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This report is taken from PN Review 102, Volume 21 Number 4, March - April 1995.

Thriving on the Peripheries James Keery

The Fourth Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry

Fifty-five poets were included in The New Poetry, whose editors stress their 'total openness to what is being written' by English and Irish poets under fifty. Almost as many have performed at the Cambridge Conference since 1991, of whom forty-odd were eligible. Guess how many were chosen? Not that the conference, for its part, professes 'total openness to what is being written'. The sensible course might just be to accept things as they are: the Cambridge poets are thriving on the peripheries, and have been, in some cases, for thirty or more years. Some take evident pride in their status as 'hole-in-corner eccentrics and unsellables' (Peter Riley).

Such questionable 'status' is succinctly politicised by Drew Milne in the current issue of Parataxis, the journal of which he is now sole editor:

The danger is of developing hibernation strategies which envisage a future whose solace is retrospective… If the value of poetry is seen as dependent on posterity, and thus in opposition to strategies of intervention in the present… then contemporaneity is mortgaged to aesthetic ambition.


Milne identifies the true cost of neglect to poets and potential reader alike. At the conference, he saddled himself with a pointless slogan - 'The Death of Poetry' - and I found his 'speculative provocations' hard to square with his excellent analysis of 'Foot and Mouth', one of Prynne's most cuttingly ironic poems. It's certainly worth asking 'whether it ...


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