"...vulnerability, and horror, and a kind of grief at the book’s being kidnapped by the world. I have been very happy, very serene, for nearly a year in the knowledge that I had this new work only a few people had seen. I could enjoy by myself its existence, and the pleasure of not having to write for a while, and the sense of having achieved something. A better word than vulnerability, though, would be dread. I feel dread and sorrow at the end of a period of private and, this time, prolonged euphoria."
This week has seen the announcement of the Next Generation promotion, an accolade announced once every ten years, aimed at identifying poets who will make an impression with their work in the next decade. I'm delighted to be featured on the list along with the work of other poets I admire, from Kate Tempest to Kei Miller (I admire the work of everyone I've read on the list, as it goes!) and think the promotion is a great way to raise the profile of contemporary poetry as a whole: there are some fantastic videos by Ian McMillan on the Next Gen website in which he discusses the books, with his unique ability to be genuinely witty and profoundly insightful at the same time. Hearing Ian talk about the collections in the Next Generation promotion and what he loves about them is what a celebration of poetry should sound like. And it seems to be working already - friends of mine who don't normally read poetry or follow the poetry world have heard about the list and they're taking an interest.
The thing that saddens me slightly each time a prize shortlist or a promotion of this kind is announced is that its always met with negativity from some quarters amid the general celebrations. Not a tidal wave of negativity exactly, more the kind of splash you'd get from a HGV driving through a puddle too fast on a rainy Cumbrian afternoon (no, I'm not bitter about all the times that happened to me when I lived in Grasmere. Not at all). On some level, there seems to be the suspicion that the 'chosen ones' must be a little bit smug, or they've got it easy, or they've become part of some privileged 'other'.
Anyone who thinks that could do worse than to go back to Louise Glück's description of the sadness that often follows publication. I think that applies to the aftermath of releasing a book too, the publicity and attention that you get (if you're lucky). I don't want to speak for other writers, but I think it's just possible that many of the poets who receive accolades for their work suffer from an acute sense of inadequacy, a feeling of never quite being good enough. They don't feel like they're part of a 'trendy' literary elite, they feel a mixture of gratitude and fear.
Most of the activities I enjoy doing, I enjoy because I can - briefly - escape myself in the process of doing them. Al Alvarez describes this brilliantly in relation to rock climbing and poker, as this extract from a portrait by Stephen Moss highlights:
As a climber, I know exactly what he means. When you're testing yourself on a difficult lead, there's not much room for identity. The same is true of long distance running, my other beloved sport. And the same is definitely true in the process of writing a poem. So I'm proud to be part of the Next Generation and happy to be involved with something that has the potential to widen poetry's readership and draw attention to new work. I'm excited about getting to know writers I don't know well and reading in new places. But I don't feel as if I've somehow 'won' and I never have, after any success. Because in poetry, climbing and running, there's really no such thing. Just yourself and the rock. Yourself and the tarmac. Yourself and the blank page.
I apologise for the lack of neuroscience in this blog post. I'm about to hand in my PhD after 3 years of work, and I'd like to thank everyone who has followed these daft ramblings on 'Poetry on the Brain' and also thank Picador for recognising the blog in its list of favourite poetry blogs earlier this week.