Tuesday, 15 June 2010
After the Storm: Identity Parade
Now the dust has settled a little on what journalists call the "storm of controversy" its publication was met with, perhaps a more measured appraisal of Roddie Lumsden's recent anthology Identity Parade can be attempted. Unfortunately it seemed that most of the book's assailants had personal axes to grind: Todd Swift's online spat with Lumsden in his blog Eyewear- initially a valid discussion about issues of inclusion - soon turned remarkably ugly and vitriolic in a way that did favours to neither party. However, the fact that a generational anthology of this kind managed to provoke such fervent debate (don't recall Andy Motion getting into any cussing-matches over his notoriously dull 80s anthology) attests to both its importance and to the feather-ruffling boldness of Lumsden's editorship.
Having spent years concentrating on older and overseas poetry and harbouring a vaguely-founded assumption that the majority of contemporary UK stuff was chatty, middlebrow, anecdotal and twee, I've been consistently impressed at the overall quality and range of the work Lumsden includes in Identity Parade, alerting me to how many really interesting poets are writing here now and what a diversity of styles and registers they encompass. With 85 poets on show, the anthology covers a lot of ground and inevitably one likes some poets more and some less - with each permitted only about 5 poems apiece, however, there is seldom a really tedious stretch and one's interest is always re-piqued by newness.
I'm forced to revise my former prejudices, although in retrospect, based on the contemporary scenes of 15 or 20 years ago (when I first started getting into current poetry) I don't think they were unjustified. Looking back to the last overview-type anthology of this kind, 1993's The New Poetry (ed. Hulse, Kennedy and Morley), we find another varied, lively compilation of poems with a sense of positive ferment about it, but the development between that book and Identity Parade seems to me dramatic. The promise evinced by the earlier Bloodaxe selection feels like it has come to fruition in the new one and the general standard is considerably higher, born out of the healthier and more vibrant poetry-culture we are lucky enough to find ourselves in today.
A further difference is in how the editors of The New Poetry, in their lengthy introduction, attempted to make elaborate intellectual and political claims for their generation of poets as a whole, whereas I think Lumsden is right to consciously avoid this approach and merely emphasise the "plurality" of the various individuals he has chosen. A major strength of Identity Parade is indeed its inclusiveness in giving latitude to voices beyond the traditional white/middle-class/male bastions of poetry: it is certainly the first anthology of this kind to feature a higher proportion of females to males, and with no sense whatsoever of mere "positive discrimination".
A student from Porlock is forcing me to truncate this but I will continue it later.