I like reading about US/UK poetry comparisons, mostly because I find them useful introductions to US poetry. James Rother's review-essay of "New British Poetry" (Edited by Don Paterson and Charles Simic, Graywolf Press, 2005) deals with many points. Here are some extracts with belated comments
- in a review-article for The New York Review of Books titled
"Anglo-Celtic Attitudes." ... Vendler began by blaming the decline in
deference among American authors to things English on the U.S.'s having
acquired superpower status after World War II and on American writers no
longer feeling that they need to remain current with regard to trends
emerging in the British Isles and Ireland. -
Maybe. And, as he says, the deaths of Eliot and Auden severed more links. As a consequence, people like Armitage can be unknown even to dedicated US poets. Besides, there are so many US poets and styles that it's hard for US readers to find time for UK ones.
- what isn't the least in doubt is the degree of animus which Paterson
feels toward the corrosive swindle known everywhere as "Postmodernism." It
may have originated in the United States, but in his view it left virtually
an entire generation of British poets moldering soullessly in its swath.
I'd guess that (for different reasons) neither Paterson nor Simic explored the all nooks and crannies of UK poetry.
- Simic: American poetry is by its very nature eclectic and therefore
"always already" contemporary, whether its practitioners wish it to be or
not. Unlike British verse, its life force derives less from European
crosswinds than from what Simic traces to the "limitless faith" expressed
by Ralph Waldo Emerson "in the power of the individual to make a new
beginning, reinventing everything from his identity to the art of poetry ..." -
I don't see many continental influences in British verse.
- A majority of its inclusions seem, despite the occasional lurch into
the memorable, to lack assuredness and in some cases even basic skills.
Under cover of "populism" (i.e. "grammar school" ties over "public school"
ones) a plethora of skivvies and ragged knickers flaunt their working class
Maybe I'm too close to see how class-ridden UK poetry is, or maybe the selection is skewed. Nor do I see pervasive nostalgia for empire (or indeed, much political/global awareness at all) in UK poetry.
- As far back as the early '60s, critics such as Charles Tomlinson had
noted problems arising out of British poets' having too precipitously
dismounted the twin high horses of '20s modernism and '30s Noël
I can see this why people might note this schism.
- 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. -
I don't think French poetry or literary theory has changed the course of UK poetry.
- At a stroke, Carlos the Jackal married the deconstructionist muse
and set up housekeeping in the flat in Paris where Louis Althusser's wife
experienced terminal massage at the hands of the luftmensch responsible
for, among other unstringings of the lyre, Pour Marx and Lire le Capital. -
- In the UK, the mainstream has been shaped and narrowed by the
closing banks of that cheery and generally none-too-clever verse of
recognition humour [sic] or undisguised moral exhortation; and by
Postmoderns on the other-and how strenuously Left-bank. -
I can more or less go along with that
- From this company I exempt-even where a modicum of promise is
perceptible-English knock-offs of American items already mass-produced in
this country (e.g., John Ash, Mark Ford, and other clones milling about the
memory of Frank O'Hara); Glückische handmaids of feminist expressionism who
hold the "truth" that all men are awful to be inalienable (Carol Ann Duffy
and Selima Hill, to name but two); nationalist Scots whose pibroch
tootlings on the pipe of Robert Burns and Hugh Mac Diarmid might engage
some local imaginations but are otherwise non-exportable (W. N. Herbert and
Kathleen Jamie, for example); and finally, poetic apples that didn't fall
far enough from their trees (whether Dylan Thomas's, or whosever) to avoid
over-close identification with their respective fruit. (In this group may
be found, among others, Gwyneth Lewis, Alice Oswald, and, to further
belabor the point, Andrew Motion.) That leaves some rather old and "dark
familiars" (to cop a phrase from Malcolm Lowry), such as Simon Armitage,
Christopher Reid, and Michael Hoffmann -
it's good to see him name names. I've not read this anthology, but I can see where he's coming from.
adept at bringing lattés of existentialist resignation to froth are John
Glenday, Roddy Lumsden, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. The remainder of
those represented range poetically from the tolerably and intolerably
competent to the merely unaccomplished -
I'm unsure whether he's praising or condemning Glenday et al. Either way, it doesn't sound too fullsome, though I can't easily plonk Oswald and Shapcott into the same category.
Online there's also a review by John Drexel (it's also from Contemporary Poetry Review) which quotes the editors' views on the UK poets' engagement with the past:
- Simic - "the poets in this anthology assume that they are part of a tradition, addressing a community that may neglect them now and then, but is there nonetheless"
- Paterson - "[the poets] are engaged in an open, complex and ongoing dialogue with the whole of English tradition"
The review compares the anthology with Schmidt's and Morrison/Motion’s. It notes that this anthology includes nearly all the New Generation poets, and that the "each head note ventures a brief critical appraisal of the poet in question. Though "critical" is hardly the right word-in essence, these are little more than puff pieces, attempts to sell the poet to the reader"
In Meagrely provided, Andrea Brady mentions Tuma's more inclusive "Oxford Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry" (I'm surprised that the reviews didn't mention it), then questions Paterson's comments on post-modernism - "This is so fanatical a diagnosis that all readers might as well ignore it. We could ask why the editors of Graywolf cleared it for publication, and what Charles Simic was doing collaborating with such rabidity. But why tangle with such unsubstantiated and feckless rubbish when Paterson incriminates himself very capably? ... His essay is useful as a demonstration of how conservativism operates in the arts according to the same principles as it does in the capitals: its lynch pins are assimilation, veneration, and subordination; it is maintained by the controlled flow of resources, false proclamations of vulnerabilities, and a dark fixation with scapegoats".
Those interested in more recent UK poetry anthologies can look at my Recent UK poetry anthologies article.