The New Rock and Roll
The 1990s was a time of youthful self-confidence in British culture. The early years saw the rise of the Young British Artists, led by Damien Hirst, and the Britpop sound of bands like Blur, Pulp and Elastica. In 1994, a younger generation of UK poets – including Carol Ann Duffy, David Dabydeen and current Poet Laureate Simon Armitage — were widely promoted across the BBC as a ‘New Generation’, while arts journalists debated whether poetry was ‘the new rock and roll’. Some read their work in between records on Radio 1, and Glyn Maxwell’s ‘Deep Sorriness Atonement Song’ was written after missing a train from London to Manchester to appear on Mark Radcliffe’s late-night BBC North show (‘At least they weren’t in Kensington when they should have been at Euston’).
A New Canon
As another New Generation poet, Sarah Maguire, wrote in the BBC’s Listener magazine: ‘the refreshment of contemporary poetry written in English comes from its margins, both geographical and social’. Some of the most popular new poetry of the Nineties challenged the all-white English Literature canons of Oxford and Cambridge. As Benjamin Zephaniah put it in ‘Dis Poetry’: ‘Dis poetry is not afraid of going ina book / Still dis poetry need ears fe hear an eyes fe hav a look’. Mimi Khalvati, meanwhile, reflected her English and Persian heritage by bringing the voice of her Iranian grandmother into the Victorian rhyme scheme of ‘Rubaiyat’, while Jackie Kay’s work spoke of her experience as a Black woman born in Scotland (in 2016 she would become Makar, the Scottish poet laureate).
Poet of the Month
The early Nineties also saw the replacement of Radio 3’s long-running Poetry Now anthology series with Poet of the Month, which showcased living poets over several short features. These programmes, on poets such as Ted Hughes (who was Poet Laureate until his death in 1998) and Seamus Heaney (who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995) kept an older generation in view. At the same time, UK readers had access to a breadth of poetry less determined by the taste of literary London, with prize-winning American and Australian poets such as Louise Glück and Les Murray finding a publisher with the Manchester-based press Carcanet.
BBC 100 articles written by Sandy Balfour, David Nowell Smith and Jeremy Noel-Tod.