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Who the hell IS my favourite poet?

February 15, 2011

It is, you would think, the simplest question in the world for someone like me. I think nothing of asking it of whichever poetically-inclined people I might meet. But it’s funny how these simple questions can seem suddenly really complicated when they’re turned back on you.

Last night, at the pub to celebrate an ale-swilling anti-Valentine’s, I met a girl doing the poetry half of the Creative Writing MLitt here. I asked her about her work, and she was understandably reticent. So, floundering a little, I asked her favourite poet(s). She countered, asking mine, and I was stumped. Truly, gapingly lost for words. The rest of the table seemed a little too relieved that I’d been cut off so early in the onset of ‘poetry chat’, so I rattled off my recent reads instead:

  • Jo Shapcott’s Of Mutability (we agreed on this one; if you haven’t read it, go do it now.)
  • Don Paterson (here one friend’s head audibly hit the table, knowing the conversation was doomed to fanboy-esque gushing.)
  • Issue Eleven of > kill author (I’ve mentioned this before, but not just because my best friend’s in it — see below for another reason.)
  • Jen Hadfield and Alice Oswald (we found we’d both written comparative essays on these two recently, and gabbed about so-called ‘nature poetry’ for a while. The conversation eventually dwindled and the room breathed again.)

But the question goes unanswered. Who is my favourite poet? Do I have one? I tend to just blunder through collections, anthologies and magazines and sometimes, a poem jumps out and I think ‘Fuck me, that’s good.’ But a poet who I can say consistently makes me bow down and proclaim them better than all others? I don’t think I have one. (Either that or it’s Sylvia Plath and my inner 15-year-old emo girl won’t let me admit it in literary company.)

This post is a little dry, so to liven it up, here’s a stunning excerpt from a poet in > kill author 11, Feng Sun Chen:

I don’t want to live like this.
raided by suburban mammals.

I want to be honest.
so I want to tie to you a bedpost and sing.


like a piece of minced meat in the middle of a room
my life in history is a desk.
who knows how the bodies skewered with bamboo glanced
lightly on steps.
and the thick fish industry hooks.
what can be done
to a tongue.
huge recipe books.

See what I mean?

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