Leading Article: A country riddled with good poetry

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN has become a nation of poets: not just of amateur aspirants, but of accomplished sculptors of words, working in a wide variety of idioms and being published in large numbers. This phenomenon is, it seems, without parallel on the Continent. It will be boosted by the month-long celebration of 20 selected 'New Generation Poets', announced yesterday by the Poetry Society and destined to be launched on BBC Radio 1 and at a variety of venues nation-wide in May.

One heartening aspect of contemporary enthusiasm for poetry is its social and geographical range. Between the Thirties and Fifties, the era of Auden, Eliot, Spender, MacNeice, Day-Lewis and so on, poetry was a largely metropolitan phenomenon, with Faber & Faber as its main publisher.

That dominance was challenged in the Sixties, most effectively by Liverpool poets such as Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten and by the influx of American Beat poets led by Allen Ginsberg. Theirs was a lighter, more accessible style that lent itself to public readings.

The provincial riposte was augmented by the growing reputation of such poets as Philip Larkin and Douglas Dunn in Hull and Tony Harrison in Leeds and Newcastle, and by the emergence of provincial poetry publishing houses such as Bloodaxe in Newcastle, now a major force, and the Carcanet Press in Manchester.

It was grist to their mill that London's small coterie of poetry publishers seemed to provincial eyes to be excessively snooty, Oxbridge and male-oriented. Of the 50-odd collections that Bloodaxe now publishes each year (it receives about 100, unsolicited, per week), half are by women.

London, whose own poetic vitality was in turn enhanced by Caribbean and other rap poets, has latterly been fighting back: Faber wooed one of the most promising younger poets, Simon Armitage, from Bloodaxe, with Chatto gaining him as its poetry editor.

The word has been spread by London Underground's brave offerings of poetry to a captive audience, and the growing popularity of poetry performances in clubs and pubs up and down the country. For almost a year this newspaper has been publishing a poem daily. All in all, it is a healthy scene for poets, though even the new promotion is unlikely to make anyone rich.