US/UK

I ordered quite a lot of poetry books over Christmas. One of the thrills of having a modern phone is that as soon as you find an interesting poet online, you can keep that page stored on your phone until you have the wherewithal to comb back and follow up on purchases. So, I had the time to comb back and buy. They drop onto January’s doormat slowly as presses grind back into work. I have to say, some presses work faster than others. Some of the bigger small presses are like British Rail at getting things to you in timely fashion. Some smaller small presses do everything but bring it round to your door, so enthusiastic and speedy are they.

So, I’ve been thinking about the differences between the styles clogging up American poetry, and the predominant style clogging up UK poetry, too. I’m think I’m getting closer to understanding the difference. If I pick up a bad poem and I think ‘This Is Not A Poem’ then I know I am reading a bad American poem. If I pick up a poem and I think ”I Wish This Wasn’t A Poem’ then I know I am reading a bad UK poem. Good poems from either place, are of course… different.

Remember that book ‘The Anxiety of Influence’? Read it? No, me neither. Did you try to? Yes, me too. In every puddle of publishing there are some trailblazers; then there are those of integrity and wit who spot the trail that has been blazed and improve on what has gone before; then there are those who weakly copy both previous poetic groups. And then there’s a fourth bunch, after the first three, who copy the copies – like monks in a medieval monastery, whose mistakes are coded into the body of work forever. And that’s just the published work. Underneath that is a morass of writers all trying to be heard, to be published, all now desperately mimicking the voices and styles and the subject matter around them in order to get into print. We have a tawdry hall of mirrors where the majority of people are all writing the same poems.

How often do you read a poem and think ‘I haven’t read that poem before’? No, really. How often? Oh good, another poem about bees by someone who has googled bees. Hurrah: someone else who has found an obscure term and has written a poem that has nothing to do with it. Oh brilliant, another rabbit poem by someone who saw one. Once. Oh yes, a poem like that was in a book that won that prize last year. Oh great, here’s a confessional poem by someone who has done something unpleasant that tells me nothing and isn’t really even a confession. Oh brilliant, here’s your poem about that. Lovely. Nice. Here’s your wolf poem. Nice. You know that Duffy did this better? No? Oh well, never mind, You keep going. Oh epigraph. Nice. O! Nice! See what you did there. Oh, yes: I’ve been to that workshop, too. And that one. Check. Check. Check.

Currently reading No Matter by Jana Prikryl, if you’re interested. And rereading it, because it benefits that. Now, not to sound like Paul Daniels: but I like it. Not a lot. But I like it. It’s good. And it’s different. Differently expressed. Differently broken on the page. Differently titled. Differently approached. And I like that. I really, really like that.


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