The Columbia History of British Poetry

By Carl Woodring; James Shapiro | Go to book overview
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Poetry in England, 1945-1990

THE anonymous leading article in the Spectator of October 1, 1954, "In the Movement," hailed the emergence of a new group of writers, a generation whose sensibility was "bored by the despair of the Forties, not much interested in suffering, and extremely impatient of poetic sensibility. . . . The Movement, as well as being anti-phoney, is anti-wet; sceptical, robust, ironic. . . ." This is a Movement manqué, it seems, for the reviewer defines its energy entirely by negatives. Again, in the polemical introduction to the first English anthology of Movement verse, New Lines ( 1956), Robert Conquest groups his poets under "a negative determination to avoid bad principles." And in a poem that now reads as a thesis piece for the movement, Philip Larkin's "I remember, I remember," the speaker lists the high moments in the life of the conventional poet as nonexperiences: remembering where his "childhood was unspent," including the garden where he "did not invent / Blinding theologies of flowers and fruits," he recalls how his uninspired juvenilia "was not set up in blunt ten-point, nor read," and drifts (hardly drives) toward the proverbial wisdom that "'nothing, like something, happens anywhere.'"

While this sensibility appears (it is hard to think of it "flourishing") in the mid-1950s, its cartoonlike simplifications have prolonged its life among critics of postwar English poetry, especially American commentators. They can use it to label the imaginative project of a subsiding world power, whose poets, formally conservative and reactionary, battle the (putative) excesses of an energy they do not own, in particular the experimental and convention-dismaying verve of American


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