Friday, 3 May 2013

Steampunk Sighting

In a review of two new poetry anthologies, Peter Riley spots more evidence of the avant-trad hybridization I've dubbed "steampunk."
This contrast is evident in a lot of the poems in the book; they conform one way or the other rather than agree to the editor’s hope for a unified new poetry. On one side, unproblematic deployment of explanatory, chatty or story-telling language retailing anecdotes of the self or symbolic narratives; on the other, disrupted syntax, impossible leaps, ill-fitting words thrust together. On one side a deliberated placing of counters, on the other mimicry of uncontrolled mania. On one side a plain often child-like vocabulary held close to a conceived subject, on the other a barrage of obscenities, remote technical and academic terms and names, and interventions designed to destroy any subject-matter. Where then is the hybrid centre? Sometimes these contrasted modes seem to be straining to meet each other, which insofar as it happens is the point of the anthology, but the stubborn oppositions remain more evident to me. Could it be that the centre is in fact not hybrid, that poetry is not best defined from its outer limbs?
Riley also unpacks some of the tendencies he sees in the poetry:
What presides over the greater part of the anthology is the preponderance of a clever and zany prosaic patter, obliquely twisting ordinary percepts this way and that, as an exercise in its own right. Perkiness. Finding ways of not quite making sense. Messing around with the superficies of language. Perfectly ordinary discourses with little arresting features attached such as inappropriate diacritics, or unnecessary foreign words. Name-dropping or collage from cultural history. But none of the melancholy which has dominated twentieth-century lyrical poetry, thus rejecting the modes of big-name poets such as John Burnside or Carol Ann Duffy. The recent distressing revival of “Martianism” in young poetry also seems to be ignored for the most part. No prosody, and a lot of prose. No history either, not of poetry anyway, beyond immediate precursors and basic twentieth-century European masters. It is a poetry which is very much at home, mentally and culturally, and happy to stay there, sustained by verbal jolts now and then like shots of whiskey after work.

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