Here Is The New Political Poetry

The title of this polemic, which precedes a crop of reviews of several recent poetry titles – all of which sport robust political aspects – is a kind of riposte to a rhetorical heading introducing a section of poems by some notable ‘names’ in the Summer Issue of Poetry Review – Where Is The New Political Poetry? Now this could be construed by some as a kind of disingenuous quip, depending on whether – we don’t know – PR’s indefatigable editor Fiona Sampson has been aware, or not, of the vast swathe of ‘new’ politically engaged poetry that has been avalanching in from the fringes since the unreconstructed Tories hooked up with the invertebrate Liberal Democrats to form a cuts-happy ‘coalition’ last May. Of course, there is equally the other more likely possibility that PR is aware of these polemical developments in the poetry scene of the past year or so but is unmoved by them in the main (Heaven forbid any suggestion of ‘wilful blindness’). But there is in that teasing heading the faintest suggestion of the mainstream poetry establishment flexing its mantle to – however subtly, vaguely, even invisibly – address the turbulent social and political issues of this new age of austerity. So readers get their subscription fix of what equates to PR’s notion of ‘political poetry’ – mostly particularised to isolated issues or impersonal macro-topics – from a platform of well-established poets, many in Faber relief. Well, it is at least of some comfort that PR is beginning to realise that the time of poets speaking mostly if not entirely to themselves and their peers is no longer convincing in the climate of today's brutalising austerities. Having said that, the editorial partly spoils this welcome initiative with a spot of rather proprietorial polemic:

Everyone who has read John Agard or Jackie Kay, Grace Nichols or Carol Ann Duffy will be aware that contemporary British poetry explores questions of identity, authority and social rights. These questions are unmistakably political. In 2011 poets are continuing these explorations, though sometimes, perhaps, using less declarative forms...

That last phrase, ‘using less declarative forms’, is open to interpretation – there are those who might read the word ‘declarative’ as a euphemism for ‘political’, thereby re-reading the phrase as ‘though sometimes, perhaps, using less political forms’. This possible sub-text also conceivably provides more career-focused poets not wishing to ruffle any establishment feathers, with passports to coat their own polemical poems in thick applications of diplomatic ambiguity. Nothing wrong with ambiguity (Empson felt it was essential), but the implication that one can write politically without any overtures of personal opinion, while perfectly valid, does smack a little of aesthetic convenience; and it's entirely subjective as to whether such an approach warrants any particular applause or admiration, since it is a considerably harder challenge to compose poems which are imparting a personal conviction or ideology (I'm reminded of two notable literary polemicists of the past who both argued that ideological poetry is the most difficult type of poetry to pull off since it relies on the maximum craftsmanship in the poet to do so authentically - they were Alan Bold, editor of The Penguin Book of Socialist Verse, and the Marxist intellectual and Spanish Civil War casualty, Christopher Caudwell).

However one dresses it up, at such a critically 'political' moment in our country's history, in which practically every one is directly affected by the cuts, to reassert, or at least imply that poetry has recourse to metaphorical opt-out clauses from direct political engagement smells of poetic compromise; even, to be more cynical, of reputational priorities overruling the poetic responsibilities of the sympathetic: to speak out on public issues one feels are over-poweringly important and from the empowered platform one occupies (i.e. that of a poet with a public outlet), and in spite of repercussions and snobberies. Is it possible, or even desirable, to ‘speak out’ opinionlessly? Perhaps there needs to be a broader dialectic as to the tonal and stylistic difference between ‘political’ and ‘protest’ poetry, since certainly the latter is almost always ‘declarative’, whereas arguably the former has more scope for tonal nuance. In the context of the PR editorial, ‘declarative’ could also suggest a hint of condescension towards any contemporary political poetry which chooses to express itself with more ideological robustness than the proverbial microcosmic metaphorical wafer of supplement-verse (in which, say, a domestic meditation on peach bloom is supposed to symbolically represent a dialectic on the nascent fragility of social democracy).

Metaphors aside, these more circuitous poetic approaches to political issues can sometimes be so cautiously executed as to appear journalistically neutral; more ‘current affairs' poetry than ‘political’ poetry (or, poysie de reportage, one might say). And whilst in the architecture of acrostics or riddles there has historically been a cryptic aspect once used for encoding messages or unorthodox doctrines, surely we do not – quite yet – live in such a Stalinistic society that our poets should feel they must – for fear of marginalisation from the feeding frenzies of prizes or honours…? – encrypt their political sentiments or opinions in a soup of obscuring metaphors (all the more ironic when this occurs in the work of poets who are normally metaphor-light to the point of prosaic on less contentious themes). This also brings in another possible debate: should metaphors be used to augment the message of a poem, or to wilfully obscure, even suppress it, like some sort of figurative self-censorship? In short, should metaphors be used as weapons of projection, or as means of poetic self-protection? If the latter, then one might ask, why bother to put oneself through it at all? Many don’t, though some imply they do even if in a demonstrably unobvious way. Others might challenge: Could it be that many of today’s mainstream poets are not appearing to write politically because they are in fact not writing politically, whether declaratively, figuratively or otherwise? Philosophically, quite possibly, but not actually politically…

Or is it all about being direct, even prosaically so, in use of language, but always vague to the point of invisibility in meaning? There are times one wishes it was quite the other way round; anything to roil up the flatness of much supplemental verse and shake some grit into it. But what seems to be being implied, conveniently you could say for any establishment outlet, is a post-modern reassertion of the ‘politicalness’ of practically any subject (including, no doubt, peach bloom), in a similarly hair-splitting manner as conceptual artists' claims that anything, no matter how mundane or apparently uninteresting, is ‘art’, and therefore also implicitly political.

Even when the British ‘mainstream’ does attempt to address contemporary political issues, it struggles to strike the right note, seemingly lacking the sense of urgency or momentum necessitated by urgent and momentous themes. This can be seen as an after-effect of the general self-distancing in poetic tone and prosaic affectations of style which have become increasingly fashionable in the last two decades in particular. The resulting effect of perceived poetic detachment from subject, scrupulous – and often formulaic – ‘paring-down’ of language, and a preoccupation with the ‘particular’ and the ‘domestic’ to a sometimes quotidian degree, are aspects to mainstream verse which undermines any attempts it makes to grapple with grittier themes, such as politics, social unrest, poverty. Frequently it’s the ‘epiphany’ which is pursued, like a poetic trophy; but it is a rare thing to capture authentically, since it is a rare thing to experience altogether. There’s often too an overall sense of trying to pinpoint a centre-ground of ‘truth’, like a parliamentary consensus morphed into verse aesthetic, but which is ultimately subjective; even if much mainstream ‘criticism’ trips up on its own platitudes, such as the specious measuring-gauge: ‘but does it ring true?’ As if any of us has a monopoly on ‘truth’, or possesses such superior perception that our eyes can pendulum-douse any poem and measure its quantum of ‘truthfulness’ by which to assess poetic worth; then to omnipotently inform its author that his/her self-expression is somehow suspect, counterfeit, artificial or, dare one suggest, more a product of imagination than commonplace experience. Such omnipotent tropes are contradictory in that they frequently spring from postmodernist critics, those who subscribe to a deconstructionist approach, which broadly countenances that no objective or external truth really exists, at least not quantifiably (and its perception of universal indistinctions, in turn, denies even the validity of the term ‘mainstream’ – the counter-critical shorthand applied by fringe and modernist circles to try and capture its vaguely nuanced but strictly-patrolled parameters). Perhaps it is in part a payback after decades of deconstructionist critical theory – symbiotic with ‘paring down’ of language – that has left the post-modernist ‘mainstream’ exposed to forces outside its poetic control, leaving it vulnerable to perceptions of detachment, effeteness, even, at times, an air of irrelevance. Whatever the true aetiology of post-'new Gen’ inertias, a high proportion of the most widely promoted contemporary poetry – bar rare and incongruous exceptions such as Derek Walcott, Geoffrey Hill and a few others – seems ill-equipped in providing the more muscular emotional response which the times demand.

But an exhaustive – and exhausting – dialectic on artistic demarcations doesn’t feel like the right priority at a time of such pressing, even desperate, economic, social and political vicissitudes; what does feel like the right priority, at least for sympathetic persons of letters - in this context, poets - is a more united, trans-factional, organised response in contemporary poetry to this government’s systematic dismantling of the foundations of our social democracy (something which Emergency Verse has hoped to encourage, and poets of all persuasions will have the opportunity to submit poems for consideration in its 2012 follow-up if they feel so disposed). It is indeed difficult to think of any other period since the Second World War – bar the 1980s – in which there has been such an abundance of socially unjust and anti-democratic policies, including legion impingements on social, employment and human rights, which poets, for their part, might address. So while we applaud PR for, albeit rhetorically, asking such a question as discussed here, we would applaud it and the mainstream poetry scene much more heartily if they would start constructing a less ambiguous answer.

But the ‘less declarative’ clause still sounds a little bit like a tacit license to be ‘non-committal’, to cultivate distance. Conscientious objection is absolutely fair enough for those poets who do not feel a particular common cause with either side of the austerity dialectic; but for those who do, a ‘metaphorical centre-ground’ doesn’t seem a tenable option. Apart from Carol Ann Duffy’s distinctly ‘declarative’ anti-banker polemical poem in the Radio Times a couple of Christmases back, so far the poetry mainstream has seemed more in its comfort zone when – rightly – writing against library closures but in many cases only against library closures, a bit like MPs toeing the line of the party whip and expressing opinions only on issues contained within their own constituencies. Some in the mainstream, more contentiously (even contradictorily) rallied to the otherwise politically astute Laureate’s cause to pen prompt – some might argue, 'ermine-fawning' – verses marking the recent royal wedding in, of all places, the Guardian. Are we to assume that none of those poets harbours any republican sentiments? If some of them in fact do, then what has happened to our poetry culture that poets who do not have the obligations of laureateship publicly contribute to a sudden gush of nuptial verse which just happens to coincide with a high profile royal wedding? Were they helping to shoulder Duffy’s painful obligation of office? Or are some of the most prominent poets of today actually card-carrying monarchists? Or, is this simply the latest evasive post-modern nuance designed precisely to open up such a debate among all heart-sleeved, declaratively-inclined literalists? Whatever was behind that particular flinging of poetic bouquets at the royal couple, it sends some very mixed signals to that portion of the public who still hopelessly and romantically expect ‘poets’ to be a bit more rebellious, oppositional and anti-establishment. Instead of poems for royal weddings, how about poems for Dale Farms, St. Paul’s camp-outs, or a Robin Hood Tax (as the second PDWS anthology will be doing)?

PR’s summery progressive gesture, however, seems slightly undermined by its more cautious autumnal polemic, as if there’s been an ideological sea-change between issues:

In the face of mob rule, poetry’s rugged individualism seems especially important. It offers its alternative, a kind of focused integrity – the understanding that we do not need to be totalizing, or totalitarian, but write all the more tellingly when we acknowledge our own particularity...

What this is supposed to mean is open to interpretation, though the rather hyperbolic reference to ‘mob rule’ would appear to indicate a more propertied response to the recent riots. Anyone already wary of a perceived stylistic and critical conservatism in PR over the past few years (since the regrettable retirement of David Herd and Robert Potts) will no doubt balk at the phrase ‘poetry’s rugged individualism’, which smacks – probably accidentally – of a kind of artistic Thatcherism than anything resembling a new Left Book Club-style realignment (though of course it would be dogmatic to presume all ‘political’ poetry to automatically be left-wing – and PR’s stance seems more liberal, even libertarian). There are many practising poets today who would argue that a form of ‘rugged individualism’ (or, as The Penniless Press’s fiercely polemical editor Alan Dent might put it, ‘narcissism’) has increasingly pervaded the poetry – and other arts’ – scene(s) of the past thirty years, and has resulted in systemically narrowed poetic horizons in the British ‘mainstream’; just as, simultaneously, British poetry – mostly on the margins, through smaller imprints – has oppositely mushroomed into a rich and deeply varied renaissance which, ironically, has not been authentically represented through the established agencies (wilful blindness again?).

Certainly, if this year’s prize shortlists are anything to go by, there is no discernible sign of a meritocratic ‘opening up’ or burgeoning sense of inclusiveness: a now fairly typical ‘pass the parcel’ seems chronic, as evidenced by an entirely establishment-centric 2011 T.S. Eliot ‘ten’, all high profile ‘names’, carved up largely between the ever-competing ‘Cabers’ and ‘Picaxes’. So it still seems, disappointingly, that there remains a depressingly convincing case for drawing parallels between the ‘political’ and ‘poetical’ classes – conspiracy theories as to protectorates of ‘vested interests’ at unbridgeable distances have much polemical room; as does such sharp-toothed satire as might suggest that for the future the Eliot include the disclaimer: Please note that any entries received from the more diminutive imprints will not get further than the filterers’ slush-pile…

But any reader of modern poetry who casts his/her net wider than the select six or so imprints could tell you that while no doubt these shortlisted titles have their merits, any implication that they are conveniently (given their salubrious credentials) representative of the best in contemporary poetry requires some considerable suspension of disbelief: many could quite easily cite alternative and equally impressive top ‘tens’ of 2011 which would consist of an entirely different shortlist to the Eliot’s. It seems that in a year of radical cultural upheaval and dissent, this prestigious prize is still passing the parcel round a self-perceived poetical ‘elite’ (defined within its own strict remit). But how oppositely its purpose flip-flops forward compared to the life-long aesthetic strides its namesake’s own oeuvre exemplified! One wonders whether today’s more experimental modernist schools shouldn’t just start their own oxymoronically titled competition, say, the John Betjeman Prize?

Certainly there is increasingly a case for the founding of an Alternative Eliot Prize (some moves to provide more widely representative surveys of contemporary poetry to the Forwards and PBS Selections of this world have started to slowly crop up here and there, one of them being Geoff Stevens' annual Purple Patch Best Small Press Collection round-up). It does seem curious at this present moment that two of the highest profile poetry outlets for championing primarily 'mainstream' verse, the Poetry Society and the Poetry Book Society, are currently sans ACE grants; the former, we are led to understand, temporarily (while internecine disputes are mopped up), the latter, apparently indefinitely. For any type of poet, whether in the mainstream or on the ever-widening margins, none of this is particularly helpful. But it may just be a possibility that a partially reconstructed ACE, presently as much concerned about 'inclusiveness' and 'innovation' as it is 'artistic excellence', intend these cessations in funding as a prompts for such outlets to open up and become more authentically representative of contemporary poetry. One only hopes that, as a group of high profile poets gather in Manchester to read in protest against the withdrawing of funds from the PBS (which also facilitate the T.S. Eliot Prize), some sense of self-reflection and humility isn't entirely blinded by the indignation of exclusive entitlement.

Intermission: Eliotology

At this juncture it feels germane to quote from a book I’ve only recently unearthed among the deciduous leaves of a local Oxfam shop – perhaps its inevitable home, given its high cultural ambition: Tele-ology – Studies in Television (Routledge, 1992) by an Australian filmic sociologist, John Hartley, who, in one particularly fascinating chapter entitled ‘The politics of photopoetry’ (in which, broadly, he proposes the contentious theory that ‘poetry’ has, in late the twentieth century, long since migrated from the page to the televisual and film mediums), draws much intellectual energy from an even more obscure though equally thought-provoking sourcebook, Pandemonium (written in the 1940s; published as late as 1987) by wartime filmmaker and Mass Observation co-founder Humphrey Jennings. The following quotes from Hartley alluding to the theses of Jennings make for some quite profound reading, especially if considered in the context of the early twenty-first century British poetry scene:

Jennings argues that the function of the poet has, historically, been subjected to a division of labour, such that poetry becomes more specialized, until at last it has no subject but itself.

Oh how painfully familiar-sounding in 2011.

Meanwhile, the function originally performed by poet-sages like Homer, Hesiod [etc.]… namely to deal with ‘all problems of life – religious, scientific, social and personal’, did survive, but outside poetry.

This sounds chillingly incontrovertible today.

Unlike the cultural criticism whose hegemony is being forged in Bond Street, Mayfair, Bloomsbury and Hampstead … Jennings does not seek to rubbish civilization in the name of culture. He assumes that ‘the poet’s vision does exist, that the imagination is part of life, that the exercise of imagination is an indispensable function’ of humanity … In the intellectual climate of mid-[twentieth] century England, this integrated theory of poetry and industry is nothing less than counter-hegemonic; subversive of the dominant cultural regime, and deliberately so…

Note the word ‘subversive’: not a term which could be reasonably associated with the vast swathe of mainstream British poetry written today, or arguably in the last twenty or so years (to my mind, the last mainstream example of political or subversive verse would be Tony Harrison’s V, way back in 1985!).

Ironically, in our context of the contemporary T.S. Eliot Prize, Hartley frequently alludes to T.S. Eliot the poet as a kind of proto-punk iconoclast who recognised modern poetry had to oppose popular culture if it was to remain true and relevant; and whilst one might rightly point out Eliot’s own self-confessed Nietzschean elitisms, Falangist sympathies and rather paradoxical ‘royalist’ Anglo-Catholicism, there can be little doubt that much of his oeuvre – particularly The Waste Land, ‘The Hollow Men’, Gerontion and even aspects of the more subtly subversive Four Quartets) – was radically anti-materialist, even if also, tragically, anti-democratic. But a conformist or line-toer Eliot certainly was not. One wonders then what the T.S. Eliot Prize judge panels of the past decade or so would make of this snippet from Hartley on their award’s namesake:

…what’s important, to Eliot … is not the content of the ideology but its adversarial structure. For Eliot … the hope of poetry lies in pitting it against civilization; distancing the means of vision still further from the means of production. Culture [in this context, ‘high’ culture] is anti-technological, anti-modern, anti-popular. Popular culture is thus structurally the opposite of ‘live’ culture; that is, it is death. Its content doesn’t matter.

Have the T.S. Eliot Prize seers forgotten the very poetic mission of their chosen patron? That’s not to say that Eliot was right in his elitism – and it’s not a creed I could comfortably sign up to – but the contention here is that the poetic cerebration and ‘high style’ Eliot stood for and championed through his own work and others’ throughout his career hardly seems to be echoed, in the main, by the fairly conventional (or ‘mainstream’) shortlists annually compiled in his name. For those who might wish for some critical background to this point of view, I’d recommend the appropriately sallow conclusions of F.R. Leavis in his New Bearings in English Poetry (1932), more particularly his deeply pessimistic 1950 postscript in the 70s’ Pelican reprint, in which he expresses his despair at how poetry since a perceived Renaissance in the 1930s, in his view, took completely the wrong path (one which, for many, it still follows today, 70-odd years later). Fortunately there is a healthy crop of contemporary poetry commentators, polemical ambassadors from the smaller magazines, who provide a crucial dialectical shadow-front to prevailing orthodoxies. One such ambassador I have already quoted, The Penniless Press's Alan Dent, who, in something of an - in this context - Eliotonian flourish, wrote in an editorial commenting on the laureateship and the lack of an authentic poetry 'market':

Ours is a culture of manufactured stupidity, which is exactly what you need to turn people into mindless consumers. Poetry should be sceptical, cynical and oppositional in such a culture. Conversations with the wind aren’t quite what we need to win today’s cultural struggle. The forces of ignorance and reaction are winning. They will continue to win if we peddle illusions about huge numbers of people turning to poetry. If literature is to do its work in fighting the murder of imagination, we have to begin from where we are: beleaguered, struggling to survive, ignored by the majority. But no-one who says so will be poet laureate nor win prizes.

Dent's succinct polemic on the poetry scene is as ever apposite and vital: a compelling composite of meritocratic creative individualism and ethical socialism. Dent, above all, can see that one has to root out the meritricious floral sprays of culturally complicit material in order to let the thornier perennials of - debatably - more authentic poetry to drink in its share of a supplementally rationed sunlight.

Inverted Elitism

What we seem to have much of the time is the worst of both worlds: a form of ‘poetry elitism’ which seems to frown on anything seen to be overly stylised, unclear (or ‘obscurantist’), or intellectual; one not primarily based on discernibly sound or objective judgement formed from any obvious poetic qualities, but more on the absence of them, and a perceived suggestion therefore – often through elliptical tone or treatment of topic – of an unquantifiable ‘sublime’, in part, or largely, reliant on the readers’ own interpretations (though not quite in the sense of Empsonian ambiguity). This could be seen as a means of democratising poetics, of involving the reader more in the poetry, chiefly in trying to fathom its meaning, purpose, or even whether it is poetry at all, which can result more in making poets out of the readers than distinguishing the poets themselves (though I’d think this is not intentional); but more often than not the effect comes across as vague, overly impersonal, prosaic, sometimes even unimaginative and dull – or one might dare say, bloodlessly bourgeois, as if composing a poem has become more of an obligation, habit or class-pastime than a creative impulsion or expressive reflex. There is as well a shadow criteria at work, a perhaps slightly unconscious journalistic ‘package’-approach: biographical tick boxes, ‘merit’ of high-achieving educational background (as if one’s academic credentials have any bearing on one’s creative ability anyway), prosodic ‘polish’, accessibility, commercial appeal, pared down ‘clarity’ of expression, and other factors seem, often transparently, to come into play in deciding which up-and-coming poets will be precipitated as the precocious cream of their generations. If, however, as the case may still be, such approaches are believed by their apparatchiks to angle towards genuine critical objectivity, then the only other tenable conclusion can be that there is too a ‘wilful blindness’ towards anything that stylistically or topically diverges from a thinly camouflaged ‘formula’.

This seems then to be an elitism based not so much on originality, distinctiveness or experiment, as on an approximate score of perceived ‘marketability’ – even if, as most of us sadly recognise, contemporary poetry barely has any market – arguably often based on unthreateningly mouldable, even deferential, qualities, as much as talent. Some might argue more sourly that not only has poetry throughout the past thirty-odd years ‘sold out’ to a rather shadowy populism, but it has in addition, failed to grow significantly more popular than if it had retrenched itself in the stubbornly imaginative grooves of mid-twentieth century modernism (again, one might seek out F.R. Leavis, or, to be more up to date on the debate, Andrew Duncan’s The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry (Salt Publishing, 2003), for a more in-depth polemic on these issues).
 
So we seem to have a kind of ‘inverted elitism’ where – rather analogous to the mock-egalitarianism of comprehensive education in an otherwise irrationally competitive society – a kind of aesthetic communism is implausibly embedded in ‘the formula’ used to gauge and rank perceived contemporary poetic quality; one which seems to enshrine within it a kind of Hemmingway-esque emphasis on ‘omission’, along with a distrust of rigorous language, and an allergy to poetic personality.

Perhaps it is inevitable in any prize system which almost exclusively uses practitioners in a particular medium to decide who gets the Smarties, judges will consciously or unconsciously look for submissions which stylistically and topically reflect the clear influence of their own poetry, or the promise of its further development, and therefore of their own posterity of oeuvre and influence. In such a materially disenfranchised medium as poetry, where publication and critical ‘recognition’ are often the primary or only rewards, it is even more inevitable that there will be an element of abject egoism coming into play when deciding which poets to pass the podium to. No poets are perfect, few are moral paragons; but at the same time, an increasingly prevalent self-aggrandizing, proprietorial posturing of some through a subterfuge of ‘open-mindedness’ and ‘objectivity’ taints the public perception of the modern day ‘poet’ to a distinctly unattractive patina.

Disproportional Representation

Poetry Review is perhaps the most prominent of the high profile poetry journals; its fundamental mission is supposed to be to represent the very broad church of contemporary British poetry – but in recent times it has increasingly come under fire for being in demonstrable contradiction of this purpose; or at least, for failing to do so anywhere near as effectively as it should. It has almost got to a point that a glance through any random issue would seem to suggest there are only about 60-odd poets practising in the UK today, who do so on a rota system, and who share a hegemony of binding glue that hangs on the clothes like the indistinct scent of some parallel planet which has a publishing arm – or elbow – straying into our own atmosphere. To extend the cosmic metaphor, a rich universe of energetic, ‘living’ poetry being written and in some cases published by small presses and journals is seemingly snagged on the holographic margins of print Event Horizons, or in many cases, sucked into black holes of obscurity altogether. That – as must be assumed – the doyens of the seemingly hermetically-sealed poetry establishment seem quite happy for those rogue voices to remain where they are doesn’t say a lot for its sense of poetic curiosity, not to say meritocracy, or will for any thorough representation of contemporary poetry to ever hit daylight, let alone posterity. We’re hopeful that this is not institutionalised ‘wilful blindness’, but it does often come across as that.

So does it seem now that outlets such as PR are trying to readdress this disproportional representation of poetry and poetic topic, as signalled by this recent engagement with the more urgent issues of our current austerity? It might seem that after a period of cautious observation and peer-review, some of these circles are deciding they want to have a piece of the dialectical action. Fair enough; but in opening up to more politically engaged poetry, it is important that those such as PR demonstrate at least a verisimilitude of humility – even, dare one make so bold, ‘solidarity’? – as they are not so much spearheading as catching up with an already very active archipelago of poetries in response to the cuts. A less solipsistic approach would be a more attractive start: one which doesn’t appear to assert a prosodic superiority with which to more effectively tackle the urgent issues of today than the mere lumpen poetariat of the saddle-stitched fringes are capable. It would also be helpful in confirming that PR et al. does actually inhabit the same reality as the small presses and fringe journals if it didn’t openly sport borderline-myopic posers as discussed above, which appear to ask something in a manner which clearly doesn’t want to be answered; at least, not by anyone outside its own pages. (Suddenly I have an unnerving image in my head of brandishing two copies of Emergency Verse and knocking them together like two red bricks, Gumby-like, at a Poetry Society soiree - but it vanishes fast, as did my will at the time to even bother posting PR a copy). It is hoped that PR will begin to engage more broadly with the vast and varied poetry culture of modern Britain, as its original mission statement enshrines, and no more expose itself to accusations of nurturing choicest ubiquity clubs at the speculated expense of representing the full range and diversity of contemporary British poetry. The onus is in its mission statement, its implicit purpose, which seems to have been half-forgotten and obscured by stylistic politicking. One can only wonder what poor old Harold Monro would think of the over-pruned Betterton Street tree that has grown but never fully flourished from his humble little backpackers' poetry bookshop at Devonshire Street...

This polemic precedes the review round-up linked separately on the Reviews and Front pages.