poetry in the 1980s

poetry in the 1980s
   In Britain the 1980s began in 1979, when the long national political domination of the Conservatives in national government began, and the 1980s became synonymous with the jingoistic nationalism of post-Falklands triumphalism and the celebration of greed. One of the most interesting of 1980s’ poetic productions was Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money, a play that used a subtle and sprightly verse form for a sardonic anatomy and an angry celebration of that greed.
   The subjects that engaged poets were as various as the poets themselves, but the decade reinforced the emergence of a variety of voices that celebrated a burgeoning diversity in their lives. There is the sense of the poets writing out of their lives and their sometimes painful contexts: Tony Harrison’s ‘V’ (1985), a poem broadcast on television in 1987, meditated upon violence and the impoverishment of contemporary speech following the vandalising of the Leeds cemetery where his parents were buried. It incorporated commentary on the yearlong National Union of Mineworkers strike in its vivid narrative. The Mrs Grundys only heard the street crudity of some of the language and chose not to understand its contextualization within the poem. The 1989 Bloodaxe edition of the poem contained critical and documentary material which gives a clear sense of the poem’s reception. A characteristic and illustrative cause célèbre of 1980s poetry was the proposal that the black performance poet, Benjamin Zephaniah, should be awarded a fellowship at Cambridge University. The refusal had a subtext of denial that he was not a poet since his work was political, aware of its blackness, often racially angry as well as funny, and meant to be delivered in a driving, rhythmically powerful way that owed much to black music from jazz to rap. The city and University of Liverpool offered him a fellowship and in return received a year’s work of powerful, admonitory and sometimes wryly celebratory poetry.
   In the 1980s the emergence of ‘difference’ in poetry could be embodied in the exemplary figure, Eavan Boland, even though her first collection dates back to 1967. In the 1980s her great strength was that she was a woman born in Ireland and writing as one living in that country during a time of unending conflict. She creates a language of awareness and meditative power that can serve as a reference for all else that goes on both in writing and the real world.
   Further reading
    Kennedy, D. (1996) New Relations: The Refashioning of British Poetry 1980-94, Glamorgan: Seren.
   JIM MALONEY

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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