Sunday, 10 January 2010

Emergency Kit

I buy poetry books as and when I can - my budget doesn't allow for anything else - and I tend to avoid anthologies in favour of getting to grips with individual poets. However, Emergency Kit for a quid at a local charity shop was too tempting this Christmas.

I've got many quibbles with it, starting with the premise that the 20th Century was an especially strange time. Well, the 17th/18th/19th Centuries weren't exactly straightforward or exempt from huge changes, revolutions, genocide, etc, either. The editors' claim that Borges was a magical realist, meanwhile, is a leap too far for my understanding of the term. As for the poetry itself, it seems selected to fit into a specific identikit vision of the genre.

Nevertheless, I do feel that the most intriguing part of the anthology is its introduction, where the editors (Matthew Sweeney and Jo Shapcott) justify their work. Above all, my interest in the comparative qualities of English-language and Spanish poetry means that I was immediately drawn to the following statement:

"...however far and freely (the poems) travel, they always come back to the world we wake up to, illuminating, from whatever angle, our day-to-day concerns. Other poems in the bookmay be more ostensibly realist in manner...but even here there is always the glint of...the surrealism of everyday life".

In other words, the poetic aesthetic of Emergency Kit is rooted in daily life - any steps back from this world are taken so as then to come back to it with fresh eyes. This is a pretty big anthology - almost 300 pages of poems - so my question is the following: could such an extensive anthology have been compiled of contemporary Spanish poetry with this same aesthetic?

I don't believe so. What's more, the editors' stance doesn't seem particularly controversial in terms of a vast chunk of current English-language poetry, whereas my experience tells me of the row that would brew if I backed such a statement when surrounded by most Spanish poets! All in all, an excellent example of the divide between the two languages' poetries.

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