Thursday, 17 June 2010

Identity Parade 2

Returning to my reflections on Identity Parade, I wanted to briefly expand on the sense of generally high quality of poetry-writing around today I gained from the book. This for me is characterised by several phenomena which have invariably been wanting in all but the anomalous best of post-war poetry.
   Firstly, what I can only distinguish as a rediscovery of confidence in the possibilities of poetry in English, the overcoming (at last!) of what A. Alvarez in the Introduction to his original New Poetry anthology (1962/66) called "the Gentility Principle", the "elaborate defence mechanism" which has involved a longterm entrenched anti-Modernism, a generalised resistance to foreign influence and a retrograde conservatism epitomised in the disproportionate lionisation of Philip Larkin. In a recent post on Eyewear Todd Swift suggested that the main influences on younger British poets remained "Larkin, Hughes and Plath" and that left-of-field tendencies had been overstated: "they remain charming, lyrical and conservative" (which sounds like trying to cram dozens of poets into one Todd-shaped mould). I fail to detect any Larkinesque influence in Identity Parade (Hughes and Plath in places, yes): the progression away from tight stanzaic forms and polite bicycle-clipped ironies is very apparent. It's clear that a canon of much more inventive, challenging poets has become important: Mahon, Muldoon, Prynne, Harsent, Michael Donaghy to name but a few, as well as figures from the previous generation such as Sean O'Brien, John Burnside and Kathleen Jamie.
   Secondly and allied to this is a new openness to poetries from abroad, which seem to many of the poets as formative as UK sources. The impact of American work, in particular, is gratifying to see: for a writer who died in 1966 the belatedly widespread influence of Frank O'Hara comes as a wonderful surprise. Ashbery and the other New York Poets also seem very current, as do other poets as diverse as Elizabeth Bishop, Jorie Graham and Charles Simic. But the work of presses like Bloodaxe and Carcanet (and magazines like Modern Poetry in Translation and The Wolf) in widening the net of available translations has meant an ever richer array of multicultural poetry coming through to us and this seems to have filtered into quite a few of these poems.
   Thirdly (and again a related point) is the breakdown of the hackneyed opposition between mainstream and experimental/avant garde poetries that previously hampered so much dialogue and innovation (and which even as intelligent a critic as Ron Silliman still perpetuates with his own School of Quietude/Post Avant division). A good many of the poets in Identity Parade seem to base their practice on models from both camps; or rather, they decline to limit themselves to one set of procedures and prefer to utilise all the models and strategies available to them, which to me seems to be the only course of action to follow if a poet wants to remain vitally alive to their own thought-processes, craft and intuitions.

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