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Todd Swift
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It is a bright, sunny autumn day in London, with intermittent rain (English paradox), as I wrap up a week's blogging here, and the Prime Minister has personally intervened last night to defend military cuts from Osborne's urge to cut. I have hoped, this week, to offer some "new bearings" in British poetry, but without sticking slavishly to birthdates or generations, though I have been, it is true, mostly casting a warm eye on the younger emerging talents. Lists and canons are invidious, only until one imagines what we'd do without them, especially in this intertwined and networked world with... Continue reading
Posted Oct 16, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Today, Hilary Clinton made headlines in Britain, by “expressing concern” about plans to cut spending here on military procurement. I mention this to underline how interconnected the US/UK relationship – “special” or not – still is, not just culturally, but military-industrially. Meanwhile, David Cameron and General Petraeus have been meeting over the botched rescue of a British citizen kidnapped by the Taliban, and maybe killed accidentally by an American rescuer, who may have thrown a hand grenade that killed her as she lay on the ground. Though there is a documented “Atlantic drift” in the poetry community, as much binds... Continue reading
Posted Oct 15, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Yesterday and today the world experienced the Chilean miracle at Camp Hope, where thirty-three miners were rescued after months of doubt and darkness - a time they survived with optimism, creativity, and inspiring communitarian spirit. The event, to my mind equivalent to the moon landings in terms of human and technical drama (not a unique thought, I am sure), is particularly resonant of the literary style of "magic realism" which came from Chile's part of the world, a style that saw the miraculous in the everyday. It therefore seems apt to celebrate, today, poets whose work touches upon, in a... Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Last night, Howard Jacobson won the coveted Man Booker Prize for best work of fiction of the year published by a Commonwealth author (hence the exclusion of Americans), roughly the UK's equivalent, in prestige, to the Pulitzer. Jacobson was not the bookies favourite, but he has been on the radio and in the papers all week over here, arguing for the importance of comedy in fiction (he is a very funny writer). This morning, on BBC 4, he explained how he felt that all novels should be funny, always. I am not convinced by this claim, yet at the same... Continue reading
Posted Oct 13, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
This week, the BBC's theme has been "fairness" - as multiple cuts to the State continue to raise serious concerns. Today, the Browne report (from Lord Browne, a former head of BP, of all unwelcome things) suggested removing the fee cap for university tuition which is now held to less than £4,000 a year, even for an Oxbridge education. It is thought that fees could go as high, under this scheme, as £12,000 per year, for better universities; obviously, the fear is that some universities wouldn't be able to compete and would close, as far fewer students attended. Already, England... Continue reading
Posted Oct 12, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
On my second day here, I want to extend the range of poets I wish to share with you, by offering three poems by three poets, who, each, in different ways, broaden the mainstream of British poetry, and, challenge its norms, without becoming iconoclasts. The first, Giles Goodland, makes nonsense of the old us-and-them tussle between experimental and mainstream that so occupied the poetry battles of the last decades, with his poems that are variously lyric, or avant-garde, and sometimes both; often inflected with surrealist play, and an interest in formal constraints. Primarily, as a lexicographer, he is fascinated by... Continue reading
Posted Oct 11, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
I am glad to be back blogging at Best American Poetry, today, this auspicious ten-ten-ten. London has been experiencing – at last – an Indian summer this weekend – today was 20 Celsius and sunny, which has briefly elevated spirits – otherwise, the UK is in the midst of a slow-moving train wreck, as the Coalition government plans to announce its major (40%) cuts to the State later this month, which has most leading Arts organisers predicting disaster. Some pundits claim this is a sharper knife than ever Thatcher wielded, so it is a fraught moment, to be sure. But,... Continue reading
Posted Oct 10, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
I had a wonderful May Day party at my flat in Maida Vale today, to celebrate, among other things, a housewarming, and a recovery from ill health; many friends gathered, and, as the weather turned, and rain bucketed down, we came inside, until midnight (GMT) for tea and wine. Many poets attended, including Alan Brownjohn, Tim Dooley, Denise Riley, Barbara Marsh, Kathryn Maris, Nancy Mattson, Mike Bartholomew-Biggs, Emily Berry, Katrina Naomi, Leah Fritz, Giles Goodland, Mr Social Control, Liane Strauss, Ashok Bery and Kavita Joshi. However, as I began to contemplate this, my last guest blog, I became a little... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
As May Day looms in Britain, so does May 6 - the national election, and, judging from last night's final leaders debate, the UK is facing either a hung parliament, or a weak Tory government. Sadly, the hapless PM, Gordon Brown, with his awkward grin and huge sense of purpose, has blundered once too often, and perhaps put Labour out of office for a decade (which might prove a godsend, as the austerity measures that are coming, to save Britain from a Greece-style collapse, will make any elected parties more Sheriff of Nottingham than Robin Hood). May in Britain is... Continue reading
Posted Apr 30, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
I was speaking this morning with the fine older British poet, Alan Brownjohn, about the deaths this last weekend of Peter Porter and Alan Sillitoe. We agreed it was a terrible loss. Brownjohn has been doing his part these last few days to publically discuss and properly mourn Porter - a major figure in Britain - by writing in The Guardian, and recording a talk on his work for the BBC. Porter's Selected (Picador, 2010) is just now out, shaped with the editorial eyes of Don Paterson and Sean O'Brien, and is an impressive 400 or so pages. One person's... Continue reading
Posted Apr 29, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
I read last night in a basement bar in London's East End, as part of poet Declan Ryan's "Days of Roses" reading series. It's become one of the main fixtures of the young London poets underground scene. I was impressed with everything about the look and feel of the place - red walls, ska posters on the walls, a live DJ, a good mic - and an audience of attentive, stylish and alarmingly hip twentysom ethings, the guys smart in skinny jeans, jackets and ties, the ladies in 40s/50s retro summer dresses with enough red lipstick to knock a B52... Continue reading
Posted Apr 28, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
In the UK, poets seem, like fish, to first appear in schools - darting about and flashing their stuff in unison, thus often establishing a period style, or styles, that define a moment. One thinks, especially, of the Fifties, synonymous for many with The Movement - or the 30s, and the Auden generation. Tensions arise because, of course, there are other poets, and other modes and manners, that don't get to swim with the big fish. So for every Movement there must be the Mavericks. One of the ways that schools, or generations, used to emerge, in the UK, was... Continue reading
Posted Apr 27, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Britain lost another great Octogenerian writer - after Peter Porter - the other day, with the death of Alan Sillitoe, husband of poet Ruth Fainlight, and friend of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath (among others). Though Sillitoe - one of the original Angry Young Men of the 1950s (a group he denied belonging to) - is best known as the major post-war "working class" author of the books (and screenplays for) Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner- the two key Kitchen Sink films of the pre-Beatles period and launching pads for actors Tom... Continue reading
Posted Apr 26, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
From a distance, Britain (the UK), can appear a weird place – especially these days. It’s just had a week of travel chaos with its skies completely shut down due to an Icelandic volcano. It is in the midst of a major election (to be decided in 12 days) that has been wildly galvanised by its first ever leaders debate on television (!). And one of its most popular TV shows is (still) Doctor Who, about an undying eccentric “time lord”. Current hit records include Kate Nash’s “My Best Friend Is You” where a chirpy British lass writes about sex... Continue reading
Posted Apr 25, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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Apr 25, 2010