NWR Issue 25

Poetry as publicity

Why were there no poets from Wales in the Poetry Society's recent promotion of 'New Generation' poets? Seven Scots, eight women - but no-one from Wales. Was this because there were no Welsh poets worthy of inclusion? We doubt it. It seems to us more likely that it reflects the failure of the judges to live up to their responsibilities. The judges on this occasion were Margaret Busby, a publisher and author, the poets Vicki Feaver and Michael Longley, John Osborne, Professor of American Studies at Hull University and editor of the poetry magazine Bête Noire, and The Guardian's chief literary critic, James Wood. The non-voting chairman was Melvyn Bragg.

Michael Longley has said that he is 'very proud' of the 20 he helped choose. The editor of the Poetry Society's journal, Poetry Review, Peter Forbes, was not so sure.

"At first sight, the list of twenty New Generation poets is perhaps narrower than it might have been. Judged as personalities and readily tagged types, they don't entirely live up to the journalistic cliches of the new pluralism, regionalism, and the rise of the working class voice."

That is politely put; we endorse his views. Is it remotely likely that none of the poets whom we regularly print and who have published in Wales to wide acclaim came up to the judges' standards? ('New', by the way, doesn't necessarily mean young: most of the poets were born in the 1950s, one in 1941, though her first volume appeared five years ago.)

Our conclusion is that it is time that ventures like these, if they wished to be taken seriously, were judged on a more representative basis. (Sec John Pikoulis's strictures on the editors of the Forward Poets in our Review Section.) If you choose a rum bunch, you are likely to come up
with a rum answer. We come to this conclusion not simply on a basis of chauvinism. We publish sufficient poetry ourselves to be able to say that the choice made by the Poetry Society judges was unjust.

Of course, the metropolitan publishers who choose the judges who choose the poets, while not ignorant of Welsh writers, are certainly not specially careful of them. Gone are the days when Welsh writers appeared regularly on the lists of London publishers. Now they can be published here in Wales. But that is no excuse for their being ignored by 'New Generation' competitions. Otherwise, we are talking merely of poetry as publicity.


previous editorial: Publishing in Wales
next editorial: The year of literature 1995 - and beyond


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