That's three posts today which might indicate far too much time on my hands but I am in fact translating fiction. It's going very well. I am moving fast through gorgeous, apparently simple prose, but I do need to take the odd break so, in between Márai and heavy showers alternating with flashes of bright sunshine, I have been coming back to this question, particularly via Pevsner.
One useful way to go about this might be to take Pevsner's categories one by one, quote a few key excerpts from him as a description, then see if that makes sense in poetry. It should do so, shouldn't it? But even if it does, will the case hold with twentieth century and contemporary work.
So to Pevsner and his first chapter:
Hogarth and Observed Life
Now this decision of Hogarth [to produce his great series of paintings and engravings of social life] has several aspects specially significant in relation to his Englishness. One is his resolution to turn away from the Grand Manner and the subjects connected with it. It was a wise resolution; for England has indeed never been happy with the Grand Manner… the character of the English was against it too; that quality perhaps which shows in understatement and reticence, and certainly another and apparently more permanent quality: common sense or reason.
Hogarth agreed with Dr Johnson, who once said: “I had rather see the portrait of a dog I know than all the allegories you can show me.”
“…to Hogarth art is a medium for preaching … the most effective sermon is the recounting of what the observant eye sees around.”
Pevsner then picks Gillray, Rowlandson, Millais, Holman Hunt, Ford Madox Brown as preachers.
He has a separate list of observers: Constable, Turner, Cozens, Cotman, Frith, Joseph Wright of Derby, (but where is Stubbs?)
He talks about “the English interest in the everyday world observed” in psalteries and misericords.
Finally he moves from these to the rationalism and plainness of the industrial revolution, such as Paxton’s Crystal Palace.
So the question is: if this is a valid grouping how do the poets fit in? Who would go in this category?
Would Chaucer be at home here? Would, say, Pope and Dryden? Would John Clare? Or Robert Browning? The territory lies somewhere between reportage and social critique. Who represents this in our time? Auden? Peter Porter? (But he's really Australian). Philip Larkin? Peter Reading? Sean O'Brien?... I'll think this over. Any thoughts welcome.