Roots and branches

December 4, 1998

"Ancient English selfhood" and "perpetual rootedness" - are these serious criteria for 20th-century poetry? Valentine Cunningham's advocacy of Ted Hughes over Sylvia Plath (THES, November ) resorts to fundamentalisms of nation as bad as the gender fundamentalisms he claims to challenge.

The greatness of both poets will long survive biographical point-scoring about what their daddies did or whether an English or American poet is more likely to understand European "brutalisms". Hughes had no more "blood" right to the horrors of European history than Plath. Both were "tourists at the bullfight". The experience that yields a poem is not a matter of "rootedness" but of imagination, which can happen (or not) anywhere.

Angela Leighton English department University of Hull

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