The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry

The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry

by Andrew Duncan


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Failure starts from the key misrepresentation of orthodox poetry criticism, that the conservative is also the new, and sets out to define the whole British complex of refusing to innovate. In the attempt to set up publicly accountable criteria for what counts as new, the book goes through the whole period from the 1950s to the mid-1990s, identifying what the stylistic innovations were at each point. Naturally, in such a culturally rich era, not every significant poet or work can be mentioned.

We present the 1950s as an era of conservative reaction and occupation of the institutions by a new stratum, whose self-regard is locked up with verbal gestures as "status objects". We go on to the 1960s as a moment where a certain fear of the past brought immediacy, hedonism, simultaneity, immersion, spontaneity, montage, direct address. Then, in the late 60s, Utopian project: When the faint star does take/ us into the deeper parts of the night. The imaginary space engulfing all poetic space, between divination and navigation.

In the 1970s, there is the classic era of modern poetry, as the innovations are made to work. Then in the 1980s we see how a restorative taste sealed off the penetration of the new. The next chapter attempts to define the whole phenomenon of poetic conservatism, the feeling that only old and familiar things offer wholeness, and that ideas utterly prevent pleasure.

A final chapter stumbles into the field of what isn't clear yet, and what hasn't even happened yet, in order to flourish the names of poets to whom the future may belong.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781848614987
Publisher: Shearsman Books
Publication date: 09/23/2016
Pages: 374
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.83(d)

About the Author

Andrew Duncan was born in 1956 and brought up in the Midlands. He worked as a labourer (in England and Germany) after leaving school, and subsequently as a project planner with a telecoms manufacturer (1978-87), and as a programmer for the Stock Exchange (1988-91). He now works in the Civil Service and is based in Nottingham.

He has been publishing poetry since his Cambridge days in the late 70s, including Threads of Iron, In Five Eyes, Anxiety upon Entering a Room, and Savage Survivals. He is one of the editors of Angel Exhaust and has translated a lot of modern German poetry; his own work appeared in German translation in 2016. He has published a good deal of literary criticism in recent years, and has five critical volumes from Shearsman Books.

Table of Contents

Foreword to the Second Edition

What Just Happened?
Accounts of Style History
Form, Time, Fashion
Information on Non-standard Poem Models
Variations on a Time Theme
Blowing Your Mind: Immediacy in the 1960s
Earthly & Lying Tales: The History of Data Processing
The First Possible Discontinuity: The English Intelligencer and its Offshoots
From the Counter-Culture to Personal Politics: Speculation and Experiment, 1967-75
The Gothic Strain in 1970s Poetry
The Fragmentation of the Grounds of Debate in the 1970s
The Breakdown of Subjectivity
The 1980s: Conservatism and Rollback
The 1980s: Ego-Histoire
The 1980s: Neo-conservatism and Cheap Information
Isolation and Fulfilment: Poetry in the 1990s


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