In his Introduction
to this anthology of six poets all in their early and mid-twenties, Tom
Chivers rightly dismisses the absurd claim by Kate Clanchy that people before
they're twenty-eight can't write 'anything worth reading'. Chivers cites
Keats, Wordsworth, Rimbaud and Wilfred Owen; Coleridge, Chatterton, Hart
Crane and Sylvia Plath. 'Generation Txt is an attempt to redress the balance, to give some of our most
talented and promising young writers a platform for their work [...] the
generation of Blogs, iPods and ASBOs'.
The six poets all come from different backgrounds and show an impressive
range of influences: Inua Ellams is influenced by the language of Mosdef and
Talib Kweli as well as that of Shakepeare and Keats; Barry MacSweeny was key
to the development of Emma McGordon when she began writing poetry at school;
Abigail Oborne enjoys the poetry of Gertrude Stein, Tom Raworth and Frank
The range of influences is reflected in the variety of forms used, from the
'Sestina for my friends' by Joe Dunthorne, through the 'Sonnet to the Soviet'
by Emma McGordon to the highly-visual 'postcard' poems by James Wilkes.
There is much talk nowadays of young people being a bunch of apolitical,
materialistic hedonists, who care nothing for politics and society. (One
thinks of George Galloway's buffoonish attempt to change this by appearing on
Big Brother.) Poetry
written by young people could be seen, then, as even more of an irrelevance
than poetry is often regarded as having in any case. The poets in this
anthology, however, all show a high awareness of what is going on around
them. At the same time, they do not fall into the trap of many sixties poets
of mistaking polemical statements (however justified) for poetry. Take for
example, the ironically-titled 'Eating Out' by Joe Dunthorne:
the earth types:
no money, no
half-healed cuts on their nose bridges,
they might be allowed
to lick a
strand of marinated pig fat
inside of a bin bag
because the nosh,
it's been tossed out,
represents the chef
- it's still
they say a restaurant's reputation
is only equal
to its clientele
occasion, these homeless chaps
through letter boxes
I also enjoyed the gritty, yet humorous realism of Emma McGordon, for example
in 'Love Letters':
Alpha was the
could not beat a drum like Charlie
Who was the
first I ever kissed,
In a cubicle where
we could hear the pissing
Of the girl
Even the more personal, more meditative poems of Laura Forman have a quiet
satirical ripple. 'Prognosis' deals with the after-effects of an operation:
But you got a
bit better each day. It was like
one of those
soap operas where nothing seems to happen
in any given
episode but if you look back one month, two, six,
you can count
three divorces, a marriage,
eleven crimes and a terminal disease.
So here we are.
Wondering if they got it all.
I put my
finger to your scar.
I have to
hush it, keep it quiet.
Inua Ellams woos us with an intense, racing lyricism combined with slang and
words from the Nigerian language:
Iyanga to the sun
like this was
right and eternity was wrong
masqueraded as humans
forefather fever, feet foaming...
James Wilkes, on the other hand, draws his inspiration from other sources.
His book Ex Chaos
(Renscombe Press, 2006) is made up of poems based on Japanese creation myths,
which he wrote after a year teaching and working on organic farms in Japan:
S H H I I
I I I I I I I I N N N
silence, speech's term for its own absence,
through the limen of language.
His more recent work is a series of hand-printed postcards which rework
selections from Daniel Defoe's A Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great
Britain. The excerpts
selected for Txt Generation
are strangely evocative. Wilkes gives the impression of a poet who will in
the coming years produce interesting, innovative poetry.
So, overall this anthology is well worth getting hold of. My only gripe is
that I would have liked to have seen more poets represented, perhaps more
poets who are attempting to be innovative in their use of language. That
said, the six here are all a reassuring voice that British poetry is alive,
kicking and relevant, for some time to come.
© Ian Seed, 2007