AT A MOMENT when we are drastically separated from one another, it is a small antidote to bring some writers and readers together. It has become paradoxical how little most American readers interested in poetry know about contemporary British poets, with a few exceptions (those whose publishers are well distributed publishers in the United States). It’s even more of a paradox when we remember how, once, many American poets looked to their British counterparts for inspiration/validation/exchange: Emily Dickinson sought out every new book by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and wrote an elegy when she died; Pound, Eliot, and H.D. made London the headquarters of their different modernist projects, Pound “discovering” British poets for Harriet Monroe at Poetry, and Eliot being consequential in a re-evaluation of the Metaphysical poets, making it more likely that American and British readers both would continue to read John Donne and George Herbert. Auden, of course, traveled in the other direction. And both Sylvia Plath’s achievement and her tragedy were enacted transatlantically.
Still, the understandable desire, the project, to create and define a poetry of and from the United States was so successful that, for many readers, in the United States and in non-anglophone countries, poetry in English today is poetry from the United States: not Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, India, Australia, Jamaica. The commercial vagaries of book and magazine distribution lead to insularity, even with a common language—to read a writer or a journal on the Internet, you need to know to look for them/it. As someone with a metaphorical foot in both the United States and Great Britain (while living in neither), I had the pleasure here of bringing together a group of British poets who might not yet be known to NER readers.
As always with an editorial venture, there are other poets whose work I’d like also to have included. The Internet (and a local bookshop!) will enable you to seek them out too. Some of them are Ishion Hutchinson, Patience Agbabe, Paul Farley, Mimi Khalvati, Kei Miller, Vahni Capildeo.
British poetry today is, like American poetry, more and more “hyphenated,” with important poets established and emerging of South Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean descent, as well as transfuges from elsewhere in Europe. Many important poets are also translators, with roots or connections with another language: e.g., Hungarian for George Szirtes and Russian for Sasha Dugdale and Carol Rumens, all three of whom are featured here. Every variety of linguistic experiment is practiced, from virtuoso work in the sonnet or terza rima (that can incorporate colloquial language and dialects) to polyglot dislocations (that can incorporate them too—as well as reaching back to earlier Englishes, as Caroline Bergvall did in books riffing on Chaucer). Landscape and cityscape are backdrop to narrative or a focus in themselves, and sometimes their consideration is also ekphrastic. None of this is radically different from American, or anglophone Canadian, poetry, but these are different poets, with different histories behind them, with bodies of work whose discovery enriched this (sometimes) American reader.
Marilyn Hacker is the author of fourteen books of poems, including Blazons (Carcanet, 2019) and A Stranger’s Mirror (Norton, 2015), and an essay collection, Unauthorized Voices (Michigan, 2010). Her sixteen translations of French and Francophone poets include Samira Negrouche’s The Olive Trees’ Jazz (Pleiades, 2020) and Emmanuel Moses’s Preludes and Fugues (Oberlin, 2016). She received the 2009 American PEN Award for poetry in translation for Marie Etienne’s King of a Hundred Horsemen, the 2010 PEN Voelcker Award, and the Argana international poetry award from the Beit as-Sh’ir/House of Poetry in Morocco in 2011. She lives in Paris.