A friend, who’s quite a talented poet himself, asked me about great contemporary British poetry and I was frankly a bit at a loss. I welcome suggestions, but among living British poets significantly younger than Hill and Harrison, both of whom were born in the 1930s (and both of whose work I love greatly), I can’t find any that really capture or hold my interest. Here is a poem by celebrated poet Jo Shapcott, which reminds me strongly of several older poets (some lines of it read like a straight Plath pastiche, for example). Mind you, it’s not bad, but, you know?
Jo Shapcott: Thetis
No man frightens me. Watch as I stretch
my limbs for the transformation, I’m laughing
to feel the surge of the other shapes beneath my skin.
It’s like this: here comes the full thrill of my art
as the picture of a variegated
lizard insinuates itself into my mind.
I extend my neck, lengthen fingers, push
down toes to find the form. My back begins
to undulate, the skin to gleam. I think
my soul has slithered with me into this
shape as real as the little, long tongue in my mouth,
as the sun on my back, as the skill in absolute stillness.
My name is Thetis Creatrix and you,
voyeur, if you looked a little closer, would see
the next ripples spread up my bloody tail, to bloom
through my spine as the bark begins to harden
over my trunk. Already I’m so much of the oak
I lean everything towards the black oxygen
in the black air, I process delicious gases
through my personal chemistry, suck moisture
from the earth to a pulse so slow you can’t detect it.
Next tigress. Low tremendous purrs start at the pit
of my stomach, I’m curving through long grass,
all sinew, in a body where tension
is the special joy and where the half-second
before a leap tells it all. Put out a paw
to dab a stone, an ant, a dead lamb. Life,
my life, is all play even up to the moment
when I’m tripped up, thrown down, bound,
raped until I bleed from my eyes,
beaten out of shape and forced to bring forth War.