As the year comes to a close, I find myself in a reflective mood. Having compiled a list of the more than 350 poets I have mentioned on my website since I began writing about poetry in 2003, I was curious to discover which poets I have mentioned most often in the last ten years.
What follows is that list of poets — most alive, some dead; most writing in English, some not; many I have met, some I won’t and never will. Click on the name or image for a brief summary of who each one is and and what they mean to me, and to read what I have written about them over the years.
Today I received copies of Silk Road Review Issue 10, containing a feature on British Poetry that I edited for the journal. It features a wide range (in terms of age, occupation, background, and geography) of poets whose work I have come to admire in the two years since I relocated to the UK.
From the introduction:
So what is “British” about these poems? First, there is a unique focus on language, its heft and chewiness. To some extent, all good poetry takes up this cause. But in Great Britain, one’s use of language is intimately tied to one’s place of origin. A phenomenal number of dialects, accents, and several distinct languages coexist in close geographic proximity. Place is therefore invoked the moment one opens one’s mouth. From Patience Agbabi’s cold fusion of hip-hop and Chaucer, to Liz Berry’s private defense of her father’s Black Country accent, to Andrew Philip’s Scots-language-infused quatrains — when it comes to place, language is as important as the soil (or concrete) under foot.
Furthermore, in a culture where two strangers can meet and converse for hours before finally (if ever) divulging their own names, deeply confessional poetry is eyed somewhat askance. Yet each poem can still be read as a precise autobiography of the poet’s innermost life. In lieu of the self, these poems are populated with eccentric characters, for the damp climate here seems as conducive to whimsy as it is to mushrooms. From shopkeepers to skeletons, “bear-solemn” organists to the figure of Pippi Longstocking cross-bred with Frankenstein’s monster, antic figures dramatise a panoply of selves.
You can order single copies or subscribe at the Silk Road website.
The Highgate Poets are a lively and talented group of North-London-area poets with whom I have had the pleasure of associating for over a year now.
They have been publishing an anthology of member poems every other year since their founding in 1977. I am delighted to have two poems in their newest anthology, Urban Harvest, and pleased to announce that it is now available for sale online at their website.
The book ships throughout the UK, however you can also contact the group coordinator if you are interested in ordering from abroad.
I spent the past several months editing a special feature on British Poetry for the US literary journal Silk Road Review. The project came about as a natural extension of my private efforts to help expose more interested Americans to the remarkable scope and diversity of poetry I have encountered since relocating to London eighteen months ago. And what a scope it is!
I focused on poets writing in English on the isle of Great Britain. Silk Road celebrates literature of place, and in Great Britain, place is invoked the moment one opens one’s mouth — from Patience Agbabi’s cold fusion of hip-hop and Chaucer, to Liz Berry’s private defense of her father’s Black Country accent, to Andrew Philip’s Scots-language-infused quatrains.
The geographic range is wide in this collection — encompassing Scotland, Wales, and various distinct regions of northern and southern England — as the following map attests.
These poets also vary considerably in age, occupation, and background. But above all it is the mix of poems I love — the heft and chewiness of language, the eccentric panoply of characters, the private moments keenly observed. The feature will appear in Silk Road 10, due out late spring/early summer next year. You can subscribe now to ensure that you don’t miss a word.
Spanning more than thirty years of writing and weighing in at over one hundred pages, Diana Bishop’s first collection reads more like a retrospective than a debut. Arranged by theme (Love, War, Death, etc.) these poems range from poignant to hilarious, formal to plain-spoken, casting a keen and deeply sensitive eye over a world where politeness reigns supreme.
As first poet in residence at Keats’ House, Hampstead, Diana also brings an ear well-tuned to the traditions of verse. Lighter rhymes such as “Mr Miller’s Mistress” and “A Suitable Shell for Treatment” careen toward couplet punchlines such as “Now we’re very fond of Brighton and the place is sadly missed. / But you can’t enjoy your holiday with your tortoise round the twist.” They are sure to please an audience when read aloud.
But equally exciting are narrative poems attuned to social irony, such as the “Sachertorte” served at a fine restaurant, which is “dark, rich, thick and jammy / (rather like my friend…)” The friend, dressed to the nines and unapologetically snooty, is incensed when the waiter serves a larger slice to “a bag lady, a crone”. The speaker in the poem delights in the possible reasons, deciding finally that “Sacher’s tea room regains my esteem / catching the waiter’s eye, I grin at him.”
In “Famous Photograph”, Bishop takes up themes of innocence and experience in spare, direct language. Continue reading…
I made my way down to Kentish Town this evening to hear four members of The Highgate Poets read their work. As a newly-accepted member of the group, I was treated to a brief history lesson about the venue by coordinator Anne Ballard before the evening got underway. It turns out that Torriano House is synonymous with Hungarian Anarcho-Communist Poet John Rety, who founded and ran it as a centre of poetry and social change in North London for many years before his death.
The open reading portion of the evening was just as eclectic as those I had attended in California. The flavour, though, was different. Two older gentlemen sang folk songs a cappella. Themes of opera, atheism, and of course anti-war sentiment peppered the poems from the floor. David Floyd promoted his new pamphlet entitled “Protest.” The walls were lined with ink drawings depicting the horrors associated with capitalist greed for oil. And at the back table, a periodical called Peace News replaced what had typically been promoted at Torriano House — The Daily Worker.
The featured poets themselves took up less directly political themes. Continue reading…