Living poets' society: a new generation is tipped to scale the literary heights

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They are the nascent standard bearers for British poetry. And among the list of the 20 Next Generation Poets named today are two writers in their twenties, who have each published only one collection of verse.

They are the nascent standard bearers for British poetry. And among the list of the 20 Next Generation Poets named today are two writers in their twenties, who have each published only one collection of verse.

The Ted Hughes-inspired Jacob Polley and Belfast's Leontia Flynn, who describes her main theme as "angst youth crap", have been awarded an accolade which helped create unprecedented interest in the art form 10 years ago.

The list, compared to that produced by the literary magazine Granta, also includes established writers such as Robin Robertson, Tobias Hill and Sophie Hannah. Funded by the Arts Council and chosen by a distinguished panel chaired by the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, organisers hope it will have a similar impact on the careers of those included in 1994's New Generation Poets.

Then, artists including Don Paterson, Lavinia Greenlaw and Simon Armitage were hailed for bringing a rock'n'roll chic to poetry. They were given the full celebrity treatment, even appearing in a Vogue photoshoot. All went on to achieve significant success. But this year, the Poetry Book Society (PBS) which has organised the award, is keen to play down talk of rock'n'roll. It has removed the upper age limit of 40 after several important writers narrowly missed out last time.

The announcement coincides with the launch of poetrybooksonline.com, making available every English language poetry book on the internet. Three of the poets, Jane Draycott, Catherine Smith and Maurice Riordan, will be in the first Next Generation event at the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival tomorrow. There will be a readers' guide offered to all libraries as well as further events at bookshops and at the Ledbury Literary Festival.

Ms Draycott, 50, was shortlisted for the 1997 Forward Prize for her pamphlet No Theatre and for the 1999 prize for her first full collection Prince Rupert's Drop. Mr Riordan, 51, has published two collections - A Word from the Loki in 1995 and Floods in 2000 which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize.

Chris Holifield, director of the PBS, said she had been disappointed by the response of the big book retailers which had failed to embrace the event. "The big chains have less inclination to support poetry than the independents," she said.

Perhaps the most eye-catching inclusion is Leontia Flynn, 29, who has just finished her PhD at Queen's College and whose first book, These Days, was published only six weeks ago. She says her work is motivated by "existential youth angst beyond the call of duty". Described by the guide as "tugging away at a subject until it releases poetry", she said: "I have always been writing. When I don't do it I go mental but it's not something I can do in a structured way. It's important not just to compare yourself with the white, dead guys but to working poets."

Jacob Polley, 29, became entranced by Ted Hughes' Crow'. "If you have discovered poems and loved them, that is the driving force. I want to create the same effect in others those poems had on me."

More than one and a half million volumes of poetry were sold last year, yet nine out of every 10 volumes sold are by dead authors, hence the latest initiative. But there are reckoned to be up to 1,000 active poets in Britain, although making a living from poetry remains as difficult for the modern poet as it was in Keats' time.

There are controversial omissions - Roddy Lumsden and Kate Clanchy being two obvious names - but the organisers are keen to emphasise a spirit of inclusiveness, name-checking authors in the guide who did not make it into the final 20.

Motion, who chaired a judging panel including the Today presenter James Naughtie, Radiohead's Colin Greenwood and the New Generation poet Simon Armitage, said: "Our list of 20 could easily have been extended, and some of the missing names will be sorely missed. The consolation is knowing that while the brightest beam of attention will fall on the Next Generation Poets, those around them will also profit from the campaign."

But rock'n'roll it ain't. Ms Flynn said: "That's just crap. Rock'n'roll is wonderful, and so is poetry but they are not the same thing. You can't dance to poetry."

TWENTY TO WATCH

Patience Agbabi

Alice Oswald

Amanda Dalton

Pascale Petit

Nick Drake

Jacob Polley

Jane Draycott

Deryn Rees-Jones

Paul Farley

Maurice Riordan

Leontia Flynn

Robin Robertson

Matthew Francis

Owen Sheers

Sophie Hannah

Henry Shukman, centre

Tobias Hill

Catherine Smith

Gwyneth Lewis<</p>

Jean Sprackland

NEW WAVE POETRY

LEONTIA FLYNN

These Days, Cape Poetry £8

Naming it

Five years out of school and preachy

with booklearning, it is good to be discovered

as a marauding child.

To think the gloomiest most baffled

misadventures might lead so suddenly

to a clearing - as when a friend

taking me to her well-stocked fridge says:

look this is an avocado and this is an aubergine.

from These Days

JACOB POLLEY

The Brink,Picador £7.99

A Jar of Honey

You hold it like a lit bulb,

a pound of light,

and swivel the stunned glow

around the fat glass sides:

it's the sun, all flesh and no bones

but for the floating knuckle

of honeycomb

attesting to the nature of the struggle.

from The Brink

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