It takes a brave soul who so firmly believes in the primacy of the individual as artist as to refuse to be published if that individuality were to be compromised. One such was the poet Elizabeth Bishop. Although as a woman she agreed politically with the agenda of the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s, as a poet she rejected the idea of collections of poetry that contained only the work of women poets and refused to be published in them. In a letter to May Swenson, November 7, 1971, she wrote “I have always refused to be in any collections, or reviews, or special numbers of just women … Always”. Referring to the anthology she had been invited to be part of, Women Poets in English, she asks in capital letters: WHY, and adds, “Literature is literature, no matter who produces it … I don’t like things compartmentalised like that … I like black and white, yellow & red, young & old, rich & poor, and male & female, all mixed up … and see no reason for segregating them, for any reason at all.”
“Early in the 20th-century a number of poets in London called themselves Imagists and attracted much attention, but the poets we continue to read from that period are three free-floating individuals: Yeats, Eliot and Auden. In mid-20th-century England, Philip Larkin emerged as the common man’s poet, the sort of decent chap who made no apology for being ordinary and was without the pretension of the poets who looked to the Continent to boost their inspiration. He wanted to remain plain English, see? Parochial poetry written in pedantic verse paraded across England and given a national standing ovation: an utter mediocrity.
Larkin received high estimation because a sentimental public loved what he flaunted as his Englishness, and it is only now, a good half a century later, that scholars are beginning to show that the real poets of that time were two who had quietly pursued the compulsions of their individuality, which had little to do with England and everything with the art of poetry: Basil Bunting and Christopher Middleton. This is what happens when literature is associated with gleeful nationalist sentiments: like the mob at a football match, people wave flags, and no matter how inferior the performance, remain drunk with nationalist pride, and keep loudly cheering on their hero though he keeps missing the goal with each shot.”