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It follows the exploits of a group of hapless bards, more intimately connected than they themselves can possibly know, in their attempts to navigate the hazards of London literary society.
Reid’s colourful cast includes an ageing ex-offender, a lecherous academic, a fading grande dame and her underachieving best friend, and two young graduates, one as feckless as the other is ambitious. Hard as each may try, the poets’ attempts at literary and social advancement are continually hampered both by fate and by a variety of personal shortcomings, ensuring that their story accelerates irrevocably towards comic catastrophe and collapse.
Six Bad Poets is a delicious romp through a world that the author has observed closely over many years, and from which he reports with merciless accuracy, zest and humour.
Six Bad Poets is written by one good poet. It is a satirical narrative poem that travels light ... Reid has fun with his doomed half-dozen ... He is excellent on the shaming, opportunistic tendency among poets to assess life, whatever the emotional extremity, as potential copy: "Could be a poem in that?" ... For Charles Prime, poetry has become "harder to catch" than "the eye of a barman". Reid has no such struggle... He takes this structure on with conversational brilliance. Form never hobbles content. Reid gives the impression that all he needs to do is wink and the barman comes running.
Reid is using a version of the sestina, a poetic party trick in which six words revolve in different combinations, just as his six poets revolve around each other. Once the reader has picked up on the verbal game, the pleasures of its wit are everywhere. Reid's shape-shifting words joke with each other, yoking together ...
I thought of [Muriel] Spark when reading Christopher Reid's Six Bad Poets. He is not averse to narrative verse, and nor does he shy away from humour ... There is more than a hint of the sardonic languid air of Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time roman fleuve about Six Bad Poets ... Reid has probably had so much fun.
... this long, funny poem describing the incestuous peccadilloes of contemporary poetry's social purlieus deserves to be read, and almost certainly will be read - and purchased - by far more readers than all but a few collections of poetry, even those by rather good poets ... it is a story elegantly told, with sharply realised characters, and is instantly and compellingly rereadable.
Anyone who ever sat with a rictus grin at a poetry reading will readily identify with this skewering of the pretensions of a group of would-be-bards.