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.