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This review is taken from PN Review 225, Volume 42 Number 1, September - October 2015.

David Wheatley, Contemporary British Poetry (Readers’ Guides to Essential Criticism), Palgrave MacMillan, 2015 (212pp, HB £55, PB £18.99)
I know a British poet who, if I showed him this book (I shan’t), would detest it. The reason for this would mainly be that he’s a poet of an older generation led to believe for a long time that there was a singular (though varied) dynamic and adventurous route ahead for poetry which was achieved by an essentially small number of practitioners and their descendants, and nothing else mattered. This was the future, this was the hope, this was the offer of generosity to humanity. Then you find that in the accepted view there are hundreds of poets all considered equally valid, all taken seriously once they attain a certain ‘profile’, and your hope for the future is a tiny and insignificant corner of this spread. The whole field is flattened. There is no prioritisation except that supplied by an unjust and derelict reward system.

Not that there is no conflict – there is massive conflict, but it is internecine. No-one (or no authority) steps outside the crowd or questions the map. From the point of view of my (semi-fictional) poet this means that a large amount of inferior and defeatist poetry is taken seriously as part of the history, including sheer jokers, by which is not meant readable and genuinely funny poetry, which is not a problem, but purveyors of facile Augustan pastiche, prosaic pointless anecdote and other forms of failed entertainment – poetry that is content to rest on a view of the human world as quaint. It is as if at the time of  Wordsworth and ...


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