Twenty years ago, Reality Street published one of the most influential poetry anthologies of our time. Out of Everywhere showcased linguistically innovative poetry by women in the UK and North America, definitively blowing apart the myth that experimental poetry is the preserve of shouty men in pubs. The range and quality of poetry in the book was extraordinary, and it’s as fresh today as it was in 1996 (to-date my copy has been to six countries across three continents, read on land, sea and air, and still retains the ability to surprise and startle). It has also influenced a generation of poets to push the boundaries of form and to believe in an audience for daring work. In short, it’s a hard act to follow.
Fast-forward to 2015 and “linguistically innovative poetry by women” is a de facto synonym for “some of the best poetry being written today by anyone, anywhere”. Poets like Andrea Brady and Emily Critchley use language like a wild magic to expose modernity in all its ambiguity, political horror, energy and confusion — and alongside which most of the annual haul of new poetry looks like bad amateur watercolour. Against this backdrop, and to mark the twentieth anniversary of the original anthology, Reality Street have asked Critchley to edit a sequel.
Let’s get this out of the way early: Out of Everywhere 2 doesn’t just live up to the legacy of its predecessor; it inhabits it, reimagines it and plays it back in multidimensional technicolour through the medium of dance while doing quadratic equations on a cocktail napkin. There’s so much wonderful poetry in this book that I’ve had to ration myself to avoid burnout. Yes, that’s hyperbole — but get hold of a copy and you’ll see what I mean.
[Seriously, get hold of a copy. Stop reading this review, go the Reality Street website and buy this book for less than the price of a round of drinks in central London.]
There are 43 poets represented in just under 350 pages of poems, with a wonderful range and diversity of voices. Reading from Susana Gardner to Jennifer Moxley to Holly Pester exposes the ridiculousness of dividing contemporary poetry into “experimental” and “mainstream”, as if the former were as uniform as the latter: this book contains multitudes.
Out of Everywhere 2 comes out well from the two challenges regularly hurled at anthologies: the choice of poets and the choice of poems. It’s unhelpfully-easy to take issue with an editor’s inclusions & exclusions (having spent the past two months being wowed by In the Square I was sorry not to see Laura Kilbride on the list — but everyone will have their own pet omissions and, frankly, so what?). Editors have to make choices, and in this case the selection of poets is truly first-rate: by definition every anthology will have regretful omissions; the real test (which many fail) is regretful inclusions, and this book has none.
Likewise the selection of extracts is brave and pays off. Experimental poetry — tending towards longer works and sequences more than the mainstream lyric — is notoriously difficult to anthologise well. Here e.g. Andrea Brady is represented by extracts from Wildfire (possibly the most significant English-language poetry book of the decade) and Mutability, rather than the more obviously anthology-friendly short poems of Cut from the Rushes. It works. Many of the titles in the book are preceded by an italicised from, but the extracts are so well-chosen that the wrenching from their original context never becomes obtrusive.
Although I found myself jumping first to the writers I already know and admire (Amy De’Ath, Critchley herself, Carrie Etter — whose own, excellent Infinite Difference is also an invaluable survey of experimental poetry by women — and many others), the real joy came from discovering writers and work for the first time. Jennifer Cooke’s “Steel Girdered Her Musical” blew me away; Marianne Morris’s “Solace Poem (after Parvin E’tesami)” is genuinely unsettling; Myung Mi Kim’s “Lamenta” comes close to being a secular magic spell. And that’s just the beginning: I already know that Out of Everywhere 2 is going to be a regular travelling companion; that, like its predecessor, it will continue to surprise and startle even when I’ve been reading it for years.
If you care about contemporary poetry; if you want to encounter work that challenges and dazzles and transmits its energy direct to the nervous system rather than by tedious exposition via the brain; if you love language; if you write poetry and have any ambition to write it better; if you’ve never written a line but love to read it; if you haven’t read a poetry book since school; if you want to engage with the world rather than just passing through it — please, buy this book.