Monday, December 08, 2008
Two Links and a Protest
Ben Wilkinson has an interesting blog post on Mick Imlah's T.S. Eliot-shortlisted poetry collection The Lost Leader, with link to a Newsnight discussion of the book. Catch it while you can!
He also points towards new critical perspectives he's written on poets Leontia Flynn and Zoe Skoulding for the British Council site.
Now, call me cussed, but I find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that Leontia Flynn, a poet with only two collections to her name (the second published earlier this year), should be given a spot on the British Council site when there are so many other poets, well-established poets, who are not there and are unlikely to be there for some time, if ever. Yes, Flynn's first collection won the Forward Prize in 2004 for Best First Collection, and was shortlisted for the Whitbread, but one swallow does not a summer make. Her publisher is Cape, however, a mainstream publisher with a solid reputation and a reliable presence in high street bookshops, and perhaps we don't need to look much further than that.
Not that Leontia Flynn herself is in any way undeserving of praise. I've read both her books and I'm sure many people thoroughly enjoy her poetry. But some of the omissions on the British Council website are astonishing, and it's important to periodically stop and question why the work of some poets, both there and in other places, should be ignored or dismissed, while that of others - not necessarily any better, and often indeed mediocre or negligible in comparison - is trumpeted and held up as an example of good writing.
There are other oddnesses on the British Council site too; I'm not singling Flynn out in particular. The undoubtedly talented Daljit Nagra is also there, for instance - with only one published collection behind him. With a critical perspective, no less, already in place, also written by Ben Wilkinson. But Nagra's publisher is Faber & Faber. So that must be okay.
As far as these injustices are concerned, things are changing - though slowly, very gradually - for the better. The internet is behind the greatest changes, allowing people to disseminate information about poets more quickly and readily than ever before, and to challenge accepted orthodoxies with showcases of neglected or less glamorous, less well-publicised poets. But in book publishing terms, it is still too often the name of the publisher - the logo on the spine - rather than the name of the poet, which appears to determine which collections of poetry make the prize shortlists, or are reviewed in the nationals and featured on establishment poetry sites for general readers like the British Council.
Many disagree with me, I know. And there will always be useful exceptions to be held up against my argument. But I would suggest, politely, that a desire not to rock the poetry boat is behind most such protests. Not the truth.