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This review is taken from PN Review 175, Volume 33 Number 5, May - June 2007.

WHEN THE MARGINS REACHED THE CENTRE PETER BARRY, Poetry Wars: British Poetry of the 1970s and the Battle of Earls Court (Salt Publishing)

My memories of poetry in the 1970s are few and depressing. I studied the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook and sent my mini-malist narratives composed of two parts Imagism and one part Life-Studies -period Lowell to magazines with minimalist names like Stand, Outposts, Ambit and Agenda (all of which have outlived the garish titles of a later generation - Slow Dancer, Spectacular Diseases, Angel Exhaust) and received minimalist rejection slips in reply. One of the first big poetry competitions (the Arvon, perhaps?) was launched with some publicity; interviewed by Robert Robinson on BBC2, a member of the judging panel was put on the spot about what she looked for in a poem, and said she would be intrigued by one that used a word such as 'proceed'. Donald Hall excitingly attacked 'Larkinism' on Radio 3, confirming my suspicion that nothing had changed since Al Alvarez laid into the 'gentility principle' in his introduction to The New Poetry in the early 1960s. Without actually reading any contemporary poetry, I knew for certain that it was safe, conservative and terrified of anything modern or foreign, that far too much of it rhymed and scanned for my tastes at the time, and that all of it had the middle-management prosiness epitomised by words such as 'agenda' and 'proceed'.

Peter Barry was better placed than I was - and, it has to be ...

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