Fifties, synonymous for many with The Movement - or the 30s, and the Auden generation. Tensions arise because, of course, there are other poets, and other modes and manners, that don't get to swim with the big fish. So for every Movement there must be the Mavericks. One of the ways that schools, or generations, used to emerge, in the UK, was through education (the poets would have attended the same university) - another, through being discovered by a critic or editor, as DH Lawrence was (and, indeed, though I have implied there are no important British poetry critics anymore, I did not mean to exclude the impact of established older figures like a Mark Ford, or Ricks, or poet-critics like Tim Dooley and Sean O'Brien and Fiona Sampson. What I have been driving at is the absence of anyone like a Randall Jarrell, more precisely - a poet of the age wading into becoming a symptomatic arbiter of taste for that moment with full authority)
Then, more recently, - and controversially in some quarters, promotions were established, with Arts Council funding, to generate interest in emerging poets - most famously, "The New Generation" in the 90s, which arrived around the same time as Britpop and New Labour - and which was followed by The Next Generation. Also, for decades, there have been other markers for young poets of talent - placing in major national poetry competitions; appearances in key journals, like Poetry Review or Poetry London; being included in anthologies - and winning an Eric Gregory Award. Each year, the admirable Gregory process introduces Britain to five or six younger poets under the age of 30, without a full collection. Competition is fierce - and most who win go on to soon after get an offer of publication. All this by way of introducing today's Young British Poet, Emily Berry.
Berry, is, to my mind, another of the top five or ten younger poets now working in the UK - of the group without a debut collection out, one of the most anticipated, among many of her peers (along with, say, Helen Mort and a clutch of others). Her work is very much in the school of Kennard - often employing a flat, deadpan prosaic line; sinister or bizarre monologues or poetic speakers; morbid and blackly comic situations. What distinguishes Berry is her willingness to combine the very weird and even taboo, with more traditional poetic pleasures, especially emotionality, and sometimes oblique romantic confession. A fan of The Smiths, she has learned from Morrissey to explore sentimentality and the strange hand in hand.
This time we’re sunk for sure. Clinging on to opposite sides
of this white-coated table in the Indian Ocean, twin
Kingfishers sparkling between us, I’ve started ditching things
I know. Your theory about mothers of brown-eyed babies
struggling to bond – that was one of the first to be held
under until it stopped kicking. When the poppadoms came
I cracked them both with the flat of my hand and tried to forget
the tiny curls of tobacco left on the linen. Now through
the side of your glass, the way tourists stare down at strange fish
through a glass-bottomed boat, I watch beer slide into
the black n of your mouth, its light tail shivering. Later I’ll find
that nothing really sinks in beer but money; all this useless stuff
will keep on bouncing up again like bubbles backing up my nose.
What are such details worth to me or anybody now – that subtle
ribbing on your fingernails, or the cattish turn to your lip –
stuff so light it surfaces however much you weigh it down.
poem by Emily Berry