Reviews & Essays
Oxford Poetry 1960 –
John Fuller & Francis Hope
Reviewers of Oxford Poetry are like speak-your-weight machines which cunningly make allowances for superfluous clothing: it is nearly always a "lean year" for the university wits. We are therefore, as you can see, stepping naked on to the scales. This is all there is. There is no deception.
The reason is probably only the normal flux of talent in the yearly academic intake: of the ten poets represented, as many as eight are new ones. Only Moraes and Williams have appeared in this publication before, and this year the editors have reserved their energies for scrutiny rather than creation. Known or notorious names not to be found here will have been excluded largely on technical grounds: we both share at least the belief that poetry must be eloquent and meaningful. This basic criterion has given us a collection which runs, we realise to slightness, to restraint verging on inhibition, to being a little book fo little poems. Both book and poems could have been a lot larger, could have made more pretensions to scale and to importance, if we hadn't decided originally to exclude both the "dry stream" of sub-Movement and the "wet-stream" of sub-Beat: the two idioms which seem to have snapped up between them nine-tenths of the energy and perhaps sometimes even part of the talent of present Oxford poets. By "decided to exclude" we don't mean that we held litmus-paper to each entry, and turned it down scornfully at the slightest sign of prosy common-sense on the one hand, or ecstatic lack of syntax on the other. Nor that all poems offered fell clearly into three categories: sub-Movement, sub-Beat, and Clearly Acceptable (sharply different from the first two). Anyone reading this anthology could doubtless pick out signs of having read Larkin, or of Corso, without any difficulty; anyone rading through the rejects (an unlikely situation, for which he can be grateful) could find very very bad poems which show no trace of having read either - nor of anything else. Perhaps the distinction is no more than that between Sound and Sense: we have tried to exclude anything that didn't contain both, and have been disappointed - even shocked - to find how little that criterion left us with. Nevertheless, the good lyric can encourage the better longer poem: the inchoate ramblings of many present writers will only multiply unless a stand is taken, with whatever slight weapons come to hand.