Thursday, 6 August 2009
Counter-attack - Gists and Piths on Duffy's anthology of war poetry
After a recent period of rest and meditation, Gists and Piths returns with its first attempt at a podcast. Early responses have been positive, but people could well have been responding to the wild look in the Editors' eyes whenever we ask for an opinion.
Just to provide some context: George and I were responding to an article which appeared in the Guardian on Saturday 25th of July. Entitled 'Exit Wounds', it took the form of a micro-anthology assembled by Carol Ann Duffy, with new work by luminaries such as Sean O'Brien, Jane Weir, Robert Minhinnick and Paul Muldoon being gathered together under the rubric of 'the new war poetry'. The podcast itself covers in depth the reasons why we felt the need to respond, but in short our primary objections were as follows:
1. An absence of critical depth in Duffy's introductory remarks, in which a blindness to the distinction between combatant and non-combatant poetry was apparent. The list was rather Brit-centric, to put it politely, and none of the poets have any connection whatsoever to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which they are 'responding' to. When we have the work of Brian Turner or Dunya Mikhail to look to, these poems are a total irrelevance.
2. The rather poor quality of most of the poems. The vast majority of these poems seem to fall back on the ready-made language of cliche to get their points across. Compare this with the brute specificity of soldier-poets such as Wilfred Owen, Keith Douglas or Bruce Weigl, and their shortcomings become painfully apparent.
3. The sense of cultural authority that seems to cling to this collection, as though this were a definitive poetic approach to modern combat. Even if we restrict the field to non-combatant poetry, anyone who has read recent work by Robert Sheppard (Warrant Error), Chris McCabe (Zeppelins) or Eliot Weinberger (What I Heard About Iraq) will know that this is not true.
We chose the podcast form for its speed, though ironically the editing process has dragged on, meaning that this appears somewhat later than planned. Hopefully, it is not already wildly out of date.
Some other links that might be of interest:
Andrew Motion talking about war poetry (very interesting, considering the issues seriously and intelligently, filling the huge critical gaps that were missing from 'Exit Wounds')
An excellent response from Delirium's Library
Duffy's own poetic response to the death of WW1 veteran Henry Allingham. The poem itself isn't exactly 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' (it's cliche-riddled, and the poetic conceit is Vonnegut via Amis) but it's the fawning, uncritical nature of the accompanying article that really sticks in the craw.
Perdika Press, who have just published Jacqui Rowe's excellent translations of Apollinaire, which are cited in the podcast.
The poem by Chris McCabe in Zeppelins mentioned in the podcast is not called, 'Guantánamo'; in fact we meant to refer to his poem, 'Abu Ghraib'. We may have confused his poem with Jorie Graham's poem, 'Guantánamo', from her collection Sea Change.