New generation of writers presents poetry in motion: Some of today's best poetic talents tend to eschew writing of love. David Lister reports

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The Independent Online
TODAY'S young poets write not of love. They are most likely to be Scottish, working class and holding down a day job in the social services. They either studiously avoided going to Oxbridge, or avoid mentioning it, as they profess to despise it almost as much as they do the London literati; and they would prefer their work to be read out on Radio 1 than Radio 3.

In that at least they are about to get their wish. Yesterday the Poetry Society, poetry publishers and the Arts Council joined forces to present New Generation Poets, 20 of the best talents, whose work will feature in a month-long nation-wide festival in May which will include appearances in pubs, bookshops and schools and hourly readings on Radio 1.

The Poetry Society, clearly not unaware of the marketing success that followed a similar exercise with young novelists last year, asked a panel chaired by Melvyn Bragg to select the 20 best young talents of recently published verse, and yesterday the

T-shirted, leather-jacketed new generation gathered together at the society's London headquarters, scowling their disdain for older and richer poets.

Bill Swainson, of the Poetry Society, said: 'Poetry now is not Oxbridge, it's not London. It's Glasgow and Birmingham. Poetry has gone regional. The only thing that every poet here has in common is confidence in his or her voice. The influence of rock music is among them, and the influence of the great poets of the past.'

One of the judges, John Osborne, professor of American Studies at Hull University, said that the women poets the judges looked at produced the far more emotional poems 'but sometimes not very well written', while the writings from men were often 'immaculately sculpted works that left me cold'.

One of the new generation, Don Paterson, aged 30, from Dundee, is one of six Scots on the list. He also plays in a band, left school at 16, and makes no apology for that particular omission. 'Satirical poetry was an Oxbridge excrescence,' he said. 'It's pretty ineffective, it enforces the Establishment. There are far more working-class poets now, and we are heavily influenced by American poets. It comes through in the diction, the unrhetorical language like conversations in the pub.'

One of his poems, Filter, is indeed very like a pub conversation:

Thrown out in a glittering arc

as clear as the winterbourne,

the jug of Murphy's I threw back

goes hissing off the stone.

Whatever I do with all the black

is my business alone.

Simon Armitage, 30, from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, who works as a probation officer, said: 'There is still satire in poetry, but today's poetry is sophisticated. People write in a refractory way not a biting way. The values and issues are targeted through metaphor.'

And not just the poetry but the poets had changed. 'I think we're all fairly self-effacing,' he added. 'Most of us are trying to achieve a bit of humility. Poets these days . . . are more interested in progressing with their writing than succeeding as people. But if you're going to have the audacity to trash a few trees and publish work then you want people to read it.'

The Catch is one of the few odes to the work of a deep gulley.


the long, smouldering

afternoon. It is

this moment

when the ball scoots

off the edge

of the bat; upwards,

backwards, falling


beyond him

yet he reaches

and picks it


of its loop


an apple

from a branch

the first of the season.

Moniza Alvi, 39, works part- time as a teacher, partly because she likes to 'keep in touch with the real world'. Many of her poems are about her Pakistani background, and she aims to speak to members of that community.

Matthew Bannister, the controller of Radio 1, said the BBC's involvement with New Generation Poets will allow pop and rock lyrics, rap and poetry to be heard side by side on daytime programmes.

The 20 poets are: Moniza Alvi; Simon Armitage; John Burnside, 39, knowledge engineer, who was born in Dunfermline; Robert Crawford, 34, a lecturer from St Andrews; David Dabydeen, 37, a lecturer at Warwick University; Michael Donaghy, 38, a folk musician and teacher; Carol Ann Duffy, 38, a writer and poet; Ian Duhig, 39, from Leeds works in a drug rehabilitation centre; Elizabeth Garrett, 35, works in the Bodleian Library at Oxford; Lavinia Greenlaw, 31, works for the London Arts Board; W N Herbert, 32, from Dundee, a writer-in-residence; Michael Hoffmann, 36, a writer and translator; Mick Imlah, 37, who has been a model for a clothing firm; Kathleen Jamie, 31, a writer-in-residence in the Orkneys; Sarah Maguire, 36, a writer-in-residence at a men's prison; Glyn Maxwell, 31, a publisher's editor; Jamie McKendrick, 38, a part-time teacher; Don Paterson; Pauline Stainer, 52, who has worked in a mental hospital, pub and library; Susan Wicks, 46, a teacher.

Leading article, page 19