I came across Martian Lit online and was struck by its hard-hitting poetry and prose dealing with themes of strangeness and alienation in the modern world. I have long been interested in the possibilities of so-called Martian poetry — taking an outsider’s view of Earthling affairs to discover something essentially human. And so I am very happy to have my new poem “Unidentified Photo on the Internet” featured this week on the website.
“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.”
The train that galloped up to the platform this morning, normally crammed with humanity, was empty but for the discarded newspapers lining the window ledges. I thought I had missed the memo about the start of the zombie apocalypse. Turns out the kids have gone back to school, and the tourists have gone home. So I spent some time on my morning commute thinking about the similarities between poets and werewolves.
Culture, like poetry, is so often about what gets transmitted between the lines. It is not, I decided, the bankers and CEOs who normally sit across from me on the train who hold the most cultural power. What we learn on our mothers’ laps goes deep, to a visceral level. What gets passed down, mother to child through generations, forms the culture of a people. Mothers, therefore, are also “unacknowledged legislators” creating and replicating the very “operating system” of a society — its culture.
Moving from California to London certainly feels like I have switched operating systems. Apart from the obvious fumbling as I seek to find where they’ve moved the new buttons and menus, this shake-up gives me the opportunity to discover what is universal among computers — er — people. Contrast is one powerful way to heighten perception and uncover commonality in the quest for what is essentially human.
I have also discovered, however, that poets are not entirely human. Continue reading…
The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry, edited by Blake Morrison and Andrew Motion, has been my field guide to better-known British poets, and a useful overview for me. Having mostly studied British poets dating from before the 18th century, and American poets since that time, I have been reading this book as eagerly as I have been reading the London A-Z map book (which is not faint praise; I am enthralled with maps of London).
For each poet, I have been jotting marginalia on my tube journey to work. I include these notes here, in a similar fashion to the notes I took on Modern American poets during my MFA degree. Unlike those notes, however, these are taken on a short sampling of work, as opposed to a whole book. I therefore intend them as starting points, not summaries.
In my notes I have also included broad designations of geographic origin, since to my outside ear a poet from Leeds and a poet from Northumberland have an auditory relationship to language more in common with each other than they do to a poet from Oxford (hence my coarse-grained designation “Northern England.”) I realize I may be missing out on subtle distinctions in language and even politics. But for now, I am concerned with puzzling out in general how these poems would sound read aloud by the authors themselves, and taking a first pass this broadly has been helpful.
Compiling in this way, I am particularly struck by the complete absence of Welsh and significant lack of Scottish poets from this volume, and the controversial inclusion of so many poets from Northern Ireland. I would be interested to hear who else you think should have made it into this book.
Here are my notes:
I curled open the first pages of The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry expecting to find an introduction like so many others to this type of book — full of generic exuberance for the editors’ generation. Instead, Blake Morrison and Andrew Motion (I assume the introduction was written by both) made the following observations in 1982, which still seem directionally interesting nearly thirty years on. They wrote that, “…as a way of making the familiar strange again, they [contemporary British poets] have exchanged the received idea of poet as the-person-next-door, or knowing insider, for the attitude of the anthropologist or alien invader or remembering exile.”
While the enthusiasm for Martian persona poetry by Craig Raine and Christopher Reid seems like a hyperbolic extension of this principle, the idea of poet-as-anthropologist I find not only fascinating, but useful in understanding contemporary poetry on both sides of the Atlantic. In particular, it seems to answer “what comes next?” after a glut of confessional writing. They address this, as well, directly:
This development has been antipathetic to the production of a candidly personal poetry. Most of the devices developed by young poets are designed to emphasize the gap between themselves and their subjects. The poets are — to borrow a phrase from Seamus Heaney’s ‘Exposure’ — ‘inner emigrés’: not inhabitants of their own live so much as intrigued observers, not victims but onlookers, not poets working in a confessional white heat but dramatists and story-tellers.