Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Overlooked UK poets

Over on Twitter, Ian Duhig and a number of other poets drew my attention to this article in Partisan magazine, highlighting the 11 best UK poets you never heard of.

Glad to see RF Langley and John Riley among them. Riley's Selected Poems is a book I go back to again and again – I can't remember exactly where I found it in a secondhand bookshop. Second Fragment (you can read it by following the link that Ian provides) is absolutely exquisite.

I'd be interested to hear further suggestions for poets who might have made the list. Who wants to start?


Matthew Paul said...

How about Roger Garfitt? One of our best poets per se, but especially good re birds and a shocking omission from the Armitage/Dee Penguin Book of Bird Poetry.

Matthew Stewart said...

I don't often comment on blogs, but I couldn't pass this one by.

I'd start with you, Mr Merritt. You deserve to be far more renowned, even if you do already have an excellent reputation among those in the know.

Matt Merritt said...

That's very kind of you to say so, Matthew, but I'd give my eye teeth to even come close to some of those poets.

I've only read a few poems by Roger Garfitt, Matthew, but liked them a lot - I must seek out some more of his work. I seem to remember that he published a very well-reviewed memoir, too.

Clarissa Aykroyd said...

The Yeats thing is weird. This may be harsh, but if you are a poet and you need to be told to read Yeats, it is possible that there is no hope for you.

Matt Merritt said...

Yes, I really didn't understand that at all. Even though they qualify it slightly, it does seem bizarre.

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear Matt

Modesty prevents me from adding to your list but I do think that it's terribly unhealthy for a small coterie of poets to hog all the limelight, attention and prize money. Roger Federer killed men's tennis for a decade and Seamus Heaney impoverished British poetry for three.

Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish

Ben Wilkinson said...

Apologies in advance, Matt, for wading into this fruitful discussion not to contribute per se, but to wholeheartedly disagree with Simon.

Roger Federer won all the prizes and sat squarely at the top of men's tennis for so long because he was a brilliant talent, who took the dullness of big servers dominating the sport and reinvented the power baseline game, combining deft technique, agility, grace and outrageous panache. Watching him at his peak, c2004-2009, as David Foster Wallace once memorably described, was almost a religious experience.

Seamus Heaney is not my favourite poet, but his feel for the language, for the weight and texture of words and their transformative placement, put him in a similar position at the 'top' of British & Irish poetry for very good reason, I think. Like Federer, he forced others to up their game. Impoverishing, to my mind, he was not.

Obviously there is a problem with the sports/arts analogy - a world #1 tennis player is verifiably the best, since wins and losses are clear cut, in a way that the always subjective judgement of poetry is not. But consensus emerges for a reason. The neglect of considerable talents such as John Riley is regrettable, but the championing of the small handful of major writers in any given time is, for me, equally something to be celebrated.

kind regards, Ben

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear Matt

I'm not saying that Seamus was an overrated poet but he was so promoted and so dominant that not much flourished in his shadow. Now that he's gone (peace be upon him!) I think that the poetry world is a far more interesting place. Now, if you ask someone who is the greatest living British poet, you will get a dozen different answers instead of one. I used to teach a Kuwaiti girl who one day produced a volume of Seamus's poetry. I asked why she had bought it and she replied 'because he's supposed to be the best poet in the world.' I asked if she had enjoyed the volume and she answered 'Not one bit.'

Best wishes from Simon

The Editors said...

Hi Matt,

I realise I'm behind a little with regards comments, but thought I'd throw my two cents worth into the discussion fountain. First, I'd like to reiterate the praise for John Riley: a really remarkable poet who managed to continue and expand the tradition of modernist religious poetry started by Eliot, making something approachable and human with potentially intractable materials, no mean task.

In no particular order - and I realise this is quite a testosterone-heavy list, but I'm writing through a heavy fug of hay-fever, so I'm not my sharpest (also, I realise that a lot of my favourite women poets are from overseas, too, which complicates matters) - here are my choices:

Jeremy Hooker (great body of work, massively undersung)
Jeremy Over
John Temple
Andrew Crozier (much of his work is now being republished, so an ideal time to get to grips with his output)
GF Dutton (Scottish poet and gardener, producing very tight clipped lyrics in the manner of Hauge: well worth a look)
Colin Simms
Chris Torrance (Welsh-based open-fielder, who's been producing a long form poem called 'The Magic Door' since the 60s, mainly available in fugitive editions, one of the key works of post-war British poetry)
Peter McCarey (Scottish experimentalist, with a love of language play and textual deconstruction: one of the original Informationists, I think)

There are lots of others, I'm sure, but that's a good place to start.


Simon Turner

Matt Merritt said...

Thanks very much, everyone.

Lots to investigate there, Simon - most of the names are familiar to me, but not the work. I've got Jeremy Hooker's Collected, though - found it in hardback in a secondhand bookshop - and I agree entirely. I find it remarkable that he's not better known and more widely read.

Agree on Colin Simms, too. I've got a couple of his books and love them.