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This item is taken from PN Review 212, Volume 39 Number 6, July - August 2013.

Forty years ago, in Poetry Nation II, Donald Davie wrote 'The Varsity Match', a review of A Poetry Chronicle, Essays and Reviews by Ian Hamilton. Davie's thesis was that Oxford generations - Hamilton, John Fuller & Co., and before them John Wain, Kingsley Amis & Co., Sidney Keyes, Drum­mond Allison & Co., and so on back to Spender, Auden & Co. - led their 'assault on literary England' that entailed taking over editorships and review posts and redirecting Readership to their advantage: 'the general picture is surely accurate; for the last fifty years each new generation of English poets, as the "generations" were subsequently to be understood and talked about by journalistic commentators, was formed or fomented or dreamed up by lively undergraduates at Oxford, who subsequently carried the group-image to London and from there imposed it on the public consciousness so as to earn at least a footnote in the literary histories'.

After Craig Raine, Christopher Reid & the Martians, Oxford no longer claims ascendancy. But the process continues, the activists now differently sourced. Anthologies remain the primary vehicle conveying putsches to the capital. After Roddy Lumsden's catholic and relatively descriptive Identity Parade (Bloodaxe, 2010), Ian Hamilton's nephew Nathan, a PhD candidate at the University of East Anglia, brings us, also courtesy of Bloodaxe, Dear World & Everyone In It: New Poetry in the UK. This anthology too is various and suggestive, but unlike Lumsden, Hamilton is a polemicist. He addresses in a scattergun, epistolary introduction various individuals and constituencies, including 'Dear Old Editors', among whom I must be numbered, though I started at nineteen as a Young Editor, younger indeed than Mr Hamilton. His introduction makes me realise how young I still am, and what a stranglehold the academy in its creative writing twilight has on young editors and writers.

Let's establish what, in this Young Editor's eyes, the Old Editors do: 'you have paid uneasy lip service to a greater spirit of cooperation, experimentation, and “hybridisation” taking place in young UK poetry'. We are so many Mendels fretting among our sweet peas. We are governed by what the Young Editor characterises as the 'spurious General Reader'. This is manifestly not the case, or we would be rich; nor are the poets we publish elected by other poets, as those in his anthology, by a curious system of selection and cull, have been chosen. He declares that 'some Young Poets still write Old Poetry', and are thereby excluded from his book. The fatal error his Youngsters (poets under 37) make is to 'seem to write to appeal to Old Poets'.

The spurious Reader, General or specialised, will find Hamilton's introduction elusive. The Young Editor, unlike his uncle, is not a fan of consecutive prose and gives us slogans, catchwords, the rapid sound-bites familiar from advertising, a medium he admires. Not product, process! he declares. There are moments of blinding facility and moments of seminar cliché in his disquisition. Poetry ought to be 'a way of speaking about the world that simultaneously presents the difficulties of doing so'. As soon as we 'speak about' and 'present the difficulties' we are no longer engaged in process. John Ashbery, whom the Young Editor appears to endorse, talks of a poem by Frank O'Hara as 'an instance of itself'. That is process, surely. The Young Editor has a galaxy of cynosures, from J.H. Prynne to Tony Lopez, from Marjorie Perloff to Denise Riley. A poet who might have taught him not by slogan but by example is Geoffrey Hill, whose sense of 'pitch' - a legacy from Hopkins - is to do with inherence, the poet occupying the poem rather than vacating it by means of irony or fragmentation. Successful inherence makes a poem accountable and impossible to parody. By contrast, tone is performative, voice controlled by a will outside the voice. The creation of personae makes for tone, a focus on subject produces pitch, what the German poet Gottfried Benn described in lyric poetry as 'of the first voice' and 'addressed to no one'. Drama, not dramatisation, the first not the second order.

The Anthology, the Young Editor says, 'believes that the UK Poetry Establishment needs restructuring'. Relax, Nathan: the actuarial tables are on your side. All the same, the fact that Robert Conquest is now ninety-five does not make what he wrote in 1956 otiose, or the circumstances in which he wrote, and from which The Movement emerged, any the less instructive to you, today. The new does not displace the old. It re-orders it, it feeds off it, and curiously, inadvertently, it apes it. 'The Anthology reveals the Young Poet is less likely than previously to be concerned with the construction of a coherent assertive character/persona or self with reference to a presumed world of common knowledge.' The Young Editor practises no such effacement.

Poetry has to be self-conscious, we're told. It is hard to think of any modern poetry that isn't. As Young Editor, you ought to be self-conscious too. If you are over-performative, you will (I use your phrase about the Old) be 'limited in your scopes'. Unlike those earlier graduate generations keen to plant their flags on the Parnassian summit, maybe you have stayed on too long at school.

This item is taken from PN Review 212, Volume 39 Number 6, July - August 2013.

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