Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Yearbook of English Studies for 2021, edited by Samuel Rogers, a quick survey

’Tis the year’s midnight, and I began the day at this desk in darkness, and I will continue to be in darkness in late afternoon and give myself an hour to reflect on The Yearbook of English Studies for 2021, edited by Samuel Rogers, a volume containing fourteen essays exploring a range of poetry from 1980 and the present.

SEE HERE: http://www.mhra.org.uk/publications/Contemporary-British-Irish-Poetry 

I thought the essays were of a very high standard, and even my own contribution didn’t seem to conspicuously let the side down, my piece on Literary Collaboration. (I write about that here: Pages: My piece on 'Collaboration' is published in The Yearbook of English Studies 2021 (robertsheppard.blogspot.com)). As I have with other publications I now give myself no more that an hour (plus injury time) to comment on it. 21/12/2021: 16.32.      


I began reading (unusually for me, a cover-to-cover ploughee) in the middle, with Rory Waterman’s entertaining piece on parodies of Philip Larkin, useful for me because one of my (deliberately?) yet teasingly glimpsed new (abandoned?) projects, is to unwrite and overdub New Lines as a fictional poet work. It makes an unlikely appearance here: Pages: A Fictional Poet's Notebook (part 10) (robertsheppard.blogspot.com). And I was entertained, clearly. It is interesting just how authoritative Larkin still seems, how recognizable the parodies. (Some of Wayne Pratt’s verses approach Larkin, but my new boy Perceval Lynam takes him on, but isn’t quite parody, since he is a poet of Different Lines.) 

Disinterest drove my inspection of Daniel Hughes’ work on Tony Conran, a poet I must read more of, clearly, of great ambition and scope. Likewise, Devon Campbell-Hall introduced me to the work of Raman Mundair, although I wasn’t particularly excited by the quotations (though they weren’t extensive enough to be properly exciting). I know Yvonne Reddick a little from events in Liverpool and (I think) at Edge Hill, and I enjoyed her work on Karen McCarthy Woolf, particularly for its summary of ecopoetics, and I noted that experimental ecopoetics is a thing (rejected by Reddick here). (That would include Camilla Nelson, one of my ‘collaborator’ subjects.) Peter Mackay dealt with Scottish Gaelic writers new to me, with the exception of Meg Bateman (who appeared in Foil years ago). The arguments over translation and publication seem spirited and worth recording for those outside Scotland (there was a little of that, referring to Wales, in Hughes’ piece).

Bridget Vincent’s piece on late Geoffrey Hill took a long view (and high view) of Hill’s work, and I enjoyed the emphasis on ‘attention’ (which I think should be emphasized in a poetics), but I didn’t warm to Hill’s austere ethical tone (I rather suspect his sense of self-importance, of which I have heard elsewhere: he puts himself at the top table and his admirers – I don’t mean Vincent – serve him whatever he wants). It’s 20 years since I saw a friend flee from one of his readings in terror! I continue to admire some of – what is now – his ‘early work’. Ted Hughes’ late work Birthday Letters (actually, he was writing them over the decades) gets a good reading from James Underwood, who emphasizes that ‘epistolary’ function in the title. How do we read ‘letters’? It got me thinking about that more generally and sent me off to an essay in the Poetic Genres companion that is referred to here. These ‘letters’ are not confessional, but weirdly dialogic: for closure and clarity. Another ‘great’ is Eavan Boland, and Nicholas Taylor-Collins argues why she should have been awarded a Nobel Prize! This is not as daft as it sounds, since Taylor-Collins traces Boland’s reputation against the award’s criteria, and she scores. Sarah Kennedy likewise sounds out Alice Oswald’s reputation and achievement, but focusses on her ‘classical presences’, in a convincing essay that makes me want to follow the work up (though I kept thinking of Simon Perril’s ‘Archilocus’ trilogy; see here: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Simon Perril’s Archilochus on the Moon).

Other contributors (including me) cannot rely on received reputations to argue for their writers, and don’t. There is no ‘This poem won the Blah Blah Prize’, because it didn’t! (This is only occurring to me now, as I survey the whole collection.) Instead, there is more exposition of writers’ associations (with presses and other writers and ‘traditions’, for example). Robert Kiely usefully unravels some references to mathematics in the work of Catherine Walsh, though the work studied, Optic Verve, is a bricolage of other materials (many of them intensely social, documents about a housing estate in Dublin, for example). Ian Davidson writes with an astonishing clarity about the ecologies of language (and of ecology, too!) in Tom Pickard (who we may think we know, but who has published a lot of recent work that has passed me by), Lesley Harrison (who is completely new to me, but looks fascinating, particularly work on Hull trawlers) and Welshman Rhys Trimble (whose book discussed here I possess but have yet to read): the attention on all three on language.

Staying (or straying back to Wales), editor Samuel Rogers writes on Zoe Skoulding (with passing references to Davidson as a poet) and his first few pages are a useful take on the lyric, going for Kate Hamburger’s theories (probably accessed through Jonathan Culler’s Theory of the Lyric). He squares a circle in linguistically innovative poetries by dealing with the lyric I as a function of language: ‘Poetry that actively points to the epistemological uncertainty of reality, as well as the impossibility of clear expression through the medium of language, can nevertheless produce some of the most sustained accounts of embodied experience of environment, landscape, nature, or place, as an “out there” beyond the text.’ (p. 268) So there! All this is negotiated through Skoulding’s early work. (I’m sensing Rogers is moving through the oeuvre. Good; Zoe deserves this exegete.)


Zoe reading

Robert Hampson presents the work of Prudence Chamberlain (as I did: we even use the same quotation!), Nisha Ramayya (I quote her in Pulse: Pages: Robert Sheppard: 'PULSE: All a Rhythm' published in Tentacular 5 (with links)), Alison Gibb, and Karen Sandhu, all of them tutored (for they are all students at Royal Holloway, we are talking here of the entry of innovative writing into the academy) by Redell Olsen, whose work (old and recent) is surveyed: the common denominators are feminist contents and radical expanded forms, extending into performance (which is where Robert’s precise essay collides with mine, which features readings of collaborative performance.)

A great collection, produced under ‘lockdown’ (you can follow my essay’s evolution on this blog, starting here, all links provided: Pages: Robert Sheppard: Thughts on Collaboration 1: Introduction .)

OK: all done in an hour. A glass of water and I’ll tidy it up and post it. 21/12/2021: 17.26.