I suppose there may be those who prefer more of the same - maybe a little twenty-first century Keats pastiche after pudding, with Seasonwatch on in the background. But the best poetry of any age is characterised by freshness and vitality - a certain daring which positions it at the very edge of the present.
Not that we'd want to throw away babies with bathwater. Keats is a stunning poet and none of the forms he used is extinct. But to savour and understand the present, we need a poetry of the present. Keats was a master of the sonnet, for example, a form often used in recent years to great and refreshed effect.
One of the finest reading experiences of 2008, for me, was The Reality Street Book of Sonnets, edited by Jeff Hilson and published by Ken Edwards' Reality Street Editions. This anthology features vibrant and surprising work by over 80 writers. It includes star-turns by Ted Berrigan, Clark Coolidge, Peter Riley, Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley and Carol Watts. Some of the pieces are not even sonnets at all, in any obvious sense. Boundaries are stretched, ruptured and erased. Most of the work refuses to conform to our expectations of the genre, and that is a major part of its value and function. It makes us think again.
The youngest of the writers represented in this risk-taking collection is Sophie Robinson, who was born in 1985. Her 2010 pamphlet from Oystercatcher, entitled simply Lotion, crackles with charged language. The work is kinked into delicious spasms by urgent sensuality, emotional intensity and an abstract painter's delight in the qualities of the medium itself. Language dances under its own strobes to its own compelling new musics.
You could try reading the following poem aloud (but maybe not to a stranger):
Hunch and Shuffle
The modesty of caramel - burned, earthy
& smashed against my wanton mouth in stickled
smudges - make a meal of my gushing brains, take
my faith as fallen & my delicate curls
unshaven. Pimp your pickles with my bluish
pelvis. I crook myself upon you, dribbling
with an anorexic urgency, and I don't see
your workload lightening beneath the crusted
halo of your charm, cowboy, so knuckle down.
This poem enacts a giving, an abandoning of the self which is both sexual and artistic, one of my favourite combinations. Cliches are undone, amongst other things, and the words get all perky and engorged in their exciting new company, not to mention their re-energised rhythmic locale. Frank O'Hara on ice, on fire.
Keep an eye open for poems by Sophie Robinson. They goose your day.
Lotion, by Sophie Robinson, is available from the Poetry Bookshop Online for £4 and through www.oystercatcherpress.com
The Reality Street Book of Sonnets is available from the Poetry Bookshop Online and through www.realitystreet.co.uk for £15, as well as from the usual outlets.
Peter Hughes' poetry publications include Paul Klee's Diary, Blueroads, Nistanimera, The Summer of Agios Dimitrios and The Pistol Tree Poems. Nathan Thompson writes of the latter as ‘flickering, intense, innovative and utterly mesmerising'.