Fantasy Modern Poets


Have you ever played Fantasy Modern English Poets ? It’s like Fantasy Football really….only with poets. Who would you pick as all-time Legends ? Who would play in your present day National Squad ? Who would be the no-hopers ?

The Legends more or less pick themselves TS ELIOT is a dead cert . Good at word-play, turns on a sixpence. Everyone knows there’s a really complex game-plan behind “ The Waste Land” but no-one has ever worked it out. What about WH AUDEN ? Crafty (as in full of craft) -imagery that can break your heart. And then there”s PHILIP LARKIN – can be a bit headstrong, a bit aggressive, but just when you think he’s a nutter, he comes out with something delicate and touching.

TED HUGHES would rip the ref’s head off.

The National Squad. Who gets a look in. ? ANDREW MOTION for a start. There’s a neatness in his work, an English restraint which is all the more powerful for what he doesn’t say. CAROL ANN DUFFY because of her range, SIMON ARMITAGE ? Some lovely stuff, sure- but maybe I’d put him on the subs’ bench.

When you come to the Premier League, you’re spoiled for choice. JAMES NASH is guaranteed Premier League material. I go back to his his sonnet sequence “ Some Things Matter” time and time again. NORAH HANSON can’t be beaten for poignancy and observation. And what about MIKE HARDING ? Yes- the folk singer. His “ Daddy Edgar’s Pools” is the best Northern poetry you could wish for.

I have come across a new star OZ HARDWICK– well, new to me. I’ve managed to miss the five collections he’s already published, but his new one “The Ringmaster’s Apprentice” published by Valley Press absolutely blows my socks off. Where to begin ?

He avoids easy answers. The first poem describes him looking out of the train window at a fox which is looking back at him. You could make something big, something portentous out of this, but he leaves the importance of that moment tantalisingly in the air :

‘and, between a bland train and an unconcerned fox
hangs more poetry than I will ever write.”

The balance point of the two lines being “ hangs.”

He looks back to the sixties with an affectionate hat-tip to the Liverpool poets, and to the fifties with a lovely fantasy that Elvis lives next door , smokes a pipe now, and sometimes swivels his replacement hip when he goes down the pub on karaoke night.

More than anything else, I love his strictly economic style. His poems are tough, sinewy- every word earns its keep.
Let me compare these few lines of his on a falcon with something more familiar.

“Cocky and careless. He scrabbled flight
into hard lines, stabbed neat feathers
into a frame stripped bare to electric flex,
soldered eyes like beacons flashing
warnings of height and death”

and this…

“I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

I know which one I’d choose. And it wouldn’t be Ted.

And finally, what about me ? I’m a poet. At least I’m working on it. Where would I put myself ?

Well, if Andrew Motion is National Squad then I’m Triangle Concrete Conference. Or wherever Stockport County are languishing at the moment.

Making less mean more

You know the format. Which ( let’s say five) poetry collections would you take to a desert island ? And why ? Who are the poets who really matter to you ?

I’ll nominate my five winners in later posts. At the moment, though, I want to name three . who won’t be  spending their time with suntan oil and tall, cool drinks.

1.Ted Hughes.

Ok- he’s a great poet and “Thought Fox” is the best poem ever written about writing a poem. But  Ted doesn’t do cheerful, not even mildly optimistic. And he loves guts.

I once heard him read “ Crow” on the radio. It was past midnight, and the wind was howling outside. He scared me rigid. Woke up screaming for a week afterwards. Likes his viscera, does Ted.

2.Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Don’t jump down my throat- yet. I know he is a superb, spiritual poet. I can see that phrases like “ shining out like shook foil” are incredibly clever. But somehow they don’t bang my drum. I get it- intellectually. But not emotionally. Maybe he works too hard, but he leaves me cold- always has.

You want a good religious poet ? Read George Herbert. I mean it. Read him. He’s the best.

3.TS Eliot

I used to have endless arguments with a dear friend (long dead) about TSE. John said he had captured the very essence of the twentieth century, but I can’t help thinking that his style is deliberately obscure. Poetry should be difficult. You should have to work hard to understand it, because a poem says something about what it is to be alive, and that’s a complex business. However ,the trick lies , not in hanging endless footnotes from your poem ( “ The Waste Land”) , but, through skill and heart, making less mean more.

To be fair “ Four Quartets” is tightly written, complex and worthwhile.


But TS doesn’t get to go on the Caribean holiday.