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This review is taken from PN Review 49, Volume 12 Number 5, May - June 1986.

DRIVING THROUGH RAINE Martin Booth, British Poetry 1964-84: Driving Through The Barricades (Routledge & Kegan Paul) £13.95
Anthony Thwaite, Poetry Today: A Critical Guide to British Poetry 1960-1984 (Longman)

Martin Booth's is a book one feels its author was longing to read but could wait for no longer. British poetry has lost its way again, it seems; it is ignoring people. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the barricades of the subtitle turn out to be: academicism, Oxbridge, the major publishing houses, poets' selfish and superior delight in obcurantism and, by implication, criticism, which is arid when it is not being absurd. We are thus launched into a spirited and impassioned polemic through which is woven an interesting, if partisan, review of the poetry scene, 1964-84, of a kind I am not sure is available elsewhere. The ten or so 'immensely virile' years from 1964 made for a mad but wonderful historical instant when art was rescued from the jealous clutches of a 'rich and fortunate élite', an élite that has since regained control. A bewildering range of small presses, magazines, readings, events, fads and fancies is reported enthusiastically in tones courting millenial fervour. The major publishing houses, meanwhile, are castigated mercilessly for their manifest failure to meet a profferred and palpable challenge.

Part Two turns to the poets themselves and in a whistlestop, 150-page tour of all he finds worthy and unworthy in current poetical practice, Booth discusses the work of a hundred or so poets and quasi-poets and considers how far, if at all, their poetry is 'for the people' (and therefore successful) and how far it is obscure or dull or both (and therefore unsuccessful). The sweep ...

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