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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Ten poets I couldn’t live without right now.

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Writing tonight from the best place in the world to write from – not just at home, with guitar sores on my fingers and nowhere to hurry to, but writing from a position of the kind of love that props itself upright on rage instead of a spine. A friend of mine told me, via the Hive Mind Application on my mobile phone, that she had been at a Masters degree conference where as any of the proposed theses were on J.H. Prynne as were on writing by women.

Jeremy Prynne is an important poet and a good man who stands up for his convictions. But he is not the only important poet and I don’t even think he’s the most important poet: I could write, at length, about the political basis of my concerns about Language Poetry, and my fears for the kind of coterie it creates. I think I will, at some point, and these discussions are already key to my doctoral thesis which is, broadly, about Utopianism and Transformation in contemporary poetry about place.

For now, I will can the soap-box: all I really want to do, (and this is for you, Hive Mind Application, for calling for it) is introduce you to ten poets I could not currently live without, all of whom are women. They’re not all writing currently; we lost Adrienne Rich last year. Some of them, like Rich, are big hitters whom many of you I’m sure will have heard of already.

But many of you have heard of J.H. Prynne.

There is another canon and it’s the one I wish to be shot from when I go. These are my favourite poets: this is the only claim I’m making for them, but I sort of think that’s fair enough.

1.       Juliana Spahr. She’s my favourite poet right now and I’m sure that if I’ve seen you lately I’ve chewed your ear at length about the miraculous way that Spahr inserts space into text: by way of lineation, attention to breath and realisation of particular spaces, intimate and national, with which she finds herself interacting. She writes about tech-addiction in a way that does not distance the intimacy of personal touch, and she writes about the way that our constant awareness of what is happening all over the world simultaneously hampers our ability to inhabit, to occupy, the present, and makes us aware of and responsible for the actions of our machine-states and corporations everywhere. She challenges every accepted structure and she’s funny and she’s kind. Go first to This Connection of Everyone With Lungs, her first collection post-9/11, the second half of which is, for me, a kind of foundational text for what poetry – responsible and beautiful poetry – ought to be at present. She is mighty and resistant.

2.       Anne Waldman. Anne Waldman is a visionary. I mean that literally – Anne Waldman has visions. I’ve just been working on her 2010 collection, Manatee/ Humanity and was stuck by the extraordinary way in which she employs parataxis to represent false consciousness. The way we act in the world in relation to things because we have to, because that is how phenomenal reality acts on us and we act back, in conversation with what we know, what we understand as subjective minds but don’t quite have the muscle to push out of. She also writes so gently, loving animals and hating people and forgiving them simultaneously. One of my favourite tricks is her awareness of all the rats in New York City and the fact that she includes them in her understanding of the place and does not write them out. For me, I think one of the most important things we can do in the world is pay attention to the rats.

3.       Eileen Myles. Eileen Myles was a gateway drug for me. She writes hip, tough verses in short lines that move very fast between images and between places. It’s queer poetry after Frank O’Hara, with I think more beef behind it. Camp voices and imagery with an eye unshakeably trained on what really matters which is, as it turn out, our relationships between one another and the atrocities committed in our names all over the world. And if not in our name at least on our watch. The relationship between the beginning and the end of most of her poems is basically metaphysical and her first-and-second person poems create an inter-subjective relationship that situates readers in real streets with real feelings: Myles has mimeses and pace, intimacy and politics, and an extremely low threshold for bullshit. Her “poets novel” Inferno is amongst other things the best coming-out story I’ve ever read and it made me feel proud to be in the world.

4.       Alice Notley. She’s one of the big guns, right? I mean you know her already for sure. She’s another of the New New York School poets even though that school of poetry is as nebulous as any other has ever been. I’ve been lucky enough to see Alice read on a couple of occasions; the first time I was eighteen and I didn’t know what had hit me in this majestic figure with her Bob Dylan imaging and dedication to putting babies back into verse, but I know that I wanted more of it. Last time I saw her read, she read poems about losing her husband to cancer; she made me understand the disease better and what it means to love better. Go ahead and read Close To Me And Closer – I always want to hand this straight to people before we start talking about and language, and how it shapes and escapes us.


I’m sorry, I’ve got to confess to a really prosaic disability here: my standard-issue grad-student RSI is making my arm swell up and I can’t write any more for now, so here’s a link for each of the remaining people I wish to begin with. Helen Macdonald and Decca Muldowney I am prouder than proud to call personal friends. The way that Decca combines academia, art and activism just like they were the same thing continues to be a profound inspiration to me.

          5.       Patience Agbabe.
          6.       Helen Macdonald.
          7.       Decca Muldowney.
          8.       Adrienne Rich.
          9.       Patti Smith.
         10.      Kate Tempest.