I have watched with interest and unease the growing bile bucket that is slopping over the internet. What could be causing such vitriol on social media? Poetry. To be specific it’s the Next Generation Poets list. The twenty poets who are the next best thing for poetry. The arguments on social media are like the coca-cola vs pepsi test of the 1970s-80s it’s one bland pop argument vs another bland pop argument. Either way it gives me gas. There have been some unkind things said about the twenty poets on the list. Most of these bitter abuses have been on our local friendly troll den, Facebook, where poets and publishers have started to feed on each other’s flesh in a rampant mile dash to get at those on the final list. Most of the arguments in social media seem to be self-defeating, self grandstanding and selfish. The spill over from this cannibalism has also appeared in print where the main thrust of the arguments seem to be that you can’t be a poet if you’re over forty. The twenty poets on the list have taken the flack, had their chips pissed on and generally been lambasted for being poets. Back in the real world normal people still go to the pub on Friday night and watch television, their world has not ended. The people with the problem are poets who have descended from critical analysis (and that had been very scant on social media) into verbal abuse directed at the twenty poets and the Poetry Book Society. Some journalists have picked up on this and run with it, who can blame them? A bad story has more of a stink to it, to make you gag, to make you retch, to make you sit up and take notice. No one sits in room with shit for long. Only some poets seem to want to do this. Most of the negative comments on social media have done nothing for the reputations of those commenting because a vast majority of the comments have not been critical, they have been personal. Poets being personal? Will the world end? No, normal people keep on watching television and get people in if their house stinks of shit. However, the negative commentators on the Next Generation seem to revel in the chance to roll in their own mess. A mess that is there to create division rather than debate. A mess that is largely self-defeating and selfish. The social media arguments seem akin to a toddler wailing, ‘Why not me?’ It has more of the green-eyed monster than careful consideration of why the names listed on the Next Gen where selected. Frankly, I don’t give a damn how they were selected. I wasn’t there during the judging process and neither where you. Judging something is a poisoned chalice, you’re damned if you do and you’re fucked if you don’t. I have an admission, I know about two-thirds of the New Gen list, I class many of them as friends, but I am not here to defend them or their poetry (the very idea of defending poetry seems again self-defeating, archaic and devoid of any love of language). I suspect everyone on the list is old enough, clever enough and funny enough to defend themselves. There will be no metaphors at dawn. No simile drawn swords. So, why write about this? Why throw my cap in the ring – do I want the press? No. Am I annoyed that I am not on the list? No. I have been on lists thank you. Some lists are great. Some lists remind us what we have to do, like shopping (which is the driving force here with the PBS, this is a list aimed at readers not at other poets). However, remember this, no list will suddenly change who you are as a poet and if it does, then there is something seriously wrong with why you want to write poetry. Being famous in poetry is not like being Cheryl Cole or Simon Cowell. Teenagers and eccentrics won’t queue up to make a fool in front of you on a Saturday night. You won’t get a big buzzer or be followed by the paparazzi. No one on the Next Gen list has that to fear. So why weren’t you on the list? Who knows, who cares. Not I and not many readers.
What makes me feel uneasy is not the same old, same old, self-defeating arguments that pervades British Poetry (and if Scotland leave us this week British Poetry will cease to exist. We could call ourselves Formerly of United Kingdom poetry but the acronym could be distasteful). What makes me uneasy is the fervent banging of drums demanding an answer that will never come. It is tribalism in poetry barking that this poet shouldn’t be on the list because they’re not original, they’re not part of the commentator’s ‘ism’. It is pandering to the basest part of us all, the desire to be part of a collective, a tribe, a nation. It is Nationalism in poetry and misses the point, that each of the names on the Next Generation list are unique and never to be repeated ever. No one will ever be like them. Not you. Not the comparisons you draw in arguments to dead poets or living ones. Each poet today, yesterday and tomorrow is unique regardless of the pastiche of us wearing our hearts on our sleeves nonsense. There is more to poetry and being a poet than that, it is nature, it is nurture, it is love, it is anger and it is the wonderful map of a unique individual’s brain. There is strength in our collective uniqueness. Not a single poet and human being are the same. Poetry gives us something as people, as individuals, it is with us in our happiest and darkest moments. History decides who we will keep on reading not ill-considered bile slopping over in print or social media, not the desire to be hip or in the moment with fashions and not pointing fingers at the perception of establishment. These things are fleeting. Poetry has been with us since the start of the universe and will be there at the end. So, let those on the Next Gen list shine in this briefest of time and if you find fault with them or PBS can I suggest you stop moaning, pouring boring repetitive poison into our ears and go out and make a difference, change the system, fight the system, embrace the system. Write poetry. Write something that isn’t just a comment on Facebook that panders to your basest desire to be part of something even if it’s wrong and vile. Whatever you do, let it be positive, let it take effort, let it mean working with other poets, publishers and readers. So stop it. Stop the hate. Stop commenting on threads on Facebook. Stop wasting your energy, your time and your brief time on this world to write and instead enjoy life.
Enjoy life. Enjoy poetry. Enjoy anything that promotes poetry to readers.
I am interested now in talking with poets on this and prior Next Gen lists not about the collections that got them on this list but about what makes them write poetry before and after being recognised.