Contemporary English poetry and North American influences
Perhaps more than at any other time in recent decades, the influence of North American poetry and poetics on English poetry is surfacing in a number of different ways. Sharing a language but positioned at a distance from the personalities and occasional conflicts between schools and coteries, contemporary English poets combine their North American influences differently, perhaps more flexibly, than North American poets do. As the works collected here demonstrate, the results of these combinations are surprising and exciting, distant and familiar; this poetry is engaging even and especially when considered apart from its influences and precedents from across the pond.
North American groups like the Language poets or institutions such as Black Mountain College and the Kootenay School of Writing have undoubtedly influenced much recent poetry in the UK, including that of Tim Atkins and Holly Pester. This influence, of course, is felt in varying ways and to indistinguishable measures; Atkins and Pester both emphasize the influence of pop-cultural forms such as cartoons and comedies. However, they also foreground their debts to North American communities and groups — for Atkins, Poets Theater in San Francisco has been crucial, while Pester takes her precedents from Canadian sound poets like the Four Horsemen.
From a slightly different quarter, Jeff Hilson and Richard Parker place Olsonian emphasis on breath and line alongside humor that is often similar in tenor to the New York School poets of the 1960s and ’70s. Both Hilson and Parker experiment with the sonnet, which Hilson reminds us has been called an “American form” in the twentieth century. But where Hilson brings together James Schuyler’s lyricism and Ron Silliman’s new sentence, Parker combines Louis Zukofsky’s late style with Herman Melville’s Pierre. Both range freely — and perhaps capriciously — across the terrain of North American writing, wearing their influences on their sleeves.
Contemporary English poets are extending and re-weaving various threads in North American feminist poetics: the work of Amy De’Ath, Sophie Robinson, and Carol Watts is characterized by playful speech rhythms inspired by William Carlos Williams, Lorine Niedecker, and Lisa Jarnot; political commitments; and a somewhat relaxed, nonchalant feminism. The space-clearing gestures of Bernadette Mayer, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Lyn Hejinian, Alice Notley, and Erín Moure, among others, have enabled these poets’ work, especially their ability to presume the significance of a feminist poetics. As Amy De’Ath explains in her statement: “I don’t feel the need to ‘invent a new and total culture’ that a previous generation felt: in poetry that’s been done for me.”
The poetry compiled here offers a range of perspectives on what’s “been done for me” — on what has come before, and on the possibilities it offers to new poetic projects. It is our hope that this work will extend the conversation among Anglophone poetries further still.