tracking poetry through anthologies
It is possible to chart poetic development through the anthologies of a period. For poets of my generation, that is those who began writing in the sixties, the most important would have beem The Faber Book of Modern Verse first edited by Michael Roberts in 1936 as revised by Donald Hall in 1965, and The New Poetry, edited by A Alvarez in 1962. Both contained poems by both British and American poets, as well as Irish poets writing in English. The first lined up the major Modernist figures before and between the wars adding some contemporary poets in a supplement that in 1982 was revised by Peter Porter, the second began with the American ‘confessionals’ Berryman, Lowell, Sexton and Plath before exploring British poetry. These were not by any means the only anthologies but they were the ones everyone seriously interested in poetry was expected to have. Apart from the Americans we were then expected to know Dylan Thomas (died 1953), MacNeice (died in 1963) Auden (died 1973) and, after the war, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, Thom Gunn and possibly Geoffrey Hill.
Alternative traditions, including the Liverpool Scene (Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten) and the influence of the American Beats were represented by Children of Albion: Poetry of the ‘Underground’ in Britain, edited by Michael Horovitz in 1969. Poets like Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Charles Olson and The Black Mountain School generally were available and, in some quarters, central, as much as Jack Kerouac or William Burroughs was, but they were not generally on the school or university syllabus. At much the same time Penguin books had a big series not only of British poets but of European, African and South American ones, though these developed chiefly in the seventies by which time first Hughes’s Crow, and the poets of the Irish Troubles such as Derek Mahon, Michael Longley, Tom Paulin, and chiefly, Seamus Heaney had arrived, with Tony Harrison, Tom Paulin, Craig Raine closely behind, all of whom were to be celebrated in The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry, edited by Blake Morrison and Andrew Motion in 1982
This list of names constitutes more a catalogue than a guide but it represents the ground we grew up on. (My own first book didn’t appear until 1979 so was too late even for the Morrison / Motion anthology). How we chose which part of the ground we ourselves occupied depended on our background and education. The Black Mountain route lay through university. What appeared to be the core division between Larkin’s conservative yet social humanism on one side and Hughes and Plath’s ventures into self and feral nature on the other was simply the most visible. Edwrad Lucie-Smith’s 1970 British Poetry since 1945 attempted a different kind of mapping, with sub-headings such as The Movement, Expressionists, The Group, Influences from Abroad, and others, including Dissenters, Scotland and New Voices, and - in later editions - classes such as University Wits (I was included in the later edtions possibly under Influences from Abroad).
That map served us quite well until 1993 when the map expanded.