Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Derivative, Solipsistic or Lacking either Freshness or Ambition"

The 2010 Aldeburgh Poetry Prize shortlist has been announced (and nice to see Tony Williams flying the flag for Salt on that list). The comments by one of the judges, Neil Rollinson, will raise a few eyebrows:

“Most of the books I read were either derivative, solipsistic or lacking either freshness or ambition. There were, however, a few splendid books which were a joy to read and which I’d be happy to recommend to anyone.”

The Aldeburgh Prize is for first collections, but I suspect that comment could safely be extended to poetry books generally. Some of the collections that have most lacked freshness and ambition that I’ve seen recently have been by established poets. But do only a few new collections make it into a ‘joy to read’ category each year, or is he being harsh?

I tend to read quite widely, and not always the very latest stuff, so I don't read all that many new collections in the year they are published . Basing it on books I'm asked to review, I suspect Rollinson is right. I don't often think the books are 'bad', but many seem a bit flat, and it's great when I get one that really bowls me over. On the other hand, collections I find really boring appear to be a 'joy to read' for many other readers: in fact, at Neil Rollinson's website, you can read excerpts from reviews of his own collections - intriguingly, both positive and negative reviews, which all goes to show... If taste was uniform (and uniformly refined), the job of publishers would be easy.

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