Bertram, Vicki. “Postfeminist Poetry?: ‘one more word for balls’.” Contemporary British Poetry: Essays in Theory and Criticism. Ed. James Acheson, and Romana Huk. New York: State University of New York Press, 1996. 269-92.
Buck, Claire. “Poetry and the Women’s Movement in Postwar Britain.” Contemporary British Poetry: Essays in Theory and Criticism. Eds. Jameson Acheson and Romana Huk. New York: State University of New York Press, 1996. 81-112.
( 1996 ). Contemporary British Poetry: Essays in Theory and Criticism . Albany , NY : State University of New York Press . ( 1987 ). Faber Book of 20th-Century Women's Poetry . London : Faber & Faber . ( 1977 ). Commitment . In , Aesthetics and Politics . London : New Left Books , pp. 177 – 95 . ( 1991 ). Notes to Literature , vol. 1 , . New York : Columbia University Press . ( 2002 ). Essays on Music , . Berkeley , CA : University of California Press . ( 1994 ). “The Life with a Hole in it”. Philip Larkin and the Condition of England . Textual Practice , 8 ( 2 ), 279 – 301 . ( 2004 ). Poetry in Review: Philip Larkin . Yale Review , 92 ( 3 ), 170 – 78 . ( 2000 ). Pocket Epics: British Poetry After Modernism . Yale Journal of Criticism , 13 ( 1 ) ( special issue ). ( 2000 ). Art in Postwar Britain: A Short History of the ICA . In , British Culture of the Postwar. An Introduction to Literature and Society, 1945–1999 . London : Routledge , pp. 146 – 68 . ( 1997 ). The Country Without a Post Office . New York : Norton . ( 2003 ). The Cities of Belfast . Dublin : Four Courts Press . ( 2007 ). Don't Start Me Talking: Interviews with Contemporary Poets . Cambridge : Salt . ( 1988 ). The New British Poetry, 1968–88 . London : Paladin . ( 1962 ). The New Poetry . Harmondsworth : Penguin . ( 1966 ). The New
Acheson and Huk, for example, include an essay by Anthony Easthopewhich laments the unfulfilled promise of Donald Davie as a poet. In anargument which strongly recalls (though does not notice, so far as I cansee) A. Alvarez's famous attack on "the gentilityprinciple," Easthope attributes Davie's shortcomings as a poetto the failure of "Englishness," that latter term indicatingessentially the parochialism and empiricism of the middlebrow muse;(10)Davie, asserts Easthope, has been too much influenced by English culturein its "dominant mode" (31). Perhaps one might be forgiven forregistering surprise that a critic in the nineties--and a Britishapologist for poststructuralism at that--feels free to traffic inhomogenizing platitudes about the national culture, ones which may haveseemed original enough when Alvarez made so much of them in the sixtiesbut which have little to offer today. Alan Brownjohn felt able to writein 1972 that "empirical, critical attitudes are the Englishtradition," and however true that may have been then, or may benow, the point is surely that in the nineties--and in a book which (forthe first time, purportedly) accords theory pride of place--we mightexpect something more sophisticated than this sort of bland culturalstereotyping.(11) Even more troubling for me in Easthope'sassessment of Davie is his readiness to make value judgments: to theextent that a poet is subject to "Englishness," she or he isapparently likely to fail. If one is even slightly suspicious of Achesonand Huk's plan to bring contemporary British poetry back ontospeaking terms with American readers and academics, Easthope'sessay is bound to exacerbate the situation.
Contemporary British Poetry: Essays in Theory and Criticism.
To be completely fair, though, Huk's introduction addressessome of these problems and does so very well. Like a number of othercontributors to her volume, Huk makes the point that the much discussed"new pluralism" in contemporary British poetry is a chimera ofsorts; what we have now, in fact, is instead "a newly seen or newlyacknowledged pluralism," critics today being "trained to traina critical eye on literary history's occlusions" (3). Theacknowledgment of so many diverse voices, she rightly argues, has thrownconventional criticism into crisis; and it is probably true that inBritain, at least, there is "continuing resistance" (4) to thenew poetries. Those doing the resisting are implied in her introductionto be latter-day Yeatsians, desperately concerned that there be somesort of center and that it should hold. Postmodernism answers this, weare told, with the insistence that "the center should nothold," and Huk goes on (significantly) to argue that "It]hecontinuing resistance to these poetries ... cannot easily be separatedfrom resistance to the present era's indeterminacies anddestabilizations of order and power that have aided in enabling theemergence of `plurality' by calling the very idea and ideal ofcultural unity into question" (4). The proposition, thoughexpressed poorly, is not in itself one I find exceptionable; butnaggingly disconcerting is the realization that the Huk-Acheson book asa whole "cannot easily be separated" from--indeed mustproperly be seen as a sortie in support of--the larger (and implicitlymore important) intellectual project of postmodernism. And that bringsme back to Easthope, whose value-ridden handling of Davie's"Englishness" does no very great credit to the postmoderncause. But while one or two pieces in the Huk-Acheson collection pointup in this way the dangers of allowing contemporary British poetry andthe academy to reestablish conjugal relations, others give promise thatthe remarriage could be a happy one: the volume is on the whole a richcollection, including excellent essays on poetry and the women'smovement in post-war Britain (Claire Buck), postfeminist poetry (VickiBertram), contemporary Scottish poetry (Cairns Craig), and the poetry ofRoy Fisher (John Matthias).
Contemporary british poetry essays in theory and criticism
Hughes's interest in--and debt to--figures like Vasko Popa iswell known, and I would not dispute the accuracy of that last statement,except to note once again the implication that what is really noteworthyin British poetry is that which is not British, that which is shaped byforces outside "our familiar parochial English tradition"(xiii). Sagar is an excellent critic, so this is only one step in a muchlonger and more complex argument, one which sees Hughes as striving fora voice enriched by exposure to other cultures, but finally reachingbeyond those cultures to "the ultimate styleless simplicity"(xiii) he seems to have found in Shakespeare. Sadly, literary criticismdoes not often achieve a comparable simplicity. Indeed, for a number ofthe contributors to Sagar's book, the desire to think outside of"parochial" formalist paradigms leads to criticism of anall-too-familiar kind--in which there is an attempt to reconcile thepoet and his work to various preestablished, and presently fashionable,categories of critical thought. Thus we have essays arguing urgentlythat "Hughes's over-masculinist, over-literary ego-personalityhas to `die,' along with its dependence on the purely linguisticcreation, in order that the real poetry of the psychological process canbe allowed to take place" (2; Nick Bishop); that though no onewould dare to call Hughes a feminist, he does take a position thatfeminists would endorse (Nathalie Anderson); and that despite ourdiscomfort with the fact, Hughes throughout his career seems not to havefelt "the direct pressure of history" and resisted (to theend, I would say) the broad expectation that poets serve as some sort ofsocial witness (156; Rand Brandes). An essay in the negative, thatlatter: it tells us less about Hughes than about contemporaryliterary-critical preoccupations, about the criteria relevant to anypoet we would, in the late nineties, wish to celebrate as great. LeonardM. Scigaj contributes a paper which applauds Hughes's percipienceand ecological awareness: "With uncanny consistency," hewrites, "Hughes's thematic development throughout his careerhas paralleled the development of major issues in the recent bonding ofecology with environmental ethics" (164). So despite hisunworldliness and his own idiosyncrasies as a thinker, Hughes ends upenlisted on the correct side in contemporary environmental politics. Byfurther "uncanny" coincidence, the poet's"biocentric vision" puts him on the enlightened side in genderpolitics--notwithstanding the sometimes very disconcerting treatment ofwomen in his poetry which Nathalie Anderson acknowledges. Thus Scigaj:
Contemporary British Poetry - SUNY Press
Also in the Byrne volume, Christopher Butler contributes an essayon similar themes, one which suggests he would to some extent dispute myassertion that Harrison's is a partisan voice. In fact, he arguesthat Harrison is "very much like" Seamus Heaney--the Heaney ofThe Redress of Poetry--in attempting to speak to both sides of apolitical division: "He asks what a poet can do to open up theright kind of conceptual space for thinking about such pressures, andfor imagining possibilities that may be redressing or redeeming of them,and so actually in the end, as I think he believes, help to lead tostates of affairs which are more just" (107). Nevertheless,Harrison's work is finally declared to be "oppositional"in a way not discernible in Heaney, and Butler shows himself astute onthis subject: the point is that while Harrison is unrelentingly"oppositional," "[t]his does not necessarily involveliterature in performing a simply left-wing critical function, ofopposition to a dominant ideology, and of opposing it with analternative" (108). "For even if works may be constituted byand appeal to our most deeply embedded convictions ...," arguesButler, "they can, ideally, still be compatible with an anti-monistliberal criticism" (109). What Butler notices in Harrison hehimself practices, and "Culture and Debate" represents agenuinely valuable contribution to the study of literature in itsintersections with politics, not only in Harrison's work, but inthe whole field of contemporary British poetry.