The State of English Poetry 2022

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July 2nd 2022
Published: July 2nd 2022
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I passed on a Guardian poetry article to my friend, Finbar O’Toole, who is a published poet. Finbar is old school; he adores the poetry of Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin and early Ted Hughes. For him, poetry is all about craftsmanship - selecting the right words and putting them in the right order. It has little to do with content and nothing at all to do with the personality of the poet. Finbar is cynical about modern poetry. He thinks that these days a poet stands a greater chance of being published if he or she is gay / coloured / ethnically unusual / physically or socially disadvantaged / strange in some way. The more of these boxes a poet ticks, the more successful he or she is likely to be. The quality of the actual writing does not matter as much as it used to. According to Finbar, respectable white heterosexual poets now stand less chance of being published than previously. He believes that the identity of the poet and the subject of the poem now matter as much as, or even more than, the craftsmanship that goes into the words.

Here is a link to the Guardian article, which sings the praises of Joelle Taylor, who has just won the TS Eliot poetry prize for her collection: ‘C+nto & Othered Poems’:

Taylor calls herself a ‘butch lesbian’. “It is important that we preserve our history,” she writes. “I interviewed other butch lesbians from that era, and together we began to construct a simple story: exile, friendship, grief, love, courage and threat.”

And here is my friend’s priceless, consummate piss-take of a riposte:

Yeah, right on. She's my kind of gal. Mind you I haven't got a fucking clue what the title even means: 'C+nto and Othered Poems'?

I mean wtf is an othered poem?

It seems that these days it's getting more of a challenge to tick the right boxes. It's not enough any more just to be gay. I mean, c'mon, anyone can be a boring old gay. You've got to be a bit more niche that that. 'Butch Lesbian' - that's a bit more precise, innit? Pity she's not 'of colour' as well as having maybe one limb missing. I see she beat Ray Antrobus who is mixed race and deaf, but we've kind of done deafness. That lot have had their chance. They are so last year's thing. This year it's butch lesbianism that rocks, but we'll move on next year. Yeah, gotta find that trans genius. Picador have published one who writes in the Orcadian dialect. I bet they're raging that he/she/they didn't win. My apologies for not knowing 'her/his/their' preferred pronouns.

The poetry establishment must be well overdue to give some big bucks to a trans poet, or at least to someone who's non-binary and I bet the hunt is on. You mark my words. Next time round it'll be someone trans and then, when that gets too ordinary, they'll refine it in some way because don't forget there are currently 2563 different genders.

And silly old Paul Simon thought that there were only 50 ways to leave your lover. How old school is that!

I wonder if Seamus Heaney were starting out today whether anyone would even bother reading him.



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