Wednesday, 24 September 2014

CB1, September 2014: Mark Waldron and Fay Roberts

The poetry event CB1 hasn't met in the CB1 cybercafe for a while. Yesterday at its new venue, the Gonville Hotel (inches from where a Tour de France leg started this summer), they hosted Mark Waldron and Fay Roberts. Since being booked, Mark Waldron's become a New Generation Poet. I didn't know anything about him. Ben Wilkinson in the Guardian thought that Waldron's 2nd book was a "middling, at times disappointing successor. At best, it continues to match Waldron's gift for novel perspective with intellectual cunning ... but at worst, its poems settle into second-rate image-making; latching on to outlandish similes in the hope that they might lead somewhere new. You have to admire the intention, but in "Iron" and its conceit of household-appliance-as-dog, the shortcomings are readily apparent". Waldron read "Iron" (I think it takes mere comparisons somewhere new) and several other poems that I liked. I don't usually come away impressed from a reading but I did from his. He didn't outstay his welcome and performed his pieces ("Were I to jump", "The Chocolate car", etc) well. I can see why he gets into anthologies. But I can also see why a short live set of his might impress more than another book.

Fay Roberts is active on the local spoken word circuit. I'd not seen her before either. My limited concentration span meant that I had trouble with her long poems (and most of them were long). In the open mic sessions about a dozen poets performed. I was one of them. I think next time I'll try to memorize a piece. Both the headline poets performed mostly without texts, though their recall wasn't perfect.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Next Generation poets, 2014

The last Next Generation list came out in 2004. In my review I pointed out that the UK's 2001 population statistics show that 92% describe themselves as White, 4% as Asian (Indian/Pakistani, mostly) and 2% as Black, which matched the list's stats pretty well. I moaned about the Narrow stylistic range, Non-Intellectualism, Form/Word blindness, and Narrow range of imagery in the poets' work. Particularly striking was the lack of contemporary references. Computers, mobile phones, games shows and cheap flights barely figured, and War, Politics or World Affairs weren't alluded to let alone addressed. In 2004 only 1 poet was from Scotland. 1 was originally from Cork and 6 poets had strong Welsh connections. 12 out of the 20 were female. There was a spoken word expert.

Now the next-generation list for 2014 list is out. I made some predictions back in May, amongst them Helen Mort, Luke Kennard, Sam Willetts, Emily Berry, and Rebecca Goss (not because I thought all of them good). If I'd have thought more about who was eligible I'd have predicted Hatfield and Daljit Nagra too. I'm surprised that Ahren Warner wasn't there.

I've read 9 of these poets already, and some of the others are on my radar. The list is Tara Bergin, Emily Berry, Sean Borodale, Adam Foulds, Annie Freud, Alan Gillis, Rebecca Goss, Jen Hadfield, Emma Jones, Luke Kennard, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Hannah Lowe, Kei Miller, Helen Mort, Daljit Nagra, Heather Phillipson, Kate Tempest, Mark Waldron, Sam Willetts, Jane Yeh. They have a web site with videos and PR machinery.

There are 14 women this time, at least 1 Irish poet, fewer Welsh than in 2004, and similar racial background breakdown to the last bunch (this time there's an oriental addition at the expense of an afro-Carribean). As before, there's 1 spoken word expert. A few of these poets have sad stories to tell that will interest the media, but whether their 2nd books will be as interesting remains to be seen. And Jen Hadfield, who's already produced a 2nd book, already seems to be going backwards.

The judges were Ian McMillan, Caroline Bird, Robert Crawford, Clare Pollard and Paul Farley, who certainly know their way around (though a view-point from abroad might have been useful). Clare Pollard said in a Guardian interview that the judges were instructed to focus on books rather than poets, and to find the best 20 debut books of the last 10 years. It's not easy to predict whose poetry will be read in a decade's time. Within the constraints, both late bloomers and hot-housed newbies could have qualified for selection. How does one judge the record of achievement of (say) Katy Evans-Bush (mentioned by Todd Swift) against the output of a young person who even after mentoring and courses still produces a patchy book whose failures might be more predictive than the successes? Todd Swift also mentions Jon Stone, whose inclusion would have injected some different kinds of invention and subject matter into the mix.

Just as a game, suppose you had to come up with such a list without reading/hearing the poetry. You could read their bios, and find out if articles have been written about them. You could take into account the poetry world's under-representation of minorities, the candidates' potential effect on booksales (older women are the main poetry-buyers) and how effectively they'd exploit the opportunities that selection would bring. I think the list you'd produce might not have been much different from the current crop. Having a book out from a big publisher helps, and the poets rather than the poems are what's going to keep the generation in the news.

Other opinions

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Free Verse, 2014

I keep meaning to chat to Matt Merritt but circumstances intercede. I heard him perform out in the square in front of the cafe. Later I chatted to Stephen Payne, Jon Stone, my eds, etc.

I went to a discussion involving anthology editors Tom Chivers (Adventures in Form), Mark Ford (Best British Poetry) and Karen McCarthy Woolf (Ten: The New Wave). Their anthologies were constructed in different ways - Chivers' was by invitation, McCarthy Woolf's was the result of mentoring, Ford trawled through all he could find. Chivers was hoping for a weakening of the canon, and felt that the current publishing system didn't capture the variety of the poetry produced. Ford thought that there much randomness in the selecting of poems. Some anthologies are forward-looking, trying to identify or influence trends. Others are more archival, but the tastes of the selector can't/shouldn't be neglected.

If (as seems likely to me) many poets who've not published a book have written poems that are easily better than the worst poems in poets' books, is the current system "fair"? If the system includes magazines, then there's hope for the lesser names provided that the world of magazines is a meritocracy. But in a fragmented, non-hierarchical world where each niche is a self-sustaining system and niche-transcendence isn't considered a worthwhile aim, what hope has the occasional reader of poetry?

I bought more than I meant to - "Cairn" (Richie McCaffery, Nine Arches Press), "sequences and pathogens" (Litmus), "Common Ground" (D.A. Price, HappenStance), "Ways to build a roadblock" (Josh Ekroy, Nine Arches Press), "Incense" (Claire Crowther, Flarestack), "Tree Language" (Marion McCready, Eyewear), "England Underwater" (Christopher James, Templar), "Identity Theft" (Alec Taylor, Acumen), "The Midlands" (Tony Williams, Nine Arches Press)