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date: 28 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Through an analysis of the review section of the BBC’s The Listener, this article re-examines the frequently employed notion of a mainstream/avant-garde split in poetry of the 1970s. It explores the way in which the magazine and its reviewers formed a powerful institution, capable of determining the success or failure of poets. A number of debates in The Listener during the early 1970s reveal a deep-seated anxiety about the state of poetry. Concerned by the large number of published poets from various educational and socio-economic backgrounds, a number of poet-scholars, such as Anthony Thwaite, Donald Davie, and John Fuller, predicted the development of an insurmountable rift between two ‘rival camps’: avant-garde and mainstream. However, by following the heated and controversial debate that arose in 1973 after Davie’s particularly scathing review of Philip Larkin’s Oxford Anthology of Twentieth Century English Verse, a much more complex and individualized sense of fracture seems to emerge. As such, the article argues that this supposed ‘binary division’ forms a curious smokescreen, obscuring the chaotic and directionless wrangling that was really going on in poetry of the decade.

Keywords: avant-garde, mainstream, 1970s, poetry, The Listener, reviews, culture, consumerism, anxiety, binaries, division, anthology, poet-scholar, institution, authority, feminine

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