Todd Swift and KIm Lockwood have edited a volume devoted to young British poets -- young defined as born since 1970. The book has just been published and may be ordered on this link. Here is the foreword David Lehman contributed to the book:
Preamble to the New British Poetry
The new British poetry, as represented in this volume, is – to borrow from the poems – “buxom, brazen” (Tiffany Todnut) and “jazzed up” (Simon Turner). It can be “deft and elegant’ (Joanne Limberg), “buttoned-down / in tweed and scarved” on the Mersey (Evan Jones) but is more likely to arrive “unshaven and barefoot, as if on a pilgrimage” (Andre Naffis-Sahley). It spends time “in downtown dives” (Anna Johnson), on “nuclear nights in London” and other cities (Siddharta Bose), “at those dangerous margins / of sleep where anything can be true” (Alexander Freer), raging “against this priggish darkness” (Melanie Challenger).
The poets worry that “we’ll never find a common tongue” (Anne Welsh); they have been “applauded for [their] no-nonsense take on the infantilism of [their] generation” (Luke Kennard); they lust for “the vague, ecstatic kisses / Of a mad mind flushed to profligate invention” (Abigail Parry). The objects of their contemplation include the “odd regatta” of coloured hosiery in the spun cycle (Heather Phillipson), the resemblance between a French kiss and the taking of communion (Loraine Mariner), and the mysterious “third person standing at the foot of the bed, / watching us sleep” and inspiring the poet to undertake a villanelle (Sophie Mackintosh).
Not long ago the line of the English poetic tradition was narrowly defined. You would regularly encounter poems too saturated in their antecedents: poems about the class struggle, bad lovemaking with a carbuncular person, the need to have a piss in the middle of the night, chance meetings on rural roads with decrepit old men who display impressively sturdy minds.
The influences on the new British poets are as varied as globalisation and wide demographics allow. You still get your Eliot and your Marvell. Emily Critchley’s clever take on “To His Coy Mistress” switches gender identities on us: “were I a man, / For whom love studied & love unattained / Were less vivid, resounded less than the real thing; / I’d sit & think & walk & pass my days / With you in true mutual bliss.” There are further twists: the poet complains that Marvell’s “amorous bird of prey” has turned acquiescent, “the tamed grown tamer,” and so self-pleasure appears to be the speaker’s preferred option.
You get your dose of T. S. Eliot in Caleb Klaices’s “Plastic holy,” which begins with a child’s untutored image of “the Berlin Wall” (“as thick as my house / and hollowed out like a baguette”) and ends with an ironic echo of the “Marie” lines in the first stanza of “The Waste Land.”
But the poets also give you Cavafy, a named influence in two of the poems, and they assimilate Beckett, the art of translation, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, booze, Ecstasy, robotics, the ruins of Coventry, American dreams, British movies of the 1940s. They derive more of their energy from Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five or the bluesy voice of Ray Charles than from Berlioz or Debussy, though the latter float in and are welcome when they do. Rhyme is scarce. The word jazz shows up here and there undefined and stripped of an immediate musical context -- as in John Challis’s “Jazz Maggot” -- as if the term itself constituted a kind of speakeasy code that will admit you to the club.
Simon Turner’s “Brumaggen Jazz” sounds the book’s keynote: “What a feeling, to step out of the musty / twilight bookshop air with a collection / of poetry under your arm & run smack / into a bleach-blonde brassy bellow of a day.” Claire Askew lingers at the bookshop, generating metaphors from the physical objects we are in danger of losing in our electronic age. “I like to bend them to my will -- / turn their spines inverse like gymnasts,” Askew writes in “Books.” The books wait for her “on bookstore shelves, / asleep, stiff as exclamation marks -- / and my fingers itch to break in every one.”
In “Three Strikes,” Caroline Bird beguiles this Yank with her English intonation when she borrows the style of Gertrude Stein and applies it to America’s national pastime: “I lost one and then I lost the other. / I lost one to keep the other / but the other didn’t want to be kept, / not like that, not as an accidental / second catch of the baseball match / with your palm outstretched to feel for rain.” Though I have followed baseball closely all my life, I do not know what “an accidental / second catch” can possibly mean, but that is not to the detriment of the poem.
The subject of lust – as a deadly sin but an irresistible one -- provokes Tiffany Todnut’s “Way of Wanton” with its tidy closing rhyme: “I burn / for you, your / deadly wick. / You give me / a fever, a rash / I want to lick.” Of the first lines in the book, the one that seems to be echoing the longest in my brain is Sophie Mayer’s “Today is the day of the smashing of dishes.” But I would close this preamble with my joy in Sophie Hannah’s conjoining of the new and the old in a poem whose end words include “litter,” “Gary Glitter,” “quitter,” and “bitter”: “I am following the Dalai Lama on Twitter / But the Dalai Lama is not following me.”
-- David Lehman (28 September 2011)