Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Tuesday, 14 April 1998

"new relations" by David Kennedy (seren, 1996)

I'm interested in any book about contemporary UK writing, and at £9.95 this book is good value, but I wasn't always convinced by what was said. Perhaps I'm too far from the centre of things, or I'm not taking into account the age of the book, but I don't feel "a shared sense of crisis", and the fragmentation he senses predates the corpus he concentrates on - the work of poets who emerged in the 80s. The main split still seems to be along the academic/popular axis, which he doesn't cover in great depth, nor does he really revisit the issue of where poetic authority lies. He says (p.14) that "much of the most interesting poetry since 1980 may be traced, wholly or partly, to a number of defining ideas". These ideas that he covers (individual vs. culture, loss of history, postmodernism, science, commercialisation, international influences, etc) are relevant, and the treatment though not comprehensive does bring out some pertinent issues. The appendix "The New Poetry - A User's Guide" was interesting too. Some points -

  • In his choice of examples there's a fair number of "sampling errors". The his choice of poets/poems ignores examples that don't fit into his framework - which is fine up to a point but before long one wonders how central some of these issues are. Even given his justifications in the Preface, there are many popular (perhaps even good) poets he doesn't mention, and to call Ian McMillan postmodern reduces the usefulness of an already over-diluted term.
  • Some of the writing has unnecessary jargon. He uses "commodification" in places where "commercialisation" would do, and phrases like "What problematizes this reading is that ..." or "Quite simply, they have become corrupted into components of a discourse of cultural hypocrisy" don't help readability.
  • I too am unhappy about contemporary reviewing. Both PN Review and Poetry Review seem too partisan.
  • I was interested in the profiles of poets who dealt with science, but I think he should have made more of a distinction between the poets who just raid the vocabulary of technology and those who know about science. Lavinia Greenlaw is often mentioned in Science/Poetry discussions, but I'm even more sceptical than Kennedy about her situation - she's not a technophobe, but that's about it.
  • I tried to fit myself into his post 80s landscape. I seem to take for granted many of the conflicts and discoveries he mentions. Like McMillan I "just get on with it". Just as postmoderns mix content from low and high culture, so I mix different types of poetry (mimesis, etc) without worrying whether they're respectable or not.

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