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Europe needs writers to explicate this transition, for literature is plurality in action; it embraces and celebrates a place of no truths, it relishes ambiguity, and it deeply respects the place where everybody has the right to be understood… — Caryl Phillips, Color Me English Nature rejects the monarch, not Discursive essay examples man; The subject, not the citizen: England was a country I thought I knew — I was born there, lived there for a few years, and returned to visit my maternal grandparents nearly every summer in my teens.
Compared to Los Angeles, Norwich felt strangely remote, enswathed by lakes and rivers and marshland studded by flint houses. Two hours from London, and a bit further to Derby where my grandparents immigrated in the s from Punjab I found myself at the desolate end of a train line, cut off from the multicultural Britain of London and the heavily ghettoized Midlands.
Norwich — and UEA — could not have been any less ethnically diverse.
Whereas inner-city Derby, in particular the multiethnic Normanton road, felt like an entrenched if deeply divided community of Sikhs, Muslims, West Indians, and others, Norwich was eerily homogenous.
What was I doing there? I should have asked myself. And what kind of poet would I become? I never thought to question my attraction to British poetry, or my unfounded sense of its legitimacy.
And so, forsaking sunshine, naively idolizing the English way of life as one giant costume drama, I wasted Discursive essay examples time and devotedly read beyond the mere handful of 20th-century British poets I had encountered as an undergraduate at UCLA. British and Irish Poetry since As I read postwar British poetry fully, I became less enamoured with the Movement tones of Phillip Larkin or Donald Davie and reviled their small, digestible, miserable artifacts of everyday British life, what Andrew Duncan likens to the s domestic white goods of an individualist capitalist economy.
If we believe the historical rewrite of pro-Movement critics, the Georgian poets had all but done away with early modernist experimentation.
The conservative, mainstream British poem behaved like modernism had never happened. Its low-risk game of truth and meaning left little room for nuanced poetic subjectivities that challenged the singular British voice. Its poetry favours an empirical lyricism of discrete moments of experience.
The poem will cultivate a knowing irony in relation to everything but its own control of language. Popular or populist, depending on your view poetry aspires to a public life in the United Kingdom, something that American poetry lacks.
While the epiphanies of largely white, middle-class male lyric subjects are clearly not universal and personal, lyrical work by black British poets often feels similarly bound up in the perils of anecdote and epiphany. For me, the political necessity — the urgency to respond to a largely white tradition — found in the poetry of Grace Nichols, Jean Binta Breeze, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Benjamin Zephaniah, and Patience Agbabi is compelling.
Again, there were no poets of color and few women within these avant-garde circles. Some would argue the divides between the mainstream and avant-garde have lessened and that overlaps do exist today between their coteries, publishing presses, poetry magazines, reading series, prize lists, academic departments, and conferences.
Certainly the situation has shifted somewhat in the past 10 years. There are more poets writing now, I would argue, who belong fully to neither camp and who write for a more international readership than the average British consumer of plain-speaking, well-mannered verse.
Aesthetic divides seem less politicized than they were in the s — and this may well be because subsequent generations of poets confront the authenticity prized by their forebears with political cynicism.
And, perhaps surprisingly, recent debates in the United States around conceptual art as sacred spaces of unquestionable moral relativism and privilege have done little to stir debate on this side of the Atlantic. Mechanisms in place systematically reward poets of color who conform to particular modes of self-foreignizing, leaving the white voice of mainstream and avant-garde poetries in the United Kingdom intact and untroubled by the difficult responsibilities attached to both racism and nationalism.
In the United Kingdom, we like to think racism exists only in the fringe minority of society — represented by extremes on the right and left of politics. The British look at the United States and abhor the actual physical violence against black citizens.
We disregard our own violence done both by language and by the silence we allow. This involved her pirouetting expertly around the stage in a borrowed pale leotard.
The teacher had procured this from a white classmate, who did not realise to whom it would be given. Play over — the leotard was returned.
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