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The Cambridge Companion to British Poetry 1945-2010 Edited by Edward Larrissy Cambridge University Press

The Cambridge Companion to British Poetry 1945-2010 Edited by Edward Larrissy  Cambridge University Press

In his introductory comments to this new Companion, a collection of sixteen essays purporting to ‘explore the full diversity of British poetry since the Second World War’, the editor, Edward Larrissy, points us to some comments made by Andrew Crozier in his seminal essay ‘Thrills and Frills: Poetry as Figures of Empirical Lyricism’. Larrissy refers to the ‘Metaphor Men’ Christopher Reid, Craig Raine and David Sweetman in the following way:

‘The identification, in the period of the so-called Metaphor Men, of poetry with the striking use of simile was seen by at least one critic in terms of the easy gratification sought by a consumer society.’

He goes on to focus on the Crozier essay:

‘Whether or not this is a valid connection, the claim does not establish that good poetry could not emerge from such a supposedly inauspicious context. The real target of the critique is a supposed superficiality and narrowness: superficiality of the presentation of experience; narrowness of linguistic register and of intellectual and cultural horizons.’

Now that the Selected Prose of Andrew Crozier, including that essay ‘Thrills and Frills’, is readily available in a Shearsman publication from 2013, readers can see for themselves how linked Crozier was with the Objectivist poets and how suspicious he was of a world of poetry in which ‘tropes proliferate and are uniformly highlighted, like consumer goods in a shop window’.
In Edward Larrissy’s earlier book Reading Twentieth-Century Poetry, The Language of Gender and Objects, published some twenty-five years ago, he highlights Crozier’s comments on a poem by Charles Tomlinson. Referring to ‘Geneva Restored’, a poem from the mid-1950s, Crozier wrote:

‘Not only is the poem’s point of intersection with the world realized in detail, and in terms of particular, local qualities, the place is also remembered to possess a history, to be charged with it indeed as associations, with Protestantism, with Ruskin, which feed into the present. Yet none of these, it can be argued, owes its presence to the poet’s intervention; they occur because the poet finds them interesting and they sustain the poem accordingly.’
I was heartened to read of Larrissy’s inclusion of Crozier in his introduction to this new Cambridge book and the reference was made, perhaps, even more pertinent in the closing comments to that introduction. After highlighting The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry as initiating a debate about who was in and who was out (and both Tomlinson and Crozier are firmly out) there is a reference to the Bloodaxe anthology, The New Poetry (in which both Tomlinson and Crozier are out), in which the editors announced that ‘plurality has flourished’. Larrissy suggests that ‘it might be claimed that the characteristics of the poetry represented therein were not markedly different from those of the poetry in Morrison and Motion—and the same might be said, allowing for a slightly different selection of poets, about New British Poetry (no Crozier here either!) edited by Don Paterson and Charles Simic in 2004. Nevertheless a sense that there have been too many exclusions in British poetry is gaining ground among many readers and in the academy’.

Having read that last statement I was a little intrigued to note that Larrissy refers to the Morrison-Motion anthology four times in his introduction and twice to the Paterson-Simic. However, I looked in vain for a reference to Conductors of Chaos, A Various Art, Other, or Vanishing Points.
A less serious point, but still a little alarming, is the incorrect date given on more than one occasion. Bunting’s Briggflatts did not appear in 1960! That said, this is a wide-ranging book which offers an impressive introduction to the period and that wide range can be seen in the titles of the chapters themselves: ‘Poets of the Forties and Early Fifties’, ‘The Movement: Poetry and the Reading Public’, High Late Modernists or postmodernists?’, ‘Poetry and Class’. Separate sections on Scottish Poetry, Welsh Poetry, Northern Irish Poetry, Black British Poetry, ‘Poetry, Feminism, Gender and Women’s Experience’. And a splendid last piece by Jon Glover on ‘Poetry’s Outward Forms: Groups, Workshops, Readings, Publishers’.

Ian Brinton 17th December 2015

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One response »

  1. Ian Brinton sounds very generous about a book in which he highlights a number of faults. I’m waiting for my local libary to buy it so I can see for myself! Perhaps its time an enterprising critic wrote a history of anthologies of post 1945 poetry! It was the largely forgotten one by Kenneth Allott which kick-started my interest,especially in Eliot. For me ‘The New Poetry’ marked the nadir. I bet ‘Children of Albion’ isnt in either!

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