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On Jorie Graham Winning the Forward Prize and the Different Verse Styles of the U.S. and Britain

By Harriet Staff

We reported on Jorie Graham winning the UK’s Forward Prize, here. Now, see this article in The Daily Beast on Graham being the first American woman to win the prize, and the differing styles and levels of influence between American and British verse.

Here’s a sample:

Set up in 1992, the Forward Prize has never been an exclusively British prize—the only specification is that the work has to have been published in the United Kingdom. The first winner of the best collection award was Thom Gunn, an expat Brit living with his lover, Mike Kitay, in San Francisco. In 2000, Michael Donaghy, an Irish-American brought up in the Bronx but who lived in London, was given the award. This year, our various shortlists took in nearly every corner of the globe, with two Australians, (Barry Hill, John Kinsella), a Canadian (Beverly Bie Brahic), and a poet from Puerto Rico (Loretta Collins Klobah) on them.

However, it tends to be won by British or Scottish poets. And so even though it would be a shame to see Graham’s poetry only in terms of her nationality rather than its lyric gracefulness, it is also tempting to see Graham’s win as a further step towards a more reciprocal relationship between British and American poets.

When I spoke with the American publisher Jonathan Galassi in December 2011 for an interview for The Economist, he indicated how in the 1970s British and American poets seemed almost diametrically opposed. Even now, there is a “middle” section of poetry that does not get read by either country. In Britain, it is rare for an American poet to be on the high-school syllabus, unless, like Sylvia Plath, she was married to an Englishman.

Although many British and Irish poets now live in the United States, such as Paul Muldoon or James Fenton, there is little sense, in Britain, of contemporary American verse. Eileen Myles is not the literary household name she should be, while Michael Robbins is currently known and treasured by a select few. Robert Pinksy, Billy Collins, and Kay Ryan are not widely read. So too with British poets in America. Like pop singers, their possible counterparts, it is difficult for British bards to break into the American market.

Which is puzzling, as an American influence on contemporary British poetry can be felt now more than ever. In the 170 collections and 150 or so individual poems that were nominated for the Forward, most of them from British poets, certain influences kept cropping up, and certain American poets were frequently name-checked—particularly Elizabeth Bishop, Walt Whitman, and Frank O’Hara. There is something of O’Hara’s playfulness in the winner of our best first collection, the British poet Sam Riviere, for his first book, 81 Austerities, which can tackle the British government’s cuts to arts funding in one poem and internet pornography in another. Whether or not they are as successful at pulling off these influences, other British poets are also looking to American poets for inspiration.

Full article here.

Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, October 9th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.