This blog is intended to be some kind of collection of the things I’ve written about poetry and books in general. Most of the stuff is reviews, although as time goes by I hope there’ll be more in the way of essays and articles (perhaps even actual ‘blog-style’ blog posts, for all the blog fans out there). But, for now, mostly reviews.
So I should say something about these reviews. The thing I mainly want to address is why there’s so much negativity around – I hate the idea of being the kind of person who relentlessly runs down their contemporaries.That kind of person is awful. But I don’t think I’m completely doing that: I’m pretty dedicated to being positive about the things I like, too (and there aren’t any reviews here with nothing positive to say). I’m excited about how poetry in this country stands at the moment. The last few years have seen literally dozens of great débuts: think of Sarah Howe, Jack Underwood, Rebecca Perry, Toby Martinez de las Rivas, Jemima Foxtrot, Frances Leviston, Sam Riviere, Amy Key, Dai George, Hannah Lowe, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Tara Bergin, Oli Hazzard, Kate Kilalea, Chrissy Williams, Amali Rodrigo, Warsan Shire . . . we’re in a good place, right now. And at the same time, newly mid-career poets like Kei Miller, Mark Waldron and Jen Hadfield are spearheading the charge of our times into future generations’ lists of poetry-eras to remember.
But so then the question becomes: if there’s so much good stuff around, why bother writing about things you don’t like? Well, a couple of reasons.The first is practical: I haven’t, generally, chosen my own subjects – I just write about what I’m sent by the poetry publications I write for (PN Review, Poetry Wales, The Poetry Review, Warwick Review and Poetry Ireland Review, mostly). But, maybe more importantly, just as our poetic culture is very strong, I think our recent critical culture has been weak. It has risked giving the impression, sometimes, of a small group of insiders patting each other eagerly on the back. Which, any way you turn it, isn’t a pretty sight. And knocks on into a further problem – if we don’t call out bad, lazy, mediocre or politically offensive poetry, then we risk exactly that kind of poetry coming to represent our art form to newcomers. I think the fact that merely competent poetry too often comes to exemplify the genre to the general public has something to do with the tiny percentage of that public which continues to pay attention to poetry. Poetry’s important to me: I don’t want people to think it’s boring.
The other reason, of course, is that if you say you like everything you read, then your saying you like something doesn’t really mean anything. Boo to that.