The main thrust of this anthology is exemplified by the fact that the editor is also on the editorial board of Metre. In her introduction, she gives a list of nine poets that Metre Poetry Journal has championed and who are also present in the anthology. It would appear that one or two have slipped her mind as well! - This reviewer counted fifteen (that's half the poets in the English section) as either members of the editorial board, on the list of those championed, or omitted from the list but clearly championed nonetheless if one examines the back issues of the magazine. Of the other half of the English language poets included, nine are published by either Bloodaxe, Carcanet, Faber, Cape or Picador, three are attached to the Queen's University group, there are one each from Salmon press and Dedalus press (who with Gallery press publish the vast majority of Irish poets), and the other appears to be a token experimentalist. So the driving force behind the anthology exists in the dichotomy between the 'Metre poets' and those that the editor could not possibly ignore, while any Northern poets still in residence are represented by those attached to QUB. It all seems very cosy. The sad thing is that here was an opportunity to show the broad church that Irish poetry has become on an international platform, however instead we are presented with a mixture of the truly talented and the truly well connected. A classic example of 'the greats and the mates' mentality that has gone unchallenged in Irish poetry, simply because of the belief that if one keeps one's head down and one's mouth shut, one might be invited into the next one. What the anthology does do, however is ensure that the truly talented poets like Nick Laird, Colette Bryce, Géaróid MacLochalinn, Celia De Freine, Leanne O'Sullivan and Tom French stand out from the dryer and duller exponents such as Wheatley, Bleakney, McAuliffe, O'Reilly, Ní Ghallchóir and Quinn; and the slapdash 'pseudo-experimentalism' of Cullen and Cunningham . It also re-presents Martin Mooney as a new Irish poet - this does him some dis-service. Considering the fact that he was introduced in Map Makers Colours (1988) and again in Dawe's 1991 anthology "The New Younger Irish poets" one would think by now that he'd be a fairly senior figure! Of those left out, Enda Wylie must be the most surprising omission on the English language side with three books to her credit from Dedalus Press and one can't help but wonder why Collette Nic Aodha did not make it in on the Irish language side. Still one also has to wonder what sort of editorial process 'chooses' "the first 8 poems" from Colette Bryce's first book and "the first 11 poems" from Vincent Woods' - the odds on those collections being so front-loaded would baffle most bookies. Still, if only for space, one can't have everyone in it - but there are a good half dozen, maybe even a dozen others, who deserved to be included but aren't, and no doubt names will be thrown around in other reviews and among private discussion. Suffice to say that when Hulse, Kennedy and Morley did the British version they managed to squeeze no less than 55 poets into a similar space!
Selina Guinness's The New Irish Poets is an authoritative, lively and truly representative offering of the new life that has entered the Irish poetry scene in the past decade. Guinness has delivered here a panoptic photoshoot of new poetry that allows full zoom-lens capacity for close assessment. Thirty-three poets are included (nearly half of them women) with an average of ten poems per writer, allowing a strong sense not only of each writer's voice and preoccupations but of the conversations between their very different worlds. The broad range of work from each poet is particularly welcome to this reader who is fed up with either snapshot anthologization that only allows a blurred generalized bable to emerge or near-fetishized foreclusure of the range of available writers in selections which include lots and lots of only a few poets'work. Furthermore, the anthology is very user-friendly, with an excellent introduction clearly situating new developments in Irish poetry in their social, political and literary contexts, and with photographs, biographical notes and precise brief assessments of the achievements of every poet included. Guinness has carefully chosen each poet's texts to generate a sense of the distinctive presence of each poet. The book is full of rich new discoveries, and of a true diversity in style and theme. This is very much facilitated by the innovative editorial choice to use book publication date rather than date of birth as a cut-off point for inclusion: only poets whose first books have appeared since 1993 are considered. This organization generates the idea of a writing generation rather than a writer's generation - a strategy which allows the anthology to speak to its own time and to its forebear generations in a new way. The book as a whole is much less tangled within the fraught and divisive debates on style, content, gender, language and territorial concerns which have defined Irish poetry in the past, than other anthologies published in the last twenty years. The poems here openly dismantle the old border controls between those far too exclusive zones of identitification for individual poets and 'movements' in the Irish poetry tradition. The impact of the anthology is of tremendous life in new Irish poetry being published now: a sense of beat and bite, confidence and swing marks very many of these poems. This is a collection that is full of energy present (whether tightly reined in or at full throttle) rather than of eulogies for energy lost. Poetry in Ireland has always co-operated functions as instigator as well as seismograph of necessary change in broader Irish culture. It is much more unusual for anthologies of that poetry to do the same, but this one does. Selina Guinness's The New Irish Poets is set to become the representative anthology for this poetry generation in Ireland, while itself performing a significant statement of change. That about sums up why it is a necessary book.