This week, the BBC's theme has been "fairness" - as multiple cuts to the State continue to raise serious concerns. Today, the Browne report (from Lord Browne, a former head of BP, of all unwelcome things) suggested removing the fee cap for university tuition which is now held to less than £4,000 a year, even for an Oxbridge education. It is thought that fees could go as high, under this scheme, as £12,000 per year, for better universities; obviously, the fear is that some universities wouldn't be able to compete and would close, as far fewer students attended. Already, England has some of the lowest rates of access to higher education in the Western world. Fairness indeed.
Is poetry fair? Is British poetry? What would "fair poetry" even mean? As Christopher Ricks has shown in his recent book on literary friendships and influences, poetry gets along through a never-ending series of
near-invisible, highly nuanced, events that inflect the lives of poets - by which I mean, support, alliances, favouritism, friendship, critical approval (or destruction) and so on. Poets swim in terribly difficult waters, and, in the UK, are far less likely to be philanthropically underwritten. There has yet to be a Ruth Lilly moment in British poetry. Even Faber & Faber gets Arts Council funding for some of its publications, such as its recent Young Poets series. One wonders if any of that will last the big axe coming. How will this impact the next wave of younger poets?
Certainly, as I have sought to show recently, there is a kind of splendid resurgence of quality poetry among the young, those under 40, in these isles. I find the talent and variety nearly-overwhelming. It is hard to
imagine, on the basis of their debuts, which of these brilliant twenty and thirty-somethings, will one day be the new laureate, so spoiled for choice are we here.
One group of young poets has emerged that I would like to designate "The New Seriousness" school. In it would be poets like Sarah Howe, Jon Stone, James Brookes, and Toby Martinez. Not that these poets aren't seriously funny - they are, at times, but that their work is inventively stretching beyond the less-challenging mainstream models of the last few decades, without giving up on the lyric tradition. Taking more cues from, say, Geoffrey Hill, or American poets, than Heaney or Paul Farley, they write with an awareness of the Muldoon-Paterson linguistic-brio patterns of musicality, but are darker, more imaginatively engaged with history, and intertextuality. They read like the future.
James Brookes was born in 1986 and has lived in Sussex for most of the last twenty years, less than a mile from the birthplace of Shelley. He studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Warwick, where he became Contributing Editor of The Warwick Review. He won an Eric Gregory in 2009. The TLS review of his pamphlet The English Sweats (Pighog Press, 2009) included the following: "in every sense a generous book from a generously gifted young poet". He is currently studying to be a solicitor. His influences would include Robert Lowell, Ivor Gurney, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Fiona Sampson, Christopher Middleton, Peter Davidson, among others. One senses that his library contains Dupuy and Dupuy's Encyclopedia of Military History, Sir Charles Oman'sThe Art of War in the Middle Ages and Baron Jomini's Precis of the Art of War.
Near All Hallows
A lone hen pheasant breaks the surface tension
of the meadow grass. The Bleeding Canker
stoops Horse Chestnuts, as if for the headsman.
The lanes fragmenting beneath Mills Bomb conkers.
The wind a language shorn of obstruents.
All matter being but a shadow thrown
by and upon itself. Real stuff all the same.
See ħ, that is Planck's Reduced Constant.
Yes, Feynman, human gods are too provincial.
And reason's jack-o'-lantern is agape
at such light guttering from its worked-out smile.
Thanks be to all things rotten before they're ripe:
the bletted quince turned edible at last;
the medlars sweetened, open-arsed by hoarfrost.
Jon Stone was born in Derby, in the Midlands, and studied at the University of East Anglia, graduating in 2004. He now lives in Whitechapel, London and works as an editor of court transcripts (or 'scopist' as the job is known in the US). Alongside fellow poet Kirsten Irving, he produces the hand-built arts magazine Fuselit and runs Sidekick Books, a small press for poetry micro-anthologies. A dedicated jack-of-all-trades, he also maintains the website www.drfulminare.com, and performs in a band. His work has been
published in a variety of British and international journals over the last few years and in a number of anthologies, including City State: New London Poetry. He was highly commended in the National Poetry Competition 2009 and his debut pamphlet, Scarecrows, was released earlier this year from Scottish press Happenstance. Stone's work, almost uniquely in the UK, seems genuinely influenced by multimedia work and the edgier sides of pop culture, including anime and video games, while remaining rigorously intelligent.
Goemon at 50 degrees
Let me tell you how I came to be here.
If you like the story, well, maybe you could
loosen a snare of rope so I might itch myself.
After a year of hunt and pick, ponder and pluck,
the throat of your daimyo looked deserving -
revenge, say, for that noble tea master.
(A suggestion: fill my pot with salted water instead.
Your daimyo could eat my cooked flesh
or shred me and smoke me from a silver kiseru.)
I was hoping to steal everything he had,
that he'd wake up in just his underwear, castle gone,
servants gone, horses gone, prize songbird gone.
I would start at his bed and work outwards.
It was night, of course. I'd entered his room unseen.
I stole all his clothes and his tied parcels of letters.
(I think you might stoke that fire a bit
if you want it to boil faster. Really, I've been
in hotter bathhouses, thieved from them too.)
I bound and gagged his concubines, snaffled his finches,
helped myself to an incense burner, pocketed a bell.
Item by item, I defurnished his chambers.
And all the time your daimyo was murmuring
sweetly in his sleep, and I knew he was dreaming.
Of course, I had to take his dream as well.
But as I tried to snatch the tail of the dream,
it burst upward as if it were a kite, and I fell,
fist-first, and all the loot fell clattering too.
And I knew my future was a bleak, blank zero.
As the guards rushed in, the moon was a bare backside.
That's it now! I think my toes are beginning to blister.
Sarah Howe was born in Hong Kong in 1983 to an English father and Chinese mother, before moving to England aged 7. Her debut pamphlet, A Certain Chinese Encyclopedia (which takes its title from Borges), was published in 2009 as part of the Tall-lighthouse Pilot series of poets under thirty. It won an Eric Gregory Award this year. She is currently working towards a first full collection. Having studied at Cambridge and Harvard, she is a Research Fellow at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where she teaches English. She is currently finishing a doctoral project on the visual imagination in Renaissance literature, which looks at poets such as Sidney, Spenser and Shakespeare, trying to understand how their work staged its peculiarly intense appeal to the 'mind's eye'. She retains an interest in the potential painterliness of language from her days as a painter, when she was the Student Artist in Residence at Christ's College, Cambridge from 2004-5. Her first taste of what it might mean to write poetry seriously came when, at 16, she was a winner in the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. At Cambridge she won the John Kinsella/Tracy Ryan Poetry Prize and the Brewer Hall Prize for poetry. Her poems have since appeared widely in British magazines and recently featured on BBC Radio 3. Her criticism has appeared in numerous journals and she won the inaugural London Review of Books Young Reviewers Competition in 2008 for her writing on contemporary American poetry. She retains an interest in current American poetry that was first sparked by her time a Harvard.
Instructions from Pythagoras
Nightly trapped in the nearly
invisible sweet hibiscus,
cicadas somehow never seen
cadenza the acousmatic dusk.
Concealed strings coax chitinous
glissandi, stir up every treeless
gap. Iambs, crisped, adrift from source -
the chanting of a lost Pythagoras.
Behind a curtain's lamp-cast shade,
he would ravel out his doctrines
while the flushed initiates strained
to catch the frail drone of that Ionian
Oz, revealing things beyond their eyes:
how numbers hum all notes, and planets
are tuned to a blacksmith's blows
in unheard chords; how our sinewed spirits
wrench free at the root, and yet
those restless souls must flit from thief,
to philosopher, to plangent cricket;
how he himself recalled four lives
and one night had heard a dead friend
cry from the throat of a Molossian
hound. They sing to the living. Listen:
each heartsick cicada shrilling on.
Toby Martinez de las Rivas was born in Somerset in 1978. He received an Eric Gregory award in 2005 and the Andrew Waterhouse award from New Writing North in 2008. He has a pamphlet published as part of the Faber New Poets in 2009, which is arguably the best of that very fine series. His poems have appeared in a number of magazines in England and America, and he has recently had work translated into Slovenian, Spanish and Italian. He studied History and Archaeology at Durham University and currently lives in Gateshead, prior to moving to Spain for a year. His work, it seems to me, more than most any other younger British poet of the 00s, marks a clear break with the age of Muldoon, and suggests that the emerging poets may yet throw up few major figures of their own.
On The Clean Versus The Psoriatic Body
The body as image of the state, violated and violating.
Broken and brought to heel in its northernmost parts, and the dykes like scars in the hindquarters, wasta est.
The moon above Alston, which is an anagram of the end, where my heart was lost.
That hé said: I dó will it, and meant it.
Your head, de Comines.
The exultant, levelling teeth of the harrow biting at the meat of this rayless heaven.
Torn open, suzerain.
My little sons are lain out side by side in midwinter, the light barely born, that it might not burn.
And my bride has left me for another.
Not bough snow, nor flawless mirror of the fall, nor allergic to September.
Nót an iconoclast, nót an islander, nót England in miniature.
Nor does hé heár hów the sea hisses, that shall salt and scorn and whiten me.
From the runnels in spate at Alston, petal, where my heart was lost, to the bare, shaking Levels.
My citadels, my drowned folds.
My fields, my arms, my brutalist heartland, the corporations of London that humbled Napoleon.