A Reassuring Voice

Generation Txt.edited by Tom Chivers
(75pp, 6.99. penned in the margins, 53 Arcadia Court, 45 Old Castle Street, London E1 7NY)


In his Introduction to this anthology of six poets all in their early and mid-twenties, Tom Chivers rightly dismisses the absurd claim by Kate Clanchy that people before they're twenty-eight can't write 'anything worth reading'. Chivers cites Keats, Wordsworth, Rimbaud and Wilfred Owen; Coleridge, Chatterton, Hart Crane and Sylvia Plath. 'Generation Txt is an attempt to redress the balance, to give some of our most talented and promising young writers a platform for their work [...] the generation of Blogs, iPods and ASBOs'.

The six poets all come from different backgrounds and show an impressive range of influences: Inua Ellams is influenced by the language of Mosdef and Talib Kweli as well as that of Shakepeare and Keats; Barry MacSweeny was key to the development of Emma McGordon when she began writing poetry at school; Abigail Oborne enjoys the poetry of Gertrude Stein, Tom Raworth and Frank O'Hara.

The range of influences is reflected in the variety of forms used, from the 'Sestina for my friends' by Joe Dunthorne, through the 'Sonnet to the Soviet' by Emma McGordon to the highly-visual 'postcard' poems by James Wilkes.

There is much talk nowadays of young people being a bunch of apolitical, materialistic hedonists, who care nothing for politics and society. (One thinks of George Galloway's buffoonish attempt to change this by appearing on Big Brother
.) Poetry written by young people could be seen, then, as even more of an irrelevance than poetry is often regarded as having in any case. The poets in this anthology, however, all show a high awareness of what is going on around them. At the same time, they do not fall into the trap of many sixties poets of mistaking polemical statements (however justified) for poetry. Take for example, the ironically-titled 'Eating Out' by Joe Dunthorne:

     there are these down-by-luck
     table-salt of the earth types:
     smelling like asparagus piss,
     no money, no grub,
     little half-healed cuts on their nose bridges,
     and anyhow
     you'd think they might be allowed
     to lick a strand of marinated pig fat
     from the inside of a bin bag
     but no, because the nosh,
     even when it's been tossed out,
     still represents the chef
     - it's still product -
      and they say a restaurant's reputation
     is only equal to its clientele
      and, on occasion, these homeless chaps
      shout abuse through letter boxes

I also enjoyed the gritty, yet humorous realism of Emma McGordon, for example in 'Love Letters':

     Alpha was the one,
     Though he could not beat a drum like Charlie
     Who was the first I ever kissed,
     In a cubicle where we could hear the pissing
     Of the girl next door.

Even the more personal, more meditative poems of Laura Forman have a quiet satirical ripple. 'Prognosis' deals with the after-effects of an operation:

     But you got a bit better each day. It was like
     one of those soap operas where nothing seems to happen
     in any given episode but if you look back one month, two, six,
     you can count three divorces, a marriage,
     two births, eleven crimes and a terminal disease.

     So here we are. Wondering if they got it all.
     I put my finger to your scar.
     I have to hush it, keep it quiet.

Inua Ellams woos us with an intense, racing lyricism combined with slang and words from the Nigerian language:

     They made Iyanga to the sun

     and freestyle freedom
     feeding on Jollof rice
     mangoes, melanin
     and moonlight.

     Together, we danced
     like this was right and eternity was wrong
     like Egwugwu masqueraded as humans
     forming forefather fever, feet foaming...

James Wilkes, on the other hand, draws his inspiration from other sources. His book Ex Chaos
(Renscombe Press, 2006) is made up of poems based on Japanese creation myths, which he wrote after a year teaching and working on organic farms in Japan:

     S H H I I I I I I I I I I N N N

     indicates silence, speech's term for its own absence,
     the unspeakable bustle
     rising through the limen of language.

His more recent work is a series of hand-printed postcards which rework selections from Daniel Defoe's A Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain
. The excerpts selected for Txt Generation are strangely evocative. Wilkes gives the impression of a poet who will in the coming years produce interesting, innovative poetry.

So, overall this anthology is well worth getting hold of. My only gripe is that I would have liked to have seen more poets represented, perhaps more poets who are attempting to be innovative in their use of language. That said, the six here are all a reassuring voice that British poetry is alive, kicking and relevant, for some time to come.

                 Ian Seed, 2007