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This article is taken from PN Review 209, Volume 39 Number 3, January - February 2013.

on Robert Sheppard's When Bad Times Made for Good Poetry:
'A Fine Bold Wicked Thing To Do'
James Keery
Robert Sheppard, When Bad Times Made for Good Poetry: Episodes in the History of the Poetics of Innovation (Shearsman) £13.95

Robert Sheppard has got it just right in this book. An ‘episodic history’ of a ‘poetic community’ to which he has belonged since the advent of Margaret Thatcher, it is temperate, reflective – even, on its own individually negotiated terms, academic – yet unrepentant in its tribal loyalty. There isn’t a smug or mean-spirited word. Sheppard’s fair-minded partisanship makes for the best study of what both writers call the British Poetry Revival since Andrew Duncan’s Salt classic, The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry (2003).

As theorised by Eric Mottram, the Revival presupposes the prior death of British poetry in the 1950s. It originates in the underground of the 1960s, first anthologised in the 1969 Penguin Children of Albion, then, if only in the pages of Poetry Review under Mottram’s own controversial editorship (1971–77), becomes the mainstream. The focus is on seven ‘central figures’, Bob Cobbing, Tom Raworth, Iain Sinclair, Allen Fisher, John Hall, Ken Edwards and Maggie O’Sullivan, but each episode is also teeming with other names, from Peter Ackroyd to Ellen Zweig, and from Sub Voicive and Ship of Fools to Floating Capital, Konkrete Canticle and jgjgjgjgjgjgjg.

Sheppard’s own ‘precocious discovery’ of ‘"underground" poetry in the early 1970s’ is lucidly contextualised in ‘the sociological languages of Basil Bernstein and Pierre Bourdieu’, which are then deployed to illuminate the infamous ‘Poetry Wars’, from ...


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