The Alvarez Generation

BookThe Alvarez Generation

The Alvarez Generation

Thom Gunn, Geoffrey Hill, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and Peter Porter


December 4th, 2020



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This book is the biography of a taste in poetry and its consequences. During the 1950s and 1960s, a generation of poets appeared who would eschew the restrained manner of Movement poets such as Philip Larkin, a generation who would, in the words of the introduction to A. Alvarez’s classic anthology The New Poetry, take poetry ‘Beyond the Gentility Principle’. This was the generation of Thom Gunn, Geoffrey Hill, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and Peter Porter. 
William Wootten explores what these five poets shared in common, their connections, critical reception, rivalries and differences, and locates what was new and valuable in their work. The Alvarez Generation is an important re-evaluation of a time when contemporary poetry and its criticism had a cultural weight it has now lost and when a ‘new seriousness’ was to become closely linked to questions of violence, psychic unbalance and, most controversially of all, suicide. 
A new Afterword contains important biographical information on Sylvia Plath and reflects on its implications both for the discussions contained in the book and for the study of Plath’s work more generally.

'A well-researched, gracefully-written and important book about a formative period in British and Irish poetry. Wootten has established himself as a fine critic.'
Patrick McGuinness

'The Alvarez Generation is an illuminating, provocative and important book... Though briefer, it is as significant as Blake Morrison’s The Movement.'
Sean O'Brien

'Wootten's account of the emergence and persistence of these tastes allows us to understand much of what happened in British poetry in the post-war era.'
Justin Quinn, Times Literary Supplement

'[As] "the serious gives way to ludic scepticism" in more and more contemporary poetry, it is good to be reminded of a time when much more seemed at stake.'
Michael Daniels, PN Review

Author Information

William Wootten is a critic, poet and literary journalist. His other books include Reading Walter de la Mare (the annotated selected poems) and the poetry collection You Have a Visitor. He is a lecturer in English literature at the University of Bristol.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Part I17
1. Beginnings: Oxford and Cambridge Poetry in the Early 1950s19
2. Violent Times: Anti-Movement Poetry in the Mid to Late 1950s35
3. In Opposite Directions: A. Alvarez and Thom Gunn45
4. Against Gentility61
5. On Being Serious75
6. Anthology-Making87
7. First Reactions: The Review Debate and the Initial Response to The New Poetry107
Part II115
8. Sylvia Plath117
Part III145
9. Going to Extremes147
10. ‘A Study of Suicide’161
Part IV167
11. Against Extremism169
12. Costing Seriousness181
13. ‘I Don’t Like Dramatizing Myself’197
14. Birthday Letters205
15. Geoffrey Hill’s New Poetry209
16. Children of The New Poetry215