It is a bright, sunny autumn day in London, with intermittent rain (English paradox), as I wrap up a week's blogging here, and the Prime Minister has personally intervened last night to defend military cuts from Osborne's urge to cut. I have hoped, this week, to offer some "new bearings" in British poetry, but without sticking slavishly to birthdates or generations, though I have been, it is true, mostly casting a warm eye on the younger emerging talents.
Lists and canons are invidious, only until one imagines what we'd do without them, especially in this intertwined and networked world with so very many talented poets out there. It is easy to mock Eliot and Leavis for the April cleaning they offered in the Twenties and Thirties, but it did allow us to read a number of good poets in a new light. I am a big believer in anthologies, as an art as well as a skill, and it is no coincidence that I have been offering a mini-virtual anthology at this blog, named for the finest series of American poetry anthologies ever compiled.
Some anthologists (unfairly, it seems to me) become comic figures of loss, like Oscar Williams, their great efforts on behalf of others ultimately swept away with the big bad broom of "time", that so many of us foolishly hope will come and make everything orderly on the poetry shelves. Time, instead, tends, I think, to maintain the order that came before, which is why Eliot's argument about individual talents shifting the canon was always as progressive as it was reactionary - properly dialectical. Without critics, editors, anthologists, and eagle-eyed poets and readers constantly on the look-out for what was great, or good, or merely thrilling in the big book of old poems, then perhaps those orderly shelves will merely remain undusted, and samey. I will make two predictions about the contemporary poetry consensus, and how it will be read in 100 years (2110): one, Seamus Heaney will still be being read; and two, one of the other poets who will be considered few of us have heard of (or may not yet be born).
Poetry's canons are made both of the famous, universally-acclaimed, prize winners, who confirm what we think poetry is, and is also formed by those transformational and utterly unexpected types who jump out of nowhere and show us what poetry could be. I think both kinds of poet should be welcome. There is a third kind of poet, I suppose, the kind who does shuttle diplomacy between the accepted, the traditional, and the radically new - or, perhaps, goes between communities, schools, nations, languages, canons, genres, media, bringing back news to the tribe. I call these poets The Go-Betweens, and without their energy and commitment to packing poetry in their bags when they travel, and declaring it upon arrival, we'd be all the poorer for it.
Before sharing them (these final 8!) with you, on this my seventh day, I want to remind you to go back and read my original series of posts, from earlier in the year, where I offered a number of recommendations. I think that if you take the poets I featured then (such as Luke Kennard and Emily Berry) and add them to this list, you'd have a pretty good idea of the poets and poetry I think is at the forefront of newer directions in the UK. But if I had more time and space, I'd want to feature others, too, like Joe Dunthorne, Owen Sheers, Andrea Brady, Clare Pollard, Sheila Hillier, Peter Finch, Katrina Noami, Katy-Evans Bush, Lianne Strauss, Tim Wells, etc. I should also add one more solemn caveat for readers - if you have not yet read the clearly established figures of the moment here like Carol Ann Duffy, Wendy Cope, Christopher Reid, James Fenton, Fiona Sampson, Paul Farley, Daljit Nagra, Jo Shapcott, Alice Oswald, and Don Paterson, to name ten of the best living British poets in the main tradition of these isles, then this new map I have been offering may bear you off-piste. We need to take our bearings from the stars, but always keep one eye on the ground, where new shoots spring up.
Tim Dooley has taught in London and Hertfordshire since 1974. He is reviews and features editor of Poetry London and has worked as a creative writing tutor for Arvon, Writers' Inc and The Poetry School. He has reviewed poetry for the TLS and written obituaries for the Times. In the 1970s he co-edited the little magazine Green Lines. His first collection, The Interrupted Dream, was published by Anvil in 1985. This was followed by The Secret Ministry (2001) and Tenderness (2004), both winners in the Poetry Business
Tenderness was also a Poetry Book Society pamphlet choice.His recent collection Keeping Time, published by Salt, was a Poetry Book Society recommendation for Winter 2008. His new collection, Imagined Rooms, reprints the poems he wishes to keep from The Interrupted Dream, some in different versions, along with twenty poems previously uncollected in book form. Dooley is one of the most open-minded and attentive of British poets and critics.
He has been a champion in essays and reviews of Ashbery and other American poets for some time, but fairly balances this with an appreciation of the English line. As a poet, his work achieves great if subtle moments of style, and he is a kind of British abstract lyricist at moments, if such a thing is possible. As an editor, he has also been very open to the emerging poets, and has stewarded a new generation of fine younger poetry reviewers. He seems to me one of the key British poets for Americans to reacquaint themselves with for the affinities he holds out.
The Old Worship
On Station Road the rockabilly fans cradling loud
cassette players slouch with brutal authority like
connoisseurs of art. You arrive with a standard-
lamp and flowers in your hat. My druid priestess.
It is Saturday in the tiresome world - too late to
start a religion. We make our way along a pavement
crowded with difficulty: unsure who is still
friendly to us, whom we should pretend to love.
There is the library to be comfortable in when
your thoughts chatter. Hear the microprint index
whirr. It flies through an orchard of shelves,
their branches heavy with cling-film coloured fruit.
Maybe today there will be something new. My
shining notes glitter in their ache for synthesis.
Beyond the modern glass, the car park with its
new thin trees waits respectfully for spring.
Or perhaps there is sorting our furniture again,
moving the carpet we are not tired of, getting
a fresh hold on the room. Then we will be ready
for the cosy months, the long days we take refuge
in. There will be time for sacred music and time for
distractions. Hope for that. Let us ignore the
brown packet of letters, the unfamiliar hand,
the old thin words of those we have failed to love.
Jen Hadfield lives in Shetland where she works as a poet and writing tutor. Her first collection Almanacs (Bloodaxe Books, 2005) was written in Shetland and the Western Isles in 2002 thanks to a bursary from the Scottish Arts Council, and it won an Eric Gregory Award in 2003, which enabled her to work on her second collection, Nigh-No-Place (Bloodaxe Books, 2008), in Canada and Shetland. She went on to win the T.S. Eliot Prize for Nigh-No-Place, which was also a Poetry Book Society Recommendation as well as being shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection. She has also received a Dewar Award to produce a solo exhibition of Shetland ex-votos in the style of sacred Mexican folk art, incorporating rubrics of very short fiction. Hadfield's recent win of Britain's most important poetry prize was a resounding changing of the guard, as she became the youngest winner ever. Her syntax and diction is on the move, and takes in the North American and British landscapes and wordscapes in a powerfully refreshing way. Her work - surprising, inventive, spiky and imaginative - has renewed poetry.
I go to the rockpool at the slack of the tide
to mind me what my poetry's for.
It has its ventricles, just like us -
pumping brine, like bull's blood, a syrupy flow.
It has its theatre -
hushed and plush.
It has its Little Shop of Horrors.
It has its crossed and dotted monsters.
It has its cross-eyed beetling Lear.
It has its billowing Monroe.
I go to the rockpool at the slack of the tide
to mind me what my poetry's for.
For monks, it has barnacles
to sweep the broth as it flows, with fans,
grooming every cubic millimetre.
It has its ebb, the easy heft of wrack from rock,
like plastered, feverish locks of hair.
It has its flodd.
It has its welling god
with puddled, podgy cheeks and jaw.
It has its holy hiccup.
Its minute's silence
I go to the rockpool at the slack of the tide
to mind me what my poetry's for.
James Byrne was born near London in 1977. He is the editor and co-founder of The Wolf poetry magazine. His second collection in the UK, Blood/Sugar, was published by Arc Publications in November 2009. He is currently working on an anthology of contemporary Burmese poets. In 2008, he won the Treci Trg poetry
festival prize in Serbia. In 2009 his New and Selected Poems: The Vanishing House was published by Treci Trg (in a bilingual edition) in Belgrade. He is the co-editor of Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century, published by Bloodaxe in 2009 and currently lives in New York City, where he is completing his graduate studies, on a departmental scholarship and fellowship at New York University. As John Kinsella has observed, Byrne writes like no else, quite, in Britain - his syntax is just slightly off-beat in a very satisfying way. Moreover, his linguistic choices, use of various forms, and engagement with Middle Eastern and American poetries, makes him a somewhat radical figure. Byrne's criticism and editing is marked by a decisive, unseduced ear, which allows him to make brave breaks with accepted reputations, and offer new directions. A maverick's maverick, then, and an invigorating one.
The conundrums in a face
hard-grown, its infeuds:
Bacchic Id / Orphic Superego,
self-Czarism / self-censurism.
I nominate a dead-on look,
atomized for complexity-
prominent in eggways profile
the inquisitorial eye churns
a granary for clue-making,
though each case arrives
unsolvable: a watermark
in a fusty almanac conceals
to Dermatology, Alcoholism
Uncultivated. Both titles
vociferous in their absence,
both refused by the mirror
for a thorntipped, hunted look.
Laggardly, the face stares back
unable / unwilling to answer
what it has been. But marked
and marked again, altar-points,
mintings of light and shadow.
I call back a day of sparse blues
eavesdropping on a lit field.
There is room for a cut breeze.
The clouds show no signs of ageing.
Michael McKimm was born in Belfast in 1983 and grew up near the Giant's Causeway. He has a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing and MA in English Literature, both from the University of Warwick. In 2007 he won an Eric Gregory award from the Society of Authors. Michael's debut collection Still This Need was published by Heaventree Press in 2009. He is included in Best Irish Poetry in English 2010. He is published in various journals and anthologies, and reviews regularly for The Warwick Review. He was recently commissioned to write poems for events at Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts, London. Michael is currently British Council Writer-in-Residence at the University of Iowa (October-November, 2010) where he will be working on his next collection, giving readings and talks, and teaching a short course on contemporary Irish poetry. He is reading at Prairie Lights book shop, Iowa City, tomorrow. McKimm lives in London, where he works for the Geological Society Library. His work, as his biography indicates, takes into account the Irish, British, and American, communities.
Plenty of blizzards in the visitors' book,
years spent tugging cars out with a tractor,
so even though it was already snowing
when she left the lighthouse - a few inches
on the ground, full flakes falling fast -
and tendons of ice were stretching across
the kyle, it was nothing worse than before,
and turkey was needed, wine for mulling,
rich cheese and a twelve year old port.
He was filling the scuttle from the bunker
out back when he heard the telephone,
connected through the static to Durness:
The road's too full of snow to get back home.
I'm kipped up in a caravan with friends.
How would we fare, love, in similar duress?
Would we laugh at first like they did, hope
for clearer skies tomorrow, check the news?
Would instinct keep the cooking stove well stoked
and know to make the most of soup and beans?
It is not snow or ice or a hard loch
between us, or anything so solid;
but there is distance, long and darkened days.
So imagine when he wakes to see her
through the porthole, tyres enveloped in chains,
Scottish primrose and bogbean loosed from ice,
how he'll run down spiral stairs with something
unremembered in his gut: what science
hasn't named, and poets have only guessed at.
Heather Phillipson was born in London. Her poems have been published widely in magazines and anthologies, including Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century (Bloodaxe, 2009) and Tom Civer's City State: New London Poetry (Penned in the Margins, 2009). She received an Eric Gregory Award in 2008 and a Faber New Poets Award in 2009. Her pamphlet is published by Faber and Faber. Alongside her poetry, Phillipson is also an artist working with the moving image. She exhibits nationally and internationally, and has received awards, commissions and residencies. Her work has been profiled on BBC television and radio, in Artforum and Frieze. She is currently participating in programmes at Picture This (Bristol) and the ICA (London). In 2009-10 she held solo shows in London and Wales. She received the Sir Leslie Joseph Young Artist Award from the Glynn Vivian Gallery in 2009, was Artist in Residence at London College of Fashion in 2008, and is Artist in Residence at Aberystwyth Arts Centre in 2010. She studied at Central St Martins College of Art, has a PhD in Fine Art practice. Phillipson is intriguing for how she adapts the light verse tradition of poets like Stevie Smith, Cope and Mariner, and uses this sense of wit in combination with far more serious discourses (philosophy, science), while also having a sensuous eye for the plasticity of observed detail and the textures of form. Along with Kennard and Mariner, she is likely the funniest of the new generation.
The bathtub makes me weak -
my heartbeat under water.
Salts, oils, sodium laureth sulphate,
I am a mountain in a lake.
From the corridor, The Romantic Sounds of Xavier Cugat:
I synchronise my loofah.
My big toe turns the hot tap.
Oh God, the changing temperature of bathwater!
Hot and cold I understand;
tepid means less than ever.
How hard it is to get things right.
How devastating you looked today across Soho Square
in your pink cashmere sweater,
your man-bag over your left shoulder.
Like soap I am loquacious
and I give myself up trying to say it.
Who was it that first thought of washing?
Your eyes are blue, I have loved you
since I noted your lashes in profile.
I didn't do it deliberately -
I was distracted
the way foam is distracted from water
and clings all over my contours.
Chris McCabe was born in 1977. He has been Joint Librarian at The Poetry Library, London since 2007. - His collections include The Hutton Inquiry (Salt Publishing, 2005), Zeppelins (Salt Publishing, 2008) and The Borrowed Notebook (Landfill Press, 2009). His work has appeared in anthologies including City State: New London Poetry (Penned in the Margins, 2009), Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poetry (Bloodaxe, 2010) and Life lines: Poets for Oxfam (Oxfam, 2006). McCabe is perhaps the most direct heir of Tony Harrison's commitment to exploring class issues in Britiah poetry, though he is also influenced by the American poets of The Black Mountain School, among others. As such he bridges a variety of significant traditions and currents in contemporary English and American poetry, while keeping his diction open to the street's demotic, and the indie and punk music scene(s). A surprising new direction for his work is his exploration of fatherhood.
The Barry MacSweeney Guestroom
for Tim Allen & The Language Club
Wolftongue there's polar bears above my head.
Twenty-four polar bears in a scrapbook montage.
Above my head are two portraits of the Bard -
one the dot-matrix state-embossed folio shot.
After your reading did Tim drive you back via
Union St., his homicidal sling-shot side-door loose
past the ritual elixirs of dancing liquids doing their trick
as anti-ageing remedials for the turbot-white teenagers
spewed back on a stomach surf of Kronenbergs,
on a tide of bravado & fizz, masquerading above
the clamp of the newly pink, the fuck-you flotsam
of the heart's ( - as trickster, as pump - ) first seaflower?
Steve & Norman in the back, I had no appetite for the diluvian
drink, the crashpad catch-up of a cold & the cache of the trains
was pushing me on for the polar bears & bards. I joked
at the junction : Exit pursued by a polar bear.
First we lost Norman through the gates of The Fin-de-Siecle
Hotel, then Steve at Kruschev Holiday Hill. Earlier,
when we'd met at the Station, Tim had filled up on petrol
now I couldn't see the point : de-crank the handbreak
and a city of hills drops me down to the arctic sleep.
As we drove Tim mentioned that you'd read
at The Language Club - Il Duce of the lexicon -
and you'd slept under the same Bard's sexless sidepart
where the white clip-on cubs flower - sweating out
the clinics with The Book of Demons - not stones but in the gutter -
face up to the gulls, feet down to the velveteen cactus,
as good a place as any to get yourself clean, in Tim's
upside-down house where you walk in upstairs to look
down on the birds. The peewits rang shrill but you'd
already committed to death-by-stereo. Your Gunslinger-
Dylan boots collapsed at the bed's end like chess-pieces
danced too long across disco-squares of boredom. Looking
up at the croched mask that once craved the selfsame froth
- apocryphally dead after a pissup with an alchemist -
you knew the peewits only wallock in flight. This mortal coil
that rings itself out in the peel of each peeled ring-pull.
Vidyan Ravinthiran was born in Leeds in 1984 and educated at Oxford and Cambridge; he is currently a lecturer at Balliol College, Oxford. His pamphlet, At Home or Nowhere, was published by Tall-Lighthouse in 2008; his work is anthologised in Joining Music With Reason (Waywiser Press, 2010) edited by Christopher Ricks, and is forthcoming in the Salt Book of Younger Poets (Salt, 2011). Other poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry Review, Agenda, Blackbox Manifold, Nthposition, and The Times Literary Supplement. Ravinthiran is a relatively new poet (his first collection is only two years old, after all) but already he seems a richly talented poet, able to explore and express continuities and differences in various cultures, high or low, and the language of the contemporary (global) world.
hunkered by the beach wall daubed
with the Disney B-list
leached by constant sun
its dusky loopholes
carven of necessity
overachieves like Caliban
its trunk a shivalingam
atop this freakishly-enlarged
birdcage of roots
with no bird trapped in it
a listening structure
tiger-striping the sand at noon
before those aerial roots extrude
over a small area
their private twilight
the Colombo skyline's
emergent dot dot dot of light
picks out floating green coconuts
arivarl-halved and cursed
with grave-ash and menses
yet each mist-wall the sea throws up
is capons to the pandanus
who knows the air
crammed with glittering données
Abi Curtis was born in Rochford in 1979. She studied at the Universities of Exeter and Sussex. In 2004 she received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors and her pamphlet, Humbug, was number 1 in the Tall-Lighthouse Pilot series edited by Roddy Lumsden and published by LK Robinson. In 2007 she gained a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing. Her debut collection, Unexpected Weather, was a recipient of Salt Publishing's inaugural Crashaw Prize in 2008 and went on to be shortlisted for the London Festival Fringe poetry award 2010. Curtis, praised by Kennard among other contemporaries, was one of the first of the Young British Poets generation to emerge, six years ago, and it seems apt to end this selection with a poem of hers. Her poetry well showcases the key aspects of this period: intelligence, versatility of form, a sense of humour, and willingness to embrace play and experiment in hybrid fashion.
I look above and see it resting on the ceiling:
glassy, tissue-thin and supple, issuing
from three full-stops dreamt up in foam,
like the stuff we used to lag the loft.
A bulbous, old-style telly, diver's helmet, that fishbowl
we've had no use for, since Jaffa passed away.
It takes some time to realise that it's mine.
I know because it follows the movement of my head
as I wander 'round the flat, connected
by the kind of loops we finger on the telephone.
I feel beside myself, beneath the shadow
of a milky cave, a chamber of echoes.
I've batted it softly with my fingertips,
wrapped a scarf to blot its straining eye,
touched its slick surface to my lips.
It quietly squeaked, but all its sudsy links
still grip me like a weightless chain.
How do I explain this gently bobbing drop?
You're far too bright for lies about experiments
with paper shades and helium.
When you return I'll have to hide it in the curtains,
standing nonchalant, or hold it squirming in my lap.
Scenes reel across its haunted skin.
Should you discover it, I fear
you'll make it burst
in tiny tributaries whose passing
sounds like laughter,