As May Day looms in Britain, so does May 6 - the national election, and, judging from last night's final leaders debate, the UK is facing either a hung parliament, or a weak Tory government. Sadly, the hapless PM, Gordon Brown, with his awkward grin and huge sense of purpose, has blundered once too often, and perhaps put Labour out of office for a decade (which might prove a godsend, as the austerity measures that are coming, to save Britain from a Greece-style collapse, will make any elected parties more Sheriff of Nottingham than Robin Hood). May in Britain is not yet summer - though, judging by the monsoon outside, it is the rainy season; this Bank Holiday is yet another very British let-down weather-wise - the last week was Clegg-sunny, and now, suddenly, it's cold, damp and grey again - no BBQ getaway just yet, then. The sense of inevitable boom and bust, shine and rain, and poetic class struggle - the dialectics of the place - seems confirmed by the latest news that arch-provocateur and original Brit Beat poet, Michael Horovitz will challenge elitist genius Geoffrey Hill for the post of Professor of Poetry at Oxford; suddenly, Britain has a contest between two older men who represent utterly different sides of the poetics spectrum, yet are both well-educated and impressive readers of their own work. Is there such a thing as a Hung Poetry Parliament?
There is surely such a thing as a poetic horn of plenty. In preparing this week of blogs featuring younger British poets (which ends tomorrow with a Welsh poet) I was conscious of the great challenge to be representative - Britain is Wales, and Scotland, as well as England - and beyond London are regions with many accomplished writers and poets, and key cultural hubs. One such place is Norwich - home to the University of East Anglia, the Norwich School of Art and Design, and important arts festivals, museums, cathedrals, schools and galleries. I sub-titled this post "The Norwich School" because each of the three young men I wish to bring to readers today has a link to this city, and it is in Norwich where they met, and, in one way or another, influenced each other, formed affiliations, and developed editorial projects together. Each is also very individually a poet in their own right, with their own trajectories and interests, but the sense of a connecting thread is strong enough to justify an omnibus feature today. I was glad to include all three of them on the Oxfam DVD, Asking A Shadow To Dance.
Hamilton has been associated with the significant anthology series Stop Sharpening Your Knives.
Sam Riviere is a co-editor of that series. Riviere was born in 1981 and completed an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway in 2006. He is currently working towards a PhD at the University of East Anglia in Creative Writing. He is a recipient of a 2009 Eric Gregory Award and was also selected for the 2010 Faber New Poets scheme; his pink pamphlet is lucky number 7 in the series. Riviere previously studied at the Norwich School of Art and Design. Riviere has a style that seems, at times, entirely his own, though indebted to, as so many of his generation are, Muldoon, Paterson, and the Motion-Morrisson school (and Donaghy, a poet Jack Underwood is studying in-depth). As he says in his best long poem, "Myself Included" "I became preoccupied with style". Riviere's poems take the flow of spoken language, and turn upon that seeming clarity, to expose the inner awkwardness, pitfalls, and pleasures of textual recognitions and reversals; as the comic George Carlin did, so does Riviere. As with the other two poets in this group, there is also something pleasingly English about his youthful preoccupation with "girls", with romance, with desire - so that a pop quality hangs over the shorter lyrics - but surely, a sensibility potentially as complex in its relation to that corpus of work as Muldoon's is, or was.
Jack Underwood, too, co-edits Stop Sharpening Your Knives. Underwood - the name is surely marvelous for a poet - was born in Norwich in 1984. He graduated from Norwich School of Art and Design in 2005 and is currently studying towards a PhD in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths College, where he also teaches English Literature. He is also a librettist and musician. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 2007. Underwood lives in Hackney, in the East End of London. He was the fourth in the Faber young poets series (a blue cover this time, as if to playfully foreshadow Riviere's). Underwood is a canny young master of short, sharp poems, sometimes strange, sometimes very unexpected, that mine their apparent minimalism, that milk the monkey on the limb for all its worth. Often seeming like parables gone wrong, his sense of humour is matched by his command of a certain tendency of the British mainstream over the last thirty or so years, since the 1980s and the Martian School. Underwood, influenced no doubt by Donaghy's trans-Atlantic emphasis on form, clarity, and the spoken voice (and equally by the mirror opposites of the unspoken, the opaque, and what eludes form, or misinforms it), has a music of his own.
Though each quietly singular, these three young men represent, to my mind, a very strong and ongoing stream of great promise and quality in contemporary British poetry, and are carrying forward the work of their tutors and mentors with great skill and talent. I offer a poem by each of them below, in reverse order of their alphabetical appearance.
I was picking an apple when it spoke
in worm tongue: youth is busy in you it said
and sure enough my skin greened, a seed-pip
lodged itself in each soft chamber of my pink heart.
Then while turning radishes, one pepper root
buzzed, a moth in my fist: love will redden the veins,
and whiten the fluids I felt it say. Go home.
Wash your hands, for girls cannot be dug at.
I walked the back-lanes where cow parsley dipped
and posed. One sprig I took and held to my nose,
giggled: I am fed on the dead men of your house.
There is fog inside you. I smelled my family name.
Lover, if I am foggish and truly dying, if love
fleshes itself wordily and I am young enough to say,
if blood has taken root and swelled me to a man,
take me home, wash my hands.
poem by Jack Underwood
Once with Jake before you knew you'd been spiked
And the city centre went totally Arabian Nights
You wandered all down riverside to find
A spot to smoke, and slowed to a stop below
A bright apartment window, where a girl
Nude to the waist was blow-drying her hair,
Eyes half-closed, her face, like someone driving,
Associating nothing, and your head was threaded
With the same thoughtless glimmer as the light
From her apartment made its web across the river
And the glass between you must have rippled
With her boredom, you felt the place around you
Flush with sudden riches, what made that beating
If not unseen city birds, and if not me who
Heard you say, I think I'm feeling something
poem by Sam Riviere
high-flown Malcolm how to manage
precision of a landing tail-ends of a time in pieces
flowcharts pointing downward
the plane falls in
its belly up licked fire appears
to unzip the sky in vapours lost Malcolm
dimly listens with a telescope to logic
tries not to wake the day
he was homeward bound
when a red eye street stared deep again
and it's a while now since we've spoken
he wakes again
the bones within his skin still sleeping
considers the last of anything interesting
poem by Nathan Hamilton (from a series of "Malcolm" poems)