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This article is taken from PN Review 193, Volume 36 Number 5, May - June 2010.

On Stephen Burt’s ‘Hypoteneuse’ Michael Anania

Stephen Burt’s essay, ‘Transatlantic Disconnections, or, The Poetry of the Hypotenuse’ (PN Review 190) offers very little of use to either of the two poetries, British and American, it sets out to discuss. Contemporary American poets are characterised in a series of condescending generalisations. British poets have clearly been selected to serve Burts’ argument - that there are still in Britain continuities between the past and the present in language, landscape and literary forms and that these create a bond between the poet and some imagined readership. Fair enough, I suppose. Critics always devise worlds to suit their prejudices; it’s one of criticism’s few rewards. The problem is that so much of British poetry of the past fifty years is omitted that the result is unrecognisable. Any British poetry that could be seen as modernist or experimental is excluded. American and Continental influences are reasons for exclusion - a familiar nativist, political gesture, if odd coming from an American. Missing here, most notably, is John Matthias’s 23 Modern British Poets (Swallow and Tri-Quarterly, 1971 and 1972), an anthology in three substantial American editions that offered a deliberate alternative to the staid limits of the view of British poetry presented in the Hall, Pack and Simpson anthology, New Poets of England and America. The Matthias anthology presented a highly developed, distinctly British modernism, beginning with David Jones, Hugh MacDiarmid and Basil Bunting and including, among others, Roy Fisher, Charles Tomlinson, Ken Smith, Tom Raworth, Lee Harwood, Ian Hamilton Finlay and ...


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