UEA graduate Nathan Hamilton is the editor of a new anthology showcasing a new generation of British poets, Dear World & Everyone In It: new poetry in the UK (Bloodaxe Books). Current MA in Creative Writing student Colette Sensier asks him about the allure and the process of editing a defining anthology.
1) Was a book-length anthology of the Rialto Young Poets always in the works? How did you go about the decision to create Dear World & Everyone In It?
I’d always fancied putting together an anthology in order to try to describe some aspects about contemporary UK poetry I thought might help a general understanding of How Things Are. The decision to do the Bloodaxe anthology came about after Neil Astley [publisher of Bloodaxe] approached me. He’d read the features in The Rialto and this led him to believe — rightly or wrongly — that I might have a ‘finger on the pulse’ of a contemporary scene (whether checking for life or amphetamine-d over-stimulation, I’m not sure). So The Rialto feature seemed the right place to start in terms of making the book happen.
2) What kind of work do you tend to admire, and what would you like to see less of? What were your criteria for selecting poets for inclusion in Dear World & Everyone In It?
This is potentially an impossibly complex question. But to answer it pragmatically, but very generally, I react badly to more self-expressive, personally effusive stuff, or work that seems too emulative of others, for some reason. And I tend to respond better to work that enacts the drama of self and language in a recognisably modern world, or work that seems more aware of its context, or reflexive, for some other or the same reason. The reasons why this might be so I explore or dramatise in the introduction to
3) What were your favourite and least favourite parts of the experience of curating Dear World & Everyone In It?
The building of the manuscript was great fun. Working through the poems that people had sent me and picking out the ones I responded to most; working out what should go where and how it should all be arranged to bring out certain aspects or to play different styles off each other constructively – this was the most fun part. It felt a bit like how I’d imagine being a conductor of an orchestra might feel. But, no, more behind the scenes than that; perhaps more a music producer. Or maybe just an Editor. The least fun was probably managing hundreds of emails and balancing the work with other parts of life.
4) There have been a few young British poets’ anthologies recently out from Salt, Oxfam and Barbican young poets – what distinguishes Dear World & Everyone In It?
The intention was that this would be an anthology that represented a wider sample of work than previously and tried to assemble its conclusions or paint its picture from that wider sample or palette (depending on which metaphor you’d like to follow in that sentence). I also hope it seems more aware, like some of the work I tend to admire, of its own context; the selection might be more ludic, and again more reflexive, as I feel that better renders the contemporary moment. I was also interested in shaking up the public debate about poetry a little.
5) Bloodaxe describes Dear World & Everyone In It as avoiding ‘older, oppositional attitudes’ to poetry – how would you characterise these and why were you keen to avoid them? How might it compare to other recent UK anthologies?
Well, again, this could be very complex, but it refers to the habit of categorising things and separating them into binaries in order to aid understanding of the world; old/new; young/old; mainstream/innovative; product/process; this/that. It is possible to present things, or comprehend or enjoy things, in more fluid and playful ways; to be less hung up on trying to describe or categorise or package everything. So I suppose I’m thinking more like Donald Hall than Robert Conquest. Again, I explore more of this in the introduction. I’d say it compares in the way a naughty cousin might at Christmas: there’s a nice big family meal laid out and everyone is tucking in and getting sloshed on wine but this cousin, in a manner that simultaneously entertains, confuses, and annoys, starts insisting on a food fight, or keeps making jokes about the spoons or folding the napkins up into funny shapes.
6) Any words on the current state of the younger end of the UK poetry scene?
Skinny, boozy, insecure, exploited, reflexive, commingling, over-stimulated, smooth, amaze, under-paid, hacked, greeny-orange, promiscuous, consumed, attention, like, deficit, curious, political, wide-eyed, apolitical, driven, detached, networked, collaborative, trashy, carnival, metro, lmfao, beleaguered, beliebers.
Dear World & Everyone In It: new poetry in the UK is published by Bloodaxe Books (£12).