Academic journal article Chicago Review

Savage Survivals: Amid Modern Suavity

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Savage Survivals: Amid Modern Suavity

Article excerpt

§ Andrew Duncan, Savage Survivals: amid modern suavity. Exeter: Shearsman, 2006. 116pp. $15

This is the first chapter of an unfolding critical novella on current British poetry, to be entitled Corroded by Symbolysme: An Anti-Review of Twelve British Poets, Which Is Also to Be a True Account of Dark and Mysterious Events Surrounding a Famous Poem Supposedly Written by Frank O'Hara. The next three chapters will appear, in serial fashion, in subsequent issues of Chicago Review.

In 2004, I was invited by the brilliant poet, critic, and curator Kevin Nolan to attend the Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry, in Cambridge, England. I was asked to read my poetry and to present on a panel responding to Andrew Duncan's new and controversial critical book, The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry. I'd never been to Cambridge before, and I was flattered to be asked, so I of course wrote back, "Sure, I'd be delighted to, thank you very much." But as the time drew nigh, I became somewhat anxious about speaking on this panel, for I knew, truthum be told, very little about the British scene of the past thirty-five years or so. I mean, I had a modest vista of the landscape in my head, was familiar with some of the work of the key forerunners, like Bunting, Jones, MacDiarmid, and the big names who had followed, like J.H. Prynne, Alien Fisher, Roy Fisher, Tom Raworth, Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Maggie O'Sullivan, Barry MacSweeney, Tom Pickard, etc. And I knew a little somethynge about the British Poetry Revival and its tragicomic, somewhat mock-heroic battles, led by avenging angels like Eric Mottram and Bob Cobbing, and so on, and that its enemies were the evil figures Philip Larkin, Donald Davie, Thorn Gunn (sort of), etc., and later, during the 70s, soft-surrealist types like Craig Raine, etc., and that Ted Hughes hovered there, a kind of ghost in Purgatory no one seemed to want to talk about. I mean, I've done a little reading, and I know that I know more than most us poets about it, even if less than some others... But really, what right did I have as a somewhat obscure and eccentric Yank poet, to speake to Andrew Duncan's arcanely detailed critycal epic?

Well, anyway, I went to England and I sat down at the table there, in the auditorium at Trinity College, and Tony Frazer, the fine translator and editor of Shearsman Books was the moderator, and it's terrible and I'm embarrassed to say so, but I can't now remember the names of the three superbly smart English poet-critics on the panel with me, probably an after-effect of the insecuritie that beset me. I'm not sure why, but I can't even remember now what it was that I said, though I have the pleasant memorie of making a joke about how there seemed to be such agonysm on the British poetry scene, as opposed to the us poetry scene, where everyone more or less leaves each other alone and gets along, and how Andrew Duncan, sitting somewhat diffidently, very handsomely, in the audience there, in a black sweater and blue shirt, laughed with delight, as did everyone else, including Peter Riley, Geraldine Monk, Alan Halsey, David Bromige, Joan Retallack, Forrest Gander, and some poets from Belgium, France, The Netherlands, and Austria, if I remember correctlye, and this made me feel really good and gave me confydence, and in the end I was rather pleased with my presentation.

But to get to my point: When Chicago Review asked me to write a review of some recent books by British poets, I of course said, "Sure, I'd be delighted to, thanks very much." But as the time grew nigh, I became somewhat anxious about speakinge in these pages, for I still know, truthum be told, very little about the whole British thing, especially about what might be referred to as the young Brit post-avant. I mean, I've done some reading synce, and I know that I know more than most us poets about it, even if less than some others... But still, what right do I have, as a somewhat obscure and eccentric Yank poet, to speake? …

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