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September 10, 2010

An Antidote to Anthologising: “Dove Release” Reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement

Where the thinking gets done

A number of writers have contacted me about the review of my poetry anthology in the TLS by the poet and jazz musician John Mole; and a number of younger poets and contributors to the anthology have had difficulty seeing the review owing to their not subscribing to the TLS. I was teaching an Arvon Foundation course at The Ted Hughes Centre at Lumb Bank last week and managed to see their subscription issue. I took a copy which appears verbatim somewhere below.

I want to make a comment. It’s interesting to contrast the friendly reception of this unassuming, agenda-free poetry anthology from a small press with the qualified receptions offered by reviewers to recent canon-trouncing anthologies of younger (and not-so-young) poets from the more powerful independent presses. George Ttoouli discusses this balance in Horizon Review here http://bit.ly/9M5AEN and goes on to contrast Dove Release with a number of anthologies, none of which Dove Release is competing with. It’s a warm and fascinating piece of writing but I don’t quite get why George Ttoouli believes, ‘It’s hard to discuss this book as an anthology, when so much is geared towards making readers focus on the poems.’ In my world - in my book - the focus on poetry is the whole point of an anthology. The model for my anthology, although I wasn’t slavish about it, was The Poet’s Tongue which, as Stephen Burt writes on The London Review of Books blog:

“The grandfather – or perhaps the generous uncle – of such anthologies may be the best of the lot: The Poet’s Tongue, edited by W.H. Auden and John Garrett, saw at least two printings in 1935, and at least one more in the 1940s…The poet and the schoolmaster put together a volume in which, the introduction says, poetry would appear not as ‘a tradition to be preserved and imitated’, but as ‘a human activity, independent of period and unconfined in subject’…It’s in two parts, paginated separately; part one has simpler language, and more narrative, as if intended for younger readers. But that division is almost the only clue that Auden and Garrett intended the book for schools. Selections arrive in alphabetical order by first line (an arrangement The Rattle Bag imitated), with authors’ names left out of the main text (they show up in the table of contents); humour and obsequy, fame and anonymity, prayer and limerick, show up unpredictably, side by side.” More succulent prose on anthologies from Stephen Burt here: http://bit.ly/dl7EyC

This is what George says in his discussion of recent anthologies in Horizon Review:

“Coming to a different beast entirely, Worple’s recently published Dove Release, chooses a distinct path through these various aspects of anthologising. Ostensibly gathered under the auspices of celebrating “a decade of writing at the University of Warwick”, there’s a celebration of new poets, some of whom, David Morley’s introduction tells us, are in their twenties. There are some established names, a refreshing addition to the range of new poets (listed alphabetically here to mimic the book’s “democratic” order): Jane Holland, Luke Kennard, Glyn Maxwell, Ruth Padel, George Szirtes; and various Warwick staff, including Peter Blegvad and David Morley, jostle with a host of unknowns, or barely-knowns. There’s a spate of Eric Gregory Award recipients: Zoë Brigley, James Brookes, Swithun Cooper, Luke Heeley, Liz Manuel, Michael McKimm and Jon Morley. But there’s an anti-celebrity approach; poets are not named as prize winners and biographical details are absent — even acknowledging where poems might have been published before is foregone in favour of stressing the selected poetry, above all.

“It’s hard, then, to discuss this book as an anthology, when so much is geared towards making readers focus on the poems, but Morley’s introduction is an oddball. He emphasises the specific university environment and the connections each poet has with a course I myself took in 2000, taught by David Morley, called The Practice of Poetry. The recent scientific underpinning of Morley’s approach to teaching poetry is also highlighted: “Meeting scientists, and seeing live science, presented our poets with ideas, characters, and designs. It also gave us new language: the terminology of science is gravid with metaphor and is constantly inventing new terms for describing the stuff of life and the structures and shapes of the universe.”

“Aware of how this might limit interest in the anthology, Morley points out that it “certainly isn’t” a book of science poems. The book’s jacket and blurb attempt to avoid easy pigeonholing, but ultimately this is held back by the context for the collection, which is a shame. The lack of pressure placed on the reader’s expectations is refreshing, the democratic structure doesn’t favour celebrity in any way and so, as a reader, I was primed to find something to enjoy — and there is plenty. But I would say that, I’m in it.”

Just so. And finally to John Mole’s piece for the TLS.

David Morley, editor

DOVE RELEASE

New Flights and Voices

184pp. Worple Press Paperback, £10

9788 1 905208 13 5

Purchase from http://www.worplepress.com/

In his engaging introduction to this anthology mainly by young writers in their twenties with whom he and fellow tutors have worked together on the Practice of Poetry course at Warwick University, David Morley begins with a quotation from Kenneth Koch’s poems addressed “To My Twenties”. This was a time between the twenties and thirties, Koch writes, when “you were midmost / Most lustrous apparently strongest” and there is plenty of light and strength apparent in Dove Release. Plenty of variety, too, both in the poems themselves and the encounters which have inspired them.

Convinced that writing is an act of community and always in search of “open spaces for creative discovery”, Morley has encouraged his young writers to work not only in art galleries and nature reserves (he is himself a former ecologist) but also – and most rewardingly, it would appear – alongside research scientists in a spirit of mutual delight and respect. The scientists were “charmed and challenged” by the poets’ presence, and the poets energized by new language and material which find their way into work which, though sometimes overloaded with the excitement of fresh terminologies, is seldom less than technically accomplished. These terminologies are, as Morley points out, “gravid with metaphor” and thus ready to give birth to poems.

But Dove Release is not just the record of an experiment. The sixty poets, introduced alphabetically and without biographical notes, include several Gregory Award winners and a few of the tutors, among them Glyn Maxwell, Fiona Sampson and George Szirtes. Readers will find their own favourites, but of those which most successfully ingest scientific knowledge I’d pick Charlotte Jones’s “Cuttlefish”. Three scrupulously attentive poems by Emily Hasler compare favourably with the Elizabeth Bishop of “Sandpiper”, Luke Kennard wins a memorable simile prize for describing a friend’s “courteous smile like a weak / Line-break”, and Rebecca Fearnley’s “The Bipolar Bear” lives up to its clever title. In fact, there’s a lot of cleverness and fun, as might be expected from a project in which the poets and their tutors have evidently enjoyed working together.

JOHN MOLE,

Times Literary Supplement, 6th August 2010


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