In discussion over an earlier post here on choosing poems for a manuscript to send to publishers, James Midgley wrote:
"In the end I suppose it's important to 'stay true to your feelings' (blech) -- but by now those feelings have been hugely tempered by the poetry environment anyway, so it shouldn't result in anything majorly off (in theory)."
Now that made me think (thanks, James)! I read a wide range of contemporary poetry and I know it influences my writing, but I would want to resist the whole idea of choosing poems for a manuscript according to any ‘poetry environment’. Now, perhaps my attitude is a delusion and, subconsciously, I can’t help doing so.
But I’ll suggest one thing. The contemporary poetry I read exerts an influence on me, that’s clear. But another (more important?) influence is the poetic tradition I choose to stand in, and that may stand at an angle to dominant trends in UK poetry. For me that tradition is partly the softer side of the New York School and partly European surrealism. Of course, these traditions find a degree of common ground further back in time, but my point is that these traditions inform my work in a stronger way than the latest collection by poet X, however good or popular it is and however much I might learn from it. The tradition is the foundation, the contemporary is decoration.
Of course, reading Michael Hamburger’s brilliant The Truth of Poetry has pulled me even further in this way of thinking than I had gone before, and it’s partly the reason I’ve rejected otherwise strong poems for my current draft manuscript. They don’t represent where I am at the moment, although it’s still possible I might get over it.