Friday, 25 March 2011

Foreign influences

  • "Unlike British verse, [US poetry's] life force derives less from European crosswinds" (Simic)
  • "The 'mainstream' had morphed over time into a difficult slipstream for any British poet to stay afloat in, so choppy had the cross-currents buffeting England from across the Channel become" (James Rother)

Well, maybe, but I've not noticed such a strong European influence. The French poets barely get a look-in, though our theorists mention their theorists. You can't go wrong in claiming that Rilke's one of your favourites, but the proof of influence's not very clear. We were quite keen on Holub and Milosz once. Nobel prizewinners are briefly famous.

I'd have thought that Commonwealth influences would be stronger than European. Alzi was born in Pakistan. Linton Kwesi Johnson was born in Jamaica. Fred D'Aguiar was born in London then moved to Guyana. And there are many 2nd generation writers - Daljit Nagra for example, Jackie Kay, etc. Walcott's a frequent visitor. So is Australia's Les Murray. These writers have widened the mainstream. Have they influenced others? We write more ghazals but do we read more Tagore? Maybe. I suspect however, that WASP poets are more cautious than they used to be about dealing with "exotic" topics and multiculturalism.

Translations of course are a source of influence too. Cavafy and Seferis are quite often translated, but not as much as Homer or Dante. I sometimes wonder if a UK poet's interest in decades-old European poetry is a reaction against modern US poetry trends - languages considered more important than L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and its aftermath.


I try to keep up with Italian poets - see my Italian focus page. There's perhaps more of a USA-Italy link than a UK-Italy one, though Jamie McKendrick lived in Italy for a while, editing an anthology. I wonder how many 20th century Italian poets could be named by UK readers? Are Montale or Ungaretti listed as influences by any UK poets?

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