Roughly once a decade, British poetry seems to get tired of standing still. It begins to fidget and shift away from the previous generation, although the first shift is often imperceptible.
In the mid- to late 1950s, there was The Movement (never really a cohesive movement at all, but still a convenient way of lumping together poets who reacted against certain excesses of style: ‘verbal obscurity, metaphysical pretentiousness, and romantic rhapsodising.‘); in turn, the ‘Poetry Revival’ reacted against the conservatism of The Movement. It’s impossible to summarise half a century without resorting to grotesque generalisations, but the recent history of British poetry has generally involved certain schools studying furiously in order to kill their teachers (to put it in the most melodramatic way possible).
The first truly media-savvy school were the ‘New Generation’ poets of the 1990s. Simon Armitage (beyond doubt, one of the most influential NewGen poets) describes his contemporaries arriving ‘with the sort of glitz, glamour and hyperbole normally reserved for film premieres or party conferences.’ A decade on from NewGen, there was NextGen; almost a decade on from NextGen, it’s possible to sense the newest school beginning to shuffle away from their predecessors.
Who belongs in that school, and what direction are they shuffling in? Todd Swift’s blog, Eyewear, presents as comprehensive a list as any reader could hope for, identifying 225 (and counting) ‘Young British Poets’ (hereafter to be known as YBPs). Faced with 225 names, it seems almost impossible to identify trends. Perhaps the size of the list simply reflects the contemporary poetry scene: in his introduction to Identity Parade, Roddy Lumsden writes that ‘though critics and academics will seek – and find – traits and trends… this might well be the generation of poets least driven by movements, fashions, conceptual and stylistic sharing.’
The world is incorrigbly plural, but that’s hardly a postmodern thought (and certainly not a post-postmodern thought), given that it comes straight from Louis MacNeice. Perhaps it’s true to suggest that the newest generation is defined by plurality – does that signal a radical shift in sensibility, or does it simply reflect the ‘prizes for all’ mentality? It’s too early for answers, but – on encountering Swift and Lumsden’s catalogues of new work – we can begin to ask questions…