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date: 04 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This essay focuses on how several key late-twentieth-century avant-garde British poets overcame the trope of poetic isolation. Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Douglas Oliver, Denise Riley, and John James were working through both a Romantic inheritance that privileged the poetic expression of subjectivity, and developments in post-structuralist theory and neo-liberal politics which made undermined the validity of the authorial persona. Examining the use of ‘we’ and ‘I’ in poems by these authors from the 1970s and 1980s, this essay argues that they each confronted (and in many cases overcame) the difficulty of communicating with the reader through appeals to (personal, erotic) love. The poetic climate in which these key figures operated was one of great pessimism: patriarchy, commodity fetishism, Thatcher’s neo-liberal reforms and the collapse of the Left combined with the marginalization of poetry as a public discourse made the poetry of political resistance seem futile. And yet these poets sought out words ‘cooled to the grace of being common’, in Denise Riley’s phrase. Forging an intimacy with the reader that can compete with the alienation their poems document, these poets used love, prosody, language games, and irony to balance, or even redeem, the degraded sociality that contaminates love in turn.

Keywords: post-structuralism, loneliness, lyric, love, harm, irony, collective, intersubjectivity

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