In the recent poetry anthology Contra-Flow: Lines of Englishness 1922-2022 (Renard Press, 2023) John Greening engages with his fellow editor Kevin Gardener in ‘A Conversation about Englishness’ which includes the following sense of agreement:
There is a new pastoral emerging – which seems to date from around the time the poets Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley brought out their prose book, Edgelands. They were doing much what Edward Thomas did [...] when he walked and cycled around England ‘In Pursuit of Spring’ or tracing the Icknield Way. And that alertness to pastoral is tied in with a new detoxified sense of what Englishness might mean. Grayson Perry’s 2023 Channel 4 series on the subject was in the same spirit, though it was already happening in the 2010s [...] But even so short a way into this decade there has been Zaffar Kunial’s England’s Green, Holly Hopkins’s The English Summer, and several other very ‘English’ collections from Grace Nichols, Robert Selby, Gregory Leadbetter, Alison Brackenbury, Tom Sastry, John Challis, and Hannah Lowe.
In keeping with this claim for a new version of pastoral Zaffar Kunial’s England’s Green (Faber, 2022) subjects the very sound of ‘England’ to a series of challenges. The collection also gives us ‘unland’, ‘edgeland’, ‘onland’, ‘offland’, and ‘Anglish’. It is structured on a split between ‘in’ and ‘out’ and operates on what we might call a prepositional imagination.The space of England here includes a sense of being at once both in and out, pocketed in a fold between the dividing lines or sometimes finding ...
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