A few things waiting for me when we got back from up North/down South: Paul Edwards’s monumental Wyndham Lewis: Painter and Writer (Yale UP, 2000), nifty new items from Johns Matthias and Wilkinson, and a not-so-new Matthias production, courtesy of eBay – a copy of his 1971 anthology 23 Modern British Poets (Sparrow). I’m always interested in yesteryear’s anthologies, an interest which often amounts to wondering how successful a gambler the anthologist has been: how many of the book’s picks are still current property, how many of these poets have turned out to be “winners”? Matthias’s choices, given his stated intention to chart contemporary British poets writing in a modernist tradition, might seem a trifle on the tame side to some of the alt-poetry crew – there’s Ted Hughes, Charles Tomlinson, George MacBeth, D. M. Thomas – but he lays an exceedingly solid foundation by starting out with the elder modernist trio of MacDiarmid, Bunting, and David Jones, and there’s a startlingly high proportion of “hits” in the remainder of the book. Who else on this side of the Atlantic, in 1971, was promoting Gael Turnbull, Roy Fisher, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Christopher Logue, Anselm Hollo, Lee Harwood, Nathaniel Tarn, and Tom Raworth?*
*Yes, there’s no Prynne, but Matthias notes that JHP was doing a pretty good job of “making himself invisible” back then.