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"A Fair Field Full of Folk" :  
 
OTHER British and Irish Poetry since 1970
 
Richard Caddel and Peter Quartermain


IN DECEMBER 1998 Wesleyan University Press and the University of New England Press will publish the anthology OTHER British and Irish Poetry since 1970, some three hundred pages of poems by some fifty non-mainstream poets, with an introduction by its editors, Richard Caddel and Peter Quartermain. Because of space limitations, the original introduction to the book will appear in truncated form; what follows is the full-length, original version of the introduction, printed here by permission of Wesleyan University Press and the University of New England Press.
    Details for how to order the book will be found at the end of this article. If you wish to follow this link now, please wait for the whole file to load.
    In this piece, hyperlinks are bold, blue or mauve, and underlined; other plain-text underlined words are book or magazine titles. This piece is 8,700 words or about twenty-six printed pages long.



 

William Langland
(c.1330-c.1400), presumed author of one of the greatest examples of Middle English alliterative poetry, generally known as Piers Plowman, an allegorical work with a complex variety of religious themes.

The British Isles have long been, self-evidently, crowded, complex, and packed with chaotic overlays of cultures - local, imported or created - which develop and intermix constantly. Langland's fourteenth-century "fair field full of folk" was already an intensely plural society, where elements of Saxon, Norman and Cymric were evident alongside each other, with strong elements of Latinate church culture, and, never far away, mainland European culture jostling alongside the other elements of linguistic mix. Diverse cultures sometimes conflict violently, or sometimes make uneasy alliances, and sometimes, perhaps by chance, give rise to the creation of new forms or achievements. About the only thing which is not possible in such a pluralistic, fragmenting, evolving society is a unitary, closed-system approach to culture, an insistence on a single "great tradition" which can justify any degree of cultural domination. And yet at present the organs of this culture - from opera and literature to government - remain unshakably monolithic and centralised: to look at the central products of this culture is to be reminded just how assertive the "mainstream" has been, and how marginalised its alternatives have seemed at times.

 

 

    It is not the function of this introduction to describe in detail the development of this "mainstream," nor is it our intention to dismiss it as devoid of worth. However, it is necessary to suggest why it has appeared such an alienating experience for so many of the writers here, and why, finally, most of them reject it: "mainstream" in this context may be said to include the narrow lineage of contemporary poets from Philip Larkin to Craig Raine and Simon Armitage, and encompassing their attendant "collectives" (Movement, Martians, New Generation). Generalisation about such (often nebulous) groups is fraught with difficulties, but it nevertheless holds that in each case the typical poem is a closed, monolineal utterance, demanding little of the reader but passive consumption. Such a cultural vision has obviously been privileged not simply by the major publishing houses, but also by their attendant infrastructures of reviewing journals, "literaries" and other elements of the media. The "mainstream" is, for most of the United Kingdom population, for most of the time, the only perceptible stream.

 

 

    This collection is therefore oppositional to much of that mainstream. It shows a range of other approaches to poetry which have been practiced in the British Isles over the last quarter-century, and which reflect and contribute to an understanding of that world. Each one of the poetries represented has been carefully and deliberately arrived at by its proponents, and diligently pursued over a sustained period - yet for the most part these writings remain more or less completely outside the broadly recognised cultural hierarchies of Britain and Ireland, with only a handful receiving any of the recognition and critical attention which is their due.

 
 
 

Andrew Crozier. "Introduction." A Various Art. Andrew Crozier and Tim Longville, ed. (Manchester: Carcanet, 1987), 12
 
Andrew Crozier
Andrew Crozier, Colpitts Hotel, Durham. Photo © David James, 1998

    Of course, in many cases, this "neglect" is hardly surprising, since the writers concerned would not seek - or have indeed formally rejected - inclusion into existing hierarchies, which are seen as increasingly lifeless and irrelevant: significantly, one poet/editor comments on dominant work immediately prior to our period as having a "depthless vision of the past." [note 1] Others have perceived such cultural institutions as at best diversive, and at worst corrupting, serving only to prop wider hierarchies of power or wealth: no accident, in this adversarial context, that when Rupert Murdoch's media empire News International took over the Collins publishing group, an early priority was to close the Paladin Poetry series (in which a number of the most innovative writers featured here had appeared), destroying much of the remaining stock. And others, marginalised for one reason or another from a dominant orthodoxy, simply wanted no truck with it.
    Neglect, however, is not a new phenomenon in the literature of the Britain and Ireland: the "discovery" of Basil Bunting at the age of sixty-five is now well-enough known to stand as lasting reproof to British literary circles, and his career is certainly an exemplar for much of this collection. There are several poets included here whose work has remained unread longer than it ought: Jonathan Griffin, known only to a discerning few in his lifetime, saw his work collected in two volumes in the United States in the year of his death; like Eugene Watters, Brian Coffey in Ireland is still in great need of re-editing and collecting some years after his death. These are not isolated instances.
    By avoiding - or being avoided by - the mainstream of literary culture, many of these writers retain a freedom to develop as they wish, and have made good use of this freedom. They have been made to confront the very nature of their texts in order to disseminate them at all. The importance of small presses and magazines in this process is so widely recognised as to need little further discussion here: suffice it to say that a range of diverse and changing small presses, operating with a minimum of resource and a high amount of commitment, has enabled much of the work here to find its informed audiences, to pass beyond the shores of Britain and Ireland, and to form meaningful links with other makers and other literatures. In addition, many of the writers here are or have been publishers themselves: this self-empowerment has been crucial to the independence of the poetries presented. What is less frequently acknowledged is the equal importance - here as elsewhere in the past - of the oral presence of these texts. Poetry performances - in a wide range of styles and circumstances - have played a significant part in the development of this work, foregrounding patterns of regional, local and individual speech. By such means have pluralities within communities resisted marginalisation within the culture while enriching it.
    As we have already suggested, many of the names in this anthology may not be familiar to the readers of the Times Literary Supplement, or the more earnest British periodicals and Sunday papers. With a few exceptions they do not appear in the major trade anthologies; they seldom appear in officially-sanctioned little magazines such as Poetry Review; they do not appear in school textbooks or syllabuses - and they certainly do not win (or compete in) literary competitions. In North America they are for the most part not familiar to the readers of the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry or similar mass-market textbooks, and few are the subject of attention in scholarly journals. They receive little if any notice in any public space in the English-speaking world. In terms of any established widespread tradition or audience, then, these writers are clearly Other.
    They have not all been entirely neglected, of course, but recognition has as a rule been more generous outside the confines of Britain and Ireland. In his ground-breaking anthology 23 Modern British Poets (Chicago: Swallow, 1971) John Matthias reported that "there is a contemporary British poetry which is modern; for a while that seemed to be in doubt. . . . Too often 'British' means old or tired in America, 'contemporary' rather than 'modern,' Philip Larkin rather than Tom Raworth" (xiii). But his news fell on deaf ears, especially in the British Isles. Of the poets we include in this anthology, only three are mentioned in Poetry Today: A Critical Guide to British Poetry 1960-1995, by Anthony Thwaite: Fred D'Aguiar, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Tom Leonard; none of them is discussed. Thwaite was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1990 "for his services to poetry"; his book, advertised as "the most authoritative and up to date survey" of thirty-five years of British Poetry, went into its third revised edition in 1996. Commissioned by the British Council and co-published in London by Longman, Thwaite's book might legitimately be read as representing the dominant "mainstream" view.

Allen Fisher

Allen Fisher, Collpitts Poetry, Durham. Photo © David James, 1998

    In none of its three editions does his book mention such remarkable long modernist works as Brian Coffey's Advent (1975), or work by W.S. Graham (1918-1986), and Jonathan Griffin (1906-1990), all actively and influentially writing and publishing through the sixties and seventies, though Basil Bunting (1900-1985) is listed in the bibliography of the second edition. The book takes no cognizance of ambitious projects like Allen Fisher's Place project from the 1970s or Robert Sheppard's ongoing Twentieth Century Blues. As Maurice Scully has noted in a letter, there is a "completely buried 'modernist / experimental' tradition."
    The tradition of which Scully speaks is long, dissenting and largely neglected if not indeed suppressed. Its history has yet to be written, and stretches back to Clare, Blake, Smart, and the two Vaughans, Henry and Thomas. It is a tradition which in this century has not been ashamed to borrow from overseas models (such as Rudaki, Horace, Whitman or Apollinaire), and which runs counter to the mainstreams of British verse.

Basil Bunting, 1930s

Basil Bunting, Rapallo, Italy, 1930s. From a photograph in the Basil Bunting Poetry Archive, Durham University.

    Pointing to one thread of that tradition, Basil Bunting used to say of the thirty years 1920-1950 that they were "the American years," and would talk of the great American poets, Niedecker, Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Zukofsky, limiting his esteem for Eliot, and only excepting from what he called the doldrums of English poetry in those decades the work of David Jones, Hugh MacDiarmid, and (with some diffidence) himself. Bunting's estimate (whatever we may think of it) points to two things: an (urgent) felt need to turn to foreign-language models (and a re-evaluation of "classical" literatures), and an insistence - as evidenced in his three exceptions - on the worth of the local and regional: Jones the Anglo-Welsh Londoner, MacDiarmid the nationalist and Marxist Scot, and himself, the Northumbrian who kept his very specific west-of-Newcastle speech throughout his life. "We have all been driven," he said, "to use some approximation to standard English, a koiné, nobody's native tongue." [note 2]

Basil Bunting. "The Use of Poetry." Writing 12 (Summer 1985): 42.

    At first, our working title was THE OTHER British and Irish Poetry 1970-1995. But that definite article is obviously too definite: this gathering of poets is neither encyclopædic nor exhaustive. A list of some significant omissions, if it were restricted to a length similar to inclusions, is worth giving for readers to pursue elsewhere: Gilbert Adair, Asa Benveniste, Caroline Bergvall, Jean "Binta" Breeze, Paul Brown, Jim Burns, Brian Catling, David Chaloner, Miles Champion, Paula Claire, Merle Collins, Simon Cutts, David Dabydeen, Andrew Duncan, G.F.Dutton, Paul Evans, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Glenda George, Harry Guest, Robert Hampson, Ralph Hawkins, David Haynes, W.N. Herbert, Paul Holman, Dom Sylvester Houedard, Mark Hyatt, Grace Lake, Peter Larkin, Tim Longville, Brian Marley, D.S. Marriott, Rod Mengham, Peter Middleton, David Miller, Drew Milne, Edwin Morgan, Koef Nielsen, Stephen Oldfield, Out To Lunch, Ian Patterson, Simon Pettet, Frances Presley, J.H. Prynne, Michele Roberts, Lemn Sissay, Hazel Smith, Ken Smith, Geoffrey Squires, Ian Stephen, Janet Sutherland, Levi Tafari, Harriet Tarlo, Fiona Templeton, Nick Totton, Micheline Wandor, Eugene Watters, John Wilkinson, Aaron Williamson - and others. We have not included work from the vigorous and innovative Gaelic Scots revival, nor from the Welsh; there is no work here by, for instance, the urban Punjabi Scot or the rural African English, and other "groups" can justly and self-evidently claim to be under-represented. It is worth emphasizing, nonetheless, that although representation in this anthology of particular "groups" may of necessity appear to be token in size, there is nothing whatsoever "token" about the poets themselves.
    By a similar token, AN OTHER British and Irish Poetry is equally inappropriate, for the indefinite article suggests a kind of random harmony, a unity of interest and purpose, a cohesiveness and even coherence of identity, which the poets themselves deny. As is only to be expected, of course, the writers gathered here may read each other's work, but they do not necessarily approve of it all unreservedly: there are - as one would hope - vigorous arguments between many of the subsets or associative groups. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to formulate a single statement that would hold true for all the writers in this book, beyond the probability that they would all share a lack of interest in the work of their well-established "mainstream" contemporaries. Each, that is to say, practices an oppositional poetics, but there is no common politics of poetic form, nor is there of opposition. They are, then, Other, but beyond that their unity as a group is largely notional. They reflect, rather, a number of overlapping zones of concern, including (severally but not universally, and in widely disparate ways) class, race, gender, creed; and interests, regional, political, economic, or aesthetic. By no means would all of the poets included in this book subscribe to each of the generalizations offered in this introduction.
    Yet all of them, perhaps, might agree in more or less general terms about the intellectual and social position of the writer as we sketch it in what follows, and all of them would probably question two other terms which severely complicate the title of this book: "British" and "Irish." What, after all, constitutes "British"? "Irish"? Randolph Healy considers himself an Irish poet, and has lived there most of his life, but he was born in Scotland. Billy Mills and Catherine Walsh are insistent that they not be considered "English" or "British," but for most of their writing careers before 1996 they lived in the south of England and, earlier, in Barcelona. They belong, perhaps, to the long tradition of self-exile among Irish writers, one shared by Brian Coffey (living in Southampton after lengthy domicile in France), Maurice Scully (now living in Ireland, but for some years in Greece and Lesotho), and Geoffrey Squires (now living in Hull after residence in Persia and elsewhere).
 
 
"Britain" at a simplistic geographic level includes Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Most of the poets in this anthology, nevertheless, are English, but each will understand this in a different context, and most will reject the stylised anglophilia of, say, Geoffrey Hill or Philip Larkin: elsewhere in Europe Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski has identified a syndrome of "Wandering Border" which is not irrelevant here. Wendy Mulford and John James are Welsh by origin, but have lived in England throughout this period; Chris Torrance, a long-term migrant in Wales, is Scottish/English by birth. Librarian-poet Peter Larkin claims an Irish name (perhaps to escape identification with "the English librarian-poet"), is 50% French, and lives and works in the heart of the English midlands; Ulli Freer was born in Germany; Linton Kwesi Johnson's work is included in anthologies of Caribbean writing as well as in The New British Poetry (1988)
 [note 3] - yet he moved from his Jamaican birthplace to Britain when he was nine years old and now divides his residence between the two nations. Carlyle Reedy (American) has lived in the United Kingdom throughout the period. And so on.
 

Note 3 : The New British Poetry 1968-1988 (London: Paladin 1988), the first of a series of innovative poetry titles from Paladin, marked the beginnings of a pluralist vision of British (but not Irish) poetry, taking into account as it did some of the diversity of "non-central" poetries in an accessible paperback edition. It went through two reprints and was used as a textbook in one or two courses despite being almost universally dismissed in the press. The 85 poets included are divided (ghettoised, some feel) into four separate editors' sections: Fred D'Agiuar ("Black British Poetry"); Gillian Alnutt ("Quote Feminist Unquote Poetry"); Eric Mottram ("A Treacherous Assault on British Poetry") and Ken Edwards ("Some Younger Poets"). Crozier and Longville's A Various Art, appearing a year earlier in an almost equally accessible edition, presented work from a Ferry Press/Grosseteste Review axis and is sometimes over-simplistically read as "a Cambridge group show". Though that label ignores difficulties of inclusion and exclusion, it does reflect the presences, for the first and only time in one anthology, of Prynne, Crozier, John Riley, Peter Riley and others. Only seventeen poets were included (of whom ten are also included here). Each was given a lengthy selection spanning an in some cases considerable career to that point, and the book is by and large a satisfactory statement of a particular segment of contemporary activity.


 

 


The problem of national identity is complex indeed. The twentieth century has seen an extraordinary expansion of mobility, in a populace drenched if not drowning in the sheer quantity not only of its own numbers but also of material goods and information. The wide accessibility of mass transit systems, and the often brutal and desperate pressures of political and military coercion and/or economic necessity, have established and sanctioned an extraordinary polyglot and diverse cultural mix of urban sprawl and migrant labour on all six continents.


James Clifford. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1988), 13.

      "Foreign populations," as ethnographer James Clifford puts it in The Predicament of Culture, "have come to stay - mixing in but often in partial, specific fashions. The "exotic" is uncannily close." [note 4] Under such circumstances, what sort of behaviour can be considered "truly English," what form of identity can "properly" be characterized as "Irish"? Can any behaviour - whether seven thousand miles away or in the house next door - meaningfully be called "exotic"? Can it, for that matter, be called "normal"? These are crucial questions which affect literary as well as political and social behaviours and values. For if an older experience of identity can no longer be affirmed, if an earlier distinctness of unified "culture" can no longer be asserted, then the artistic as well as linguistic, ethical and religious traditions associated with them can no longer serve as indices of national identity or authenticity. The twentieth century has forcefully and often brutally reminded itself that ethnic purity is no guarantee of "identity," and is a chimæra: the nineteenth-century "English" cannot be "the same" as those of the fourteenth.
    Terms like "British," "English," or "Irish" here begin to transcend ethnic origin or significance, but instead are geographical terms with local rather than "cultural" extensions and implications. In most cases they serve as markers of place of residence or birth; they help to identify "a voice". In very important ways - ways generally unthinkable in Victorian England, and certainly shunned if at all raised in English literary circles in the first half of this century - one's identity may have become, like one's loyalties, a matter of personal necessity: this has surprising, and even shocking consequences. Globally, the closing years of this century have witnessed a substantial number of land claims by supposedly "extinct" indigenous peoples and re-assertions of identity; there has been a surprising recovery of "lost" traditions, customs, languages and even political and judicial systems over a large part of the globe.
    Identity, and the "culture" that goes with it, is conjectural, invented, and inventive, not intrinsic - this is the age of mestizo culture, of mixtures, of (in Clifford's phrasing) an "unprecedented overlay of traditions". In any community multiple-identity structures are in play. Communities overlap and intertwine, local and spread out, tight-knit and fragmented, in a way which Langland could hardly have predicted but to which he was, in fact, no stranger.
    Such a situation calls for a poetics of displacement, but such a poetics takes multiple forms. One response is to embrace a species of dislocated language and reading praxis. "Maybe it's because I've been living outside the United Kingdom for 21 years," Tony Frazer (editor of Shearsman Books and Shearsman magazine) has said, "but it seems to me irrelevant where you come from. The interesting thing is poetry in English, whatever its port of origin: I happily read Australian poets, Canadians, Americans, Brits, Irish - there's a difference of tone I grant you, but not much more." Yet Frazer's own editing practice, in the pages of Shearsman, by no means reflects earlier or mainstream notions of the transcendent Work-of-Art, for the writers he publishes (many of them included in this book) are often intensely focussed on the immediate and the local. To those unused to such writing strategies, such work may look fragmented and incomplete, be unsatisfying because it shuns reaching conclusions or adumbrating a wholeness of vision. But the conditions to which such work is a response are global as well as local; it is a poetry of dislodgement. Meditating upon his own position as a Palestinian writer, historian, and critic, Edward Said suggests that


 

Edward Said. After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives (New York: Pantheon, 1986), 150 (Said's italics).

A part of something is for the foreseeable future going to be better than all of it. Fragments over wholes. Restless nomadic activity over the settlements of held territory. Criticism over resignation. . . . Attention, alertness, focus. To do as others do, but somehow to stand apart. To tell your story in pieces, as it is [note 5].
Tell it as it is, not so much claiming an identity for political reasons (though clearly the political has an important role) as positioning the self in a shifting world of continual change, of complex and intensely problematised hybridities and polyglossia, characterized by a kind of voluntary tribalisation which is suspicious of all external claims to authority or authenticity.
    Power structures rest upon claims to transcendent identity and unity, and in laying claim to the universality of moral, ethical and aesthetic values they deny their own historical contingency. They install centrist monologic utterance as the norm. It is the nature of power to hold to concepts of Absolute Reality, through which it controls, and to which it claims to be obedient: Necessity; Justice; Morality; Intelligibility; Art. Whatever these grand concepts might mean (Robert Musil called them "luminously vacuous"), in one aspect of their existence they are all subsumed under the concept of established centralised tradition.
    It is important to remember here that tradition, as instrument of power, sanctions agreed habits of syntax, rhythms and sequences of thought, intonation, figurative language, and range of diction. The normative impulses of literary and linguistic tradition reinforce notions of intelligibility (and of syntax) which themselves constitute the intellectual legitimation of political rule, of the hegemony, whose very existence resides in and relies upon its moral and cultural legitimation by tradition, if it is not to be installed and maintained by power of brute force. Its vocabulary prizes terms like "unified" and "centred," for in proposing their contraries - edges, margins, fragments - such terms trivialise and thus silence dissent. They thus iron out diversity and multiplicity by dividing the world into such binaries as us and them, real and unreal, authentic and fake, original and imitation, true and false, poet and poetaster, and shift the attention away from the local, toward the centre. The poets collected here, without exception, resist centrality. In doing so many have become associated with concepts of "avant garde" or "experimentalism". These terms seldom help the reader to a better understanding of the work, or the primary drive within it, and the editors have resisted any temptation to use them.
    Allen Fisher has spoken of the need "to realise the potentials whilst holding on to where we are"; like Said, then, and like many of the poets in this book embracing the local, the what-is-to-hand in the where-we-are. But what, exactly, is to hand, and where exactly is this where-we-are? "I need interactions and they lead to selection and I deal with selections and not everything," Fisher has remarked of his work, which draws on an astonishing range of materials, from pop culture to "high art" and highly technical theory. He has discussed the problems one must face up to in an attempt "to live with quantity": selection, choice, identity, value - what Fisher calls "patterns of connectedness" - all demand a close and indeed stringent attention not only to whatever artifact the where-we-are world might offer to hand, but to the circumstances of its production and the necessity of its retention, in an attempt to experience its immediacy in historical as well as in immediately contemporary terms.
You don't descend on Majiayao culture (in neolithic China) and run off with the shiny bits, but hold in there to attempt a better understanding of where it is and who did this or that, and then leave it intact - rested in the pleasure of what it was that happened when you were there.
Living in the world is a demanding and scrupulous business.
    Avoiding the voyeuristic pleasures of the spectator and the touristic entertainments of appropriation, telling it as it is, Fisher's view of the local extends beyond immediate geographical, social, or temporal limits and chimes with a tradition leading back to Clare. He has suggested that we start to experience the planet as local only when we see "migrations of image and understanding," citing as examples "the coriolis spin the positions in star fields the similarity and differences in plantlife." This is, then, a poetics of memory and invention, of selection and surprise, and Fisher's interrogation and redefinition of the where-we-are finds an apt counterpoint in Cris Cheek's very different e-mail reflections on the what it means to embrace local values:
Here, in Lowestoft, I live - am regularly in Norwich (several days each week), when I'm not teaching in Devon or touring either here or in mainland Europe, or visiting London or Cambridge or Liverpool or Derby (just some of which are on a regular network for me) and so on. Let alone in this e-place, that partially conflates distance between myself and Leamington Spa as dramatically as that between Leamington Spa and Detroit. . . . I am not from Lowestoft, having spent most of my life until 3 years back in the big smoke. I will probably never be considered a "Lowestoftian," and will never lose, let alone seek to erase, my London experiences - they're hard-wired into the psychic circuitry.
The high mobility characterizing Cheek's experience is not itself unusual, but it is hard to see the relevance to it of such terms as "unified" or "centred" - neither is it precisely "nomadic." Older terminologies, that is to say, and older distinctions and binaries, begin to break down. One would be hard-pressed to consider Cheek's or Fisher's work in terms of its "solidity" - a critical term much favoured by critics like James Fenton and Anthony Thwaite - just as one would have great difficulty praising the work of Ken Edwards, Linton Kwesi Johnson or Catherine Walsh for the "delectability" of its language. The aloof condescension implicit in especially these two terms shapes experience to established measures; it is characteristic of a world view which values well-established norms, and upholds constants of perfection. Life goes on the even tenor of its way, unflurried and unruffled in its stable predictability.
 

The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Verse. Blake Morrison and Andrew Motion, eds. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982).

Thus an anthology like The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Verse (1982) [note 6] seems to be in a different business altogether from the poets we are calling Other. Blake Morrison and Andrew Motion's praise of Seamus Heaney, in the introduction to that Penguin book, for "relishing" the "delectability" of language (13) is part and parcel of their "didactic" announcement (10) that much of the 1960s and 1970s constituted a period of "lethargy" when "very little . . . seemed to be happening" (11) in English poetry. The introduction (and the book) makes no mention of Bob Cobbing, Basil Bunting, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Roy Fisher, or Gael Turnbull, nor does it include mention of or work by Andrew Crozier, Allen Fisher, Lee Harwood, J.H. Prynne, or Tom Raworth, all of whom have been publishing for well over thirty years. The book prints selections from twenty poets whose work "may be said to exhibit something of the spirit of postmodernism" (20), and much of which exhibits and celebrates the poet's lyric "I." We single out the following, by Hugo Williams, not for its virtues or vices, but because it is not unrepresentative of a method prevalent in that anthology and related poetries:

 

 


 
    THE  BUTCHER   [ extract ]
 
The butcher carves veal for two.
The cloudy, frail slices fall over his knife.
 
His face is hurt by the parting sinews
And he looks up with relief, laying it on the scales.
 
[ . . . ]
 
I think he knows about my life. How we prefer
To eat in when it's cold. How someone
 
With a foreign accent can only cook veal.
He writes the price on a grease-proof packet
 
And hands it to me courteously. His smile
Is the official seal on my marriage.


 

 

If we ignore the unfortunate syntax of the second stanza it is hard to find something to notice in this rather conventional and limp verse which could almost have been written in the 1930s if not by one of the lesser Georgians. The poet is sharing an experience, an insight, with a reader whose seal of approval he seeks. The faint irony offered by the closing sentence, and the slight Audenesque echoes, if noticed, reward the reader with the poet's implicit ratification in return, a small stipend in return for an act of fairly humdrum recognition. "The Butcher" offers us a window through which we can scrutinize a corner of the world without any danger of contact with it, a tiny fragment of an England which, redolent of the novels of Barbara Pym or even Henry Green, is closer to the England of Virginia Woolf than it is to that of Muslim Bradford, or to an England with a 3% Black population.
    There are no surprises in Williams's poem. Like others of its kind, it is a closed system which breaks the world down into disparate and recognizably familiar "experiences" requiring no further action from its reader than consumption. It casts the writer and his experience as exemplary of a more general and unchanging condition, in which the disembodied self, in the midst of the not-I (a landscape, a situation, an abstraction), converts the scene into an image of its own emotions. The writer thus claims that the poetic self and its experience are representative, and their condition both universal and transcendent, unaffected by the world, free of such quotidian distractions as race or gender. Such iconisation of the unitary Self, by installing its own power as seer, transformer, and possessor of meaning, inevitably subordinates the reader into the role of witness seeking to "understand" the poem, rather than that of participant in the construction of meaning.


Paul Christensen. "Struggling to Be a Courtier: the Poetry of Richard Wilbur." Sulfur 27 (Fall 1990): 63

    Poems, then, are constructs of what Paul Christensen has happily called "managerial imagination" [note 7]; they generalize beyond themselves and assume a commonality of human experience and of language, the writer in strict control.
    Williams's poem appeared in Symptoms of Loss, published by Oxford University Press in 1965. From the viewpoint of the mainstream - of which we take this poem to be fairly representative - little has changed in the thirty years which have since intervened. In the Spring 1996 issue of Agenda, in a generally adverse discussion of the work of younger poets "praised in such quarters as Poetry Review," Kieron Winn complained that "few younger poets seem interested in attempting the greater kind of poetry, that which reaches the level of the timeless and universal, and gives the reader the thrilling recognition of being in the presence of truth."
 [note 8]

Kieron Winn. "New Generations, Same Old Story." Agenda 34.1 (Spring 1996): 185

    Winn's judgment of his contemporaries is extremely problematic. It is rather disconcerting, to say the least, to find someone talking gravely of "the presence of truth" in the closing years of a century which has witnessed the wholesale obliteration of lives and cultures in the name of "truth" and its "presence." The notion of the work of art as "timeless" and "universal" has, in the half-century following the second world war, come under serious attack, and it is commonplace, as we move into the twenty-first century, to reflect that no utterance can be free of the ideology of its speaker, no judgment immune to its shaping historical contingency.
    In asking for a contemporary poet "essentially in the same line of work as Eliot, Wordsworth, Milton," and in attacking Poetry Review for "its dislocation of poetry from the past: it is rare to find a reference in the magazine to a poet earlier than Auden," Winn still seems representative of a dominant critical frame which nurtures the continuity of English custom, culture and grace, largely innocent of those political, demographic, and intellectual shifts of the half-century since the second world war which have seen British English immeasurably enriched by Englishes from the Caribbean, Africa, and South Asia, and the culture of a nominally Christian state enriched by persistent Muslim settlement. One might also remember a spasmodic but increasingly constant feminist pressure on the conduct of everyday life; the radical changes brought about by the decline of the industrial North as a rampant market economy presses it relentlessly towards the social mores of a "tiger economy"; an at times vociferous regionalism allied to a surviving articulate "underclass"; and the severe cultural trauma experienced in some quarters by the emergence of a Black-African, Chinese, and Indian population whose children out-perform White children in school
 [note 9].
 

The 1991 census reported, for example, the percentage of students holding qualifications higher than A-level as follows: Black Africans, 27%; Chinese, 26%; Indians 15%; Whites 13%; Black Caribbeans 9%; Pakistanis 7%; Bangladeshis, 5% (as reported in The Observer (15 September 1996): 16. That these percentages add up to 102% should be ascribed to The Observer rounding out the figures).
 

The cultural apparatus which promotes English Heritage and BBC costume dramas, in which oil companies like Shell produce glossy and elaborate Guidebooks to a (vanishing) countryside, and which upholds an essentially middle-class monarchy as its icon, constructs a poetic heritage, a "line of work," whose "continuity" is with a past which, though it may embrace Eliot, Wordsworth, and Milton, in all probability never existed at all. It is a cultural and critical apparatus by-and-large suspicious of "foreignness" in the arts and (despite its financial aid to various regional arts councils) it insistently defends the unifying influence of a central authority in London.
    In their poetics, Morrison and Motion, and Thwaite, and Winn - and indeed the poetic mainstream generally - are the heirs to, and have a great deal in common with The Movement (Amis, Conquest, Davie, Enright, Gunn, Jennings, Larkin, and Wain) and what it stood for: a quintessentially "English" poetry. Even in its title Davie's Purity of Diction in English Verse (1952) sounded a characteristic note; in 1966, looking back, he remarked that he liked to think that book "might have been . . . a common manifesto" for The Movement: a recovery of a matter-of-fact poetry, empirical, everyday, accessible. English. Articulate Energy: An Enquiry into the Syntax of English Poetry (1958), published a year before Davie broke decisively with The Movement, extended the arguments of the earlier book in a careful and subtle analysis of "the inadequacy of the symbolist and post-symbolist tradition" (161), a tradition, he remarks in an aside, which is to blame that "Wordsworth lends himself to quotation, Pound does not" (155). The Movement's central assumptions, that authors have complete control of their material, poetry is to be "memorable" (because the work of art transcends the ordinary), and language is to communicate, led Philip Larkin in a letter to compare J.H. Prynne unfavourably with Patience Strong (a writer of occasional sentimental rhymed prose for pre-feminist women's magazines)
 [note 10].

Philip Larkin. Letter to Robert Conquest, 9 January 1975. Selected Letters of Philip Larkin 1940-1985. Anthony Thwaite, ed. (London: Faber, 1992), 519-20.

    By and large, The Movement saw modernism as a mistake, suspected Pound and Joyce because they were "foreign," identified Hardy and Wordsworth as their poetical forebears, and (with the single exception of Davie) shared a middle-class unease with serious intellectual ambition. Insistent on the uniqueness of the individual sensibility, which they saw as essential to that person and hence not open to question or modification, The Movement - and the mainstream generally - utterly resisted and resists the notion that desire may be socially mediated or formed, and views identity as sustained, singular, asocial - that is to say, transcendent, outside contingency, outside history.
    One purpose of this anthology is therefore to uncover what the forces surrounding The Movement and its successors have helped to bury. Dominating as they have the major organs of culture, they stifled the impact of the likes of Cobbing and Raworth - to say nothing of countless others - for thirty years, driving the Other underground by virtue of simply defining them as Other.


There was also a small (500 copy) edition of Paterson Books 1 & 2 published in 1953 by Peter Owen, who had bought the sheets from New Directions.

    They found William Carlos Williams unreadable or overrated (his work was not published in Britain until 1963, and then by the upstart publishing house of McGibbon and Kee) [note 11], scorned Black Mountain writers like Creeley, Duncan, and especially Olson, and continue to deride the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets and their relations. What interest they take in writing from the broad linguistic diaspora is confined to American writers such as Amy Clampitt, Derek Walcott, and C.K. Williams, with John Ashbery and Allen Ginsberg as token (and scorned) radicals, with European poetries pursued largely for political ends.
    Starting in the 1950s, along about the time Davie was publishing his two central critical statements, an increasing number of young British poets were turning away from the mainstream of English writing, by and large rejecting the insularity and bland humanism of the dominant mainstream. They turned especially but not only to American models: Brian Coffey translating French, Jonathan Griffin translating Portuguese, modernist writing; Prynne reading Celan and Rilke; Harwood translating Tzara and opening communication with surviving Dadaists. Founding their own little magazines, publishing not only their own but also imported poetry, these poets turned especially but not only to American models. As travel restrictions relaxed, they moved overseas (as did Gael Turnbull to Canada and the United States to train as a doctor); as currency restrictions eased, they imported texts from other cultures. Olson and Zukofsky read in London; Prynne and Dorn did a reading tour together of North America.

Lee Harwood (right)
 
Some others . . . Tony Baker, Ken Edwards, Maggie O'Sullivan and Lee Harwood, Prague, 1997. Photo © Richard Caddel, 1998

 
It is of course an extreme oversimplification, but it is nevertheless quite useful to suggest that many of the writers in this anthology regard Bob Cobbing, Eric Mottram, and J.H. Prynne as forebears as much as contemporaries. Other names, notably Andrew Crozier, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Roy Fisher and Gael Turnbull, might arguably replace these, for they too by their example and activity opened up new opportunities for British and Irish poetry. (The editors deeply regret the absence, for logistic reasons, of work by Prynne and Finlay from this anthology). Behind all six writers, of course, are those of an earlier generation, Basil Bunting, David Jones, and Hugh MacDiarmid, who themselves found great intellectual, thematic, and especially technical and formal resource in the work of such American modernists as T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Gertrude Stein.

 

Bunting. "1910-1920." TS lecture given at University of Newcastle upon Tyne, 1968, p. 10. (TS in the possession of Peter Quartermain.)

    As we've already noted, one sign of the urgency the writers of an earlier generation felt is that in their insistent demand for a poetry which, in Bunting's words, would "escape from the hampering measures imposed by our memory of several centuries of English verse written by models imported from other lands," [note 12] they would themselves turn to foreign writers as examples and source. It would be misleading, however, to speak of any of these writers in terms of any simplistic influence: Louis Zukofsky (whose name also belongs in the tutelary roster) spoke of "an influence acting in common upon individual temperaments" according to "1. its presence in the air . . . ; 2. coincidence . . . ; 3. conscious choice or rejection of a literary tradition." [note 13] 

Louis Zukofsky. "Influence." Prepositions: The Collected Critical Essays. Expanded ed. (Berkeley, U of California P, 1981), 135

    Thus Gael Turnbull, living in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, worked with Roy Fisher and Michael Shayer to publish American poets like Edward Dorn as well as radical younger British writers (including Finlay and Fisher) under their Migrant imprint, and also published Migrant, a magazine which gave its readers access to work by American writers such as Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, and Charles Olson. A little later Andrew Crozier in Cambridge prepared an edition of the poetry of Carl Rakosi, American Objectivist poet of the 1930s, for his doctorate at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Finlay published books by Lorine Niedecker and Louis Zukofsky under the Wild Hawthorn Press imprint as well as radical younger British and North American writers in his little magazine P.O.T.H. (Poor Old Tired Horse), and - through his own example and in his extensive correspondence with other poets - played an important role (as did Hugh MacDiarmid, his fellow Scot with whom he quarreled bitterly) in the strong Scottish revival of the 1950s on, and, later, gave enormous impetus to the redefinition as well as production of concrete poetry, which lies in general outside the scope of this book.
    However, as editors, writers, publishers, and teachers (whether or not in an institutional setting), and indeed as promoters, Cobbing, Mottram, and Prynne played central strategic roles in the 1970s and 1980s - decades in which poets of the Other, through readings, festivals, and an astonishing proliferation of little magazines and small presses, became increasingly aware of each other's work and began to acquire a sense that they were collectively developing some of the issues and positions they had inherited from the 1960s counter-culture - indeed, which they had themselves helped formulate in what Robert Sheppard has called that decade's "utopia of dissent."
 [note 14]

Robert Sheppard. "Artifice and the Everyday World: Poetry in the 1970s." The Arts in the 1970s: Cultural Closure? Bart Moore-Gilbert, ed. (London: Routledge, 1994), 130

    Cobbing, a resourceful and tireless arts and workshop organizer and publisher, established his radical press Writers Forum in 1954, in 1963 putting its output on a more established and consistent footing, producing cheap mimeographed pamphlets of experimental writing and concrete poetry with great persistence. In his own work he was developing the fusion of visual and aural performance elements which make him a consistent force within British poetry: his re-defining of the nature of the "text" - as shown by work in this anthology - remains extreme and radical today. Much of the work of Writers Forum, when it was not Cobbing's own (for instance Lee Harwood's so-called title illegible [1965]), emerged from his regular workshops, and by 1970 Writers Forum had produced 54 titles [note 15].

Robert Sheppard. "British Poetry and Its Discontents." Cultural Revolution? The Challenge of the Arts in the 1960s. Bart Moore-Gilbert and John Seed, ed. (London: Routledge, 1992), 166

    In the 1960s, too, Cobbing had been active in the promotion of the Association of Little Presses (devoted to issues related to funding, production, and distribution) and produced regular checklists and bibliographies of recent small press publications. Cobbing drew poets to him through his association with Better Books, an important London place for poetry readings and a well-resourced library (as was Tom Pickard's bookshop Ultima Thule, in Newcastle, for a different group of poets) and his activities on behalf of an alternative poetics got renewed impetus, energy, and powers with his election in the early 1970s to the General Council of the Poetry Society.
    Until the 1970s the Poetry Society, a long-established but more-or-less obsolete national institution based in London and comfortably funded by the Arts Council, devoted most of its energies to its small library in London, the running of poetry-reading contests throughout the British school system, the selection and distribution of the "Poetry Society Book Choice" each month to its members, the sponsorship of occasional poetry readings, and the publication of its house journal, Poetry Review.

 
Basil Bunting, 1980 

Basil Bunting beside the Rawthey, Cumbria, 1980. Photograph © Jonathan Williams, 1994, 1998

In 1971 as part of an organizational and political coup for a poetics of dissent and dislocation, Basil Bunting became President of the Poetry Society and Eric Mottram took over the editorship of Poetry Review (a position he held until 1977), and by 1975 radical poets had gained a majority of seats on the General Council. A series of radical reforms followed: regular workshops; readings and experimental performances (Cobbing encouraging young performance poets Cris Cheek and Lawrence Upton, for example); the establishment of a print room and a book shop with an wide-ranging and eclectic stock; and a regular series of "Poetry Information" interview evenings in which Eric Mottram publicly documented alternative poetries. Some of these interviews were later broadcast on BBC radio or were published in Peter Hodgkiss's invaluable magazine Poetry Information (which also, until its demise in 1980, published checklists and catalogues of small press publishing activities as well as reviews and essays on little-known writers). Under Mottram's editorship Poetry Review published work by well-established and by new or little-known writers, as well as by a number of American poets whose work was hard to come by in Britain, such as Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, George Oppen and Gary Snyder.
Eric Mottram

Eric Mottram
Herne Hill, 6 June 1979. Photo © Peterjon Skelt, 1979, 1998

    The Arts Council, meanwhile, attempted to exercise control over the Poetry Society and to oust Mottram from his editorship. Many poets resigned from the General Council in protest in 1977, and the Association of Little Presses (through Bob Cobbing and Bill Griffiths) in 1977 and 1978 documented that the Arts Council was now turning down funding applications from poets and presses associated with the Poetry Society during these years. Mottram's and Cobbing's activities in these years had enormous impact upon the possibilities open to young writers; their effect upon many of the poets included in this book is inestimable. Equally inestimable, perhaps, is Mottram's effect as Lecturer (subsequently Reader, and Professor of American Literature) at King's College, University of London, where he taught from 1971 to 1990, influencing generations of London poets such as Bill Griffiths, Ken Edwards, Allen Fisher, and Robert Sheppard. As lecturer and critic Mottram indefatigably introduced an English audience to work by neglected modernist British and more-or-less unknown contemporary American writers: Basil Bunting, Roy Fisher, David Jones, Gael Turnbull; Robert Creeley, Edward Dorn, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, and Louis Zukofsky among others. He also tirelessly furthered the work of emerging English contemporaries such as Colin Simms, Tom Pickard and Barry MacSweeney, and actively supported many little magazines like Talus, founded and edited by students and colleagues at King's College. It is worth remarking that many of those who worked with Mottram in London also attended Bob Cobbing's workshops: for all their self-evident differences the work of these two major source-figures clearly complemented each other.
    So, in a rather different way, did that of J.H.Prynne, from his position in Cambridge: the spell he cast upon his contemporaries and subsequent generations of readers and writers bears what is now understood to be a "Cambridge" flavour (though the boundaries are notoriously hard to draw). In the 1960s Prynne was the centre of a group of young writers in Cambridge (including Andrew Crozier, Veronica Forrest-Thomson, John James, Wendy Mulford, John Riley and Peter Riley) who shared awareness of contemporary American and European poets. During this decade and into the 1970s a flurry of little magazines appeared from this group, including The English Intelligencer (edited by Crozier and Prynne), Grosseteste Review (Tim Longville and John Riley), Outburst (Tom Raworth), and Resuscitator (John James). Since the 1960s Prynne has in addition had an enduring and powerful effect as teacher (Rod Mengham and Tony Lopez among others) and presenter of non-English language poetries, and has in both formal and informal ways been a focus for an extraordinarily active and changing group of writers living not only in Cambridge but also overseas.


 
 

J. H. Prynne. "[Review of] Charles Olson, Maximus Poems IV, V, VI." The Park, 4/5 (Summer 1969): 64-66

    In the 1960s Prynne's own special interests were in contemporary German poetry - on which he is a considerable authority - and the work of Black Mountain poets, especially Charles Olson, about whose Maximus Poems IV, V, VI he wrote an important early review essay, published in Crozier's magazine The Park [note 16]. In the late 1960s he undertook an extensive reading tour of Canada and the United States with Edward Dorn, who was at that time working at the University of Essex, and his own poetry at the end of the 1960s - collected in The White Stones (1969) - takes up the challenge Black Mountain poetics offered. Dorn's essay What I See in the Maximus Poems, published as a pamphlet by Gael Turnbull's Migrant press in 1960, along with Prynne's own review of Olson's long poem in process, emphasized the necessity, as Robert Sheppard has put it, to withdraw from the oppositional politics of the 1960s in order to ground individual consciousness in the concreteness of immediate experience, and offered a strategy whereby poets might slough off the abstractions of a thoughtless and unfeeling because conventional humanist ideology of a political nation and a notional British identity.
    The great attraction of Olson's poetics was, first, its insistence (following perhaps the lead of Thoreau) that intelligence is inseparable from the whole range of immediate, physical, bodily perception; second, that the mind pay close attention to the perceptual rather than the conceptual field (or, as William Carlos Williams put it for an earlier generation of American poets, to what lies under the nose) and third - as corollary - that the immediacies of local history and geography (beginning with the body, even) are the only source and ground of knowledge, action, and use. This attack upon conventional and unconscious ideologies which Prynne, Mottram, Cobbing and others saw as vitiating an enervated post-war British culture played its part in freeing British writers, as it freed Olson, into a species of improvisational poetics in which "ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION" (Edward Dahlberg's words, adopted by Olson) [note 17].

Charles Olson. "Projective Verse." Selected Writings (New York: New Directions, 1966), 17

    At the same time, Olson's own preoccupations with the historical origins of a twentieth-century malaise led him - and poets like Allen Fisher in his long serial poem of the 1970s, Place, and Prynne in The White Stones - to the detailed and passionate investigation (often in notational form) of local history and geography, taking as starting point Heraclitus's pre-Socratic dictum, "Man is estranged from that with which he is most familiar," and to the development of a language which is an action upon the real rather than a discourse of abstractions (taxonomies, idealizations) about it. In Fisher's and Prynne's hands, a principal task of the poem is to disrupt reader's automatic responses to language by making language itself the source of experience in the poem. The concomitant disruptions relocate politics within everyday experience.
    Overall, such work opened up the possibility of an open poetry of exploration and even interrogation characterized by a play of possible meanings, rather than by the enunciation of a meaning forwarded by thesis, and initiated the gradual formulation of meaning as a construction of the reader's rather than of the writer's. This is the antithesis of the "mainstream" poem principle demonstrated earlier. Under no circumstances can the poem be considered the small-scale artifact, crafted according to the precepts of an abstract idealized perfection. With such a possibility, a deeply ethical concern becomes a necessity. In Allen Fisher's case, the poem is developed through recourse to procedures and systems in which material (and meaning) is generated by apparently random methods; the boundaries of the poem itself are fluid, since a single section might be part of more than one work, and the numbered parts of the poem might themselves be read in any order. Fisher is seeking a form which readers can enter at any point, and in which they can move, draw connections, find correspondences and contradictions, as their own experience of the text makes possible - it is not necessary, that is to say, to have a complete text, for the poem itself is continually changing and is largely without bounds. In 1975 by his own count Fisher was involved in thirty-four projects, including collages, found texts, mail art, dream poems, experiments in music and art, as well as performance; by 1995 his published works (pamphlets, books, tapes and records) numbered over one hundred - an output perhaps paralleled by Bob Cobbing's enormous production of sound and visual concrete poetry.
    By around 1970 these differing forces appeared to have attained a brief homogeneity under the unlikely tag of "underground" poetry, as exemplified in Michael Horovitz's anthology Children of Albion: Poetry of the "Underground" in Britain (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), and in a visible surge of middle-sized presses run by poets such as Fulcrum (Stuart Montgomery), Migrant (Turnbull), Goliard (Tom Raworth), Trigram (Asa Benveniste) and Ferry (Andrew Crozier) which ensured some accessibility of texts. Poetry reading venues had sprung up around the country, at once ensuring that poets had some visibility, and that part of the poetic "push" (in writers as different as Harwood and Turnbull, for instance) was oral, within a tradition of voiced poetry. It is no accident that one of the most prominent reading venues of the time was the Morden Tower in Newcastle, founded by Connie and Tom Pickard under the ægis of Basil Bunting, and fusing the emerging "Other" British poets with a stream of visiting Americans. Although such prominence was (a) short-lived and (b) more apparent than actual, it did establish reference-points for subsequent development: a number of the "younger" poets included here had their introductions to poetry at this time. Although the presses fell prey to economics and personal circumstance, and the alliances (implied more in anthologists' tags than in reality) dissolved as the individuals developed, a new reader coming to "non-mainstream" British poetry in the early 1970s could find reference-points to relate to.


Ten British Poets (Peterborough: Spectacular Diseases, 1993); Conductors of Chaos: A Poetry Anthology. Iain Sinclair, ed. (London: Picador, 1996). There were three titles in the "Re/Active Anthology" series edited by Sinclair (London: Paladin, 1992-3)

    Such reference points shift, of course, over time - witness such collections as Ten British Poets, Iain Sinclair's three short-lived "Re/Active Anthologies" and his subsequent collection Conductors of Chaos [note 18]. The poetry we have gathered in this book is exploratory and developmental, presented over a developmental period, and can seldom be tied to a rigid poetic: a poem from the early part of the period may not work in the same way as a more recent one. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s more elements were being added to the basic "mix" and existing associations of voices were separating out, to be heard individually. The United Kingdom's ethnic diversity already referred to began at this stage to produce rich poetries loaded with overt criticism of dominant white culture, and making innovative use of dub and rap traditions in ways which others were quick to appreciate and absorb. The experimental legacy of sixties art movements such as Fluxus began to be felt in a number of the more openly experimental writers, and as the 1980s moved into the 1990s so-called Language Poetry began to enrich the mix. Locality, as we have seen, became an issue in Allen Fisher's work, and in others such as Chris Torrance, Jeremy Hilton, Iain Sinclair and Barry MacSweeney. And from the interplays of, for instance, Bob Cobbing's sound poetry and Linton Kwesi Johnson's work, emerged a renewed interest in performance, in sounded poetry, which can perhaps be traced back to Bunting (Maggie O'Sullivan traces her own concerns in that way). This element is, of course, lost in a printed collection, and we can only wait for the CD companion volume to this anthology to complete the picture - but as these threads multiply and grow stronger we can only affirm that the oral tradition of poetry, proclaimed repeatedly by Bunting, has become a poetic fact of today.
    While it is true that "Cambridge" and "London" poets seem to have an evolving but identifiable "flavour", it is equally true that demographic, economic and political shifts over the quarter-century since 1970 have spurred great diversity, and a model could be drawn up which sought to group writers along geographical, racial, class, or gender lines. Spread across the territory, and with deeply individual and local concerns, the poets included here nevertheless connect with each other as much as the range of communications available to them allow. So a writer like Gilonis not only maintains close connections with Colin Simms in Northumbria, but also with Ian Hamilton Finlay in Dumfries, and Dublin poets such as Mills, Walsh and Scully as well as with his fellow London poets; Denise Riley has pursued quite close connections with New York poets; Maggie O'Sullivan has collaborated with the radical New York poet Bruce Andrews to produce quite astonishing and indeed utterly distinct work. Increasing mobility, combined with increasing ease of communication, has not, then, made for increased uniformity or for standardization, but has probably enhanced individuation and difference.
    Yet they have all been vociferous in their support of the regional and the local, and their hatred of academic smugness, middle-class comfort and working class narrowness has made them hungry for news and completely unafraid to turn to unorthodox sources. Billy Mills is not in the least unrepresentative in that his first publication was "On Reading Lorine Niedecker," an impressive short early piece which was written "against the grain" at a time when Niedecker's work was still virtually obscured in Britain and Ireland, and got at that element of unfamiliarity in her work which makes her work so fresh and energetic.


 

Veronica Forrest-Thomson.
Poetic Artifice: A Theory of Twentieth-Century Poetry (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1978), xi

    The urgency with which the poets of the Other have sought to defamiliarise, as Veronica Forrest Thomson put it questioning "the way in which we make sense of things" by challenging "ordinary linguistic orderings of the world," [note 19] has left them perhaps in a marginalized situation. But it is worth remarking that such a position is not wholly inhibiting: some writers have indeed courted the marginal precisely because, despite the sense of isolation it might cost, a lack of attention can mean a lack of interference, and a concomitant freedom to experiment. Writers have - because of their neglect - been able to develop resourceful and remarkable work over a long period of time, reaching significant achievements otherwise perhaps not available to them. Reading each otherís work, they have found open to them formal, stylistic and practical resources of publication and performance not otherwise available to them, and have at the same time, perhaps through their oppositional stance, found a kinship and reciprocal support which has energized and refined their work.
    Also, in their resistance to the normative discourses of the established mainstream, they have found an important confirmation of their own diversity. In more or less oblique terms, all the writers in this book are exploring the relationships between the dominant and the dominated; each seeks to challenge the system of binaries by means of which installed power structures hierarchise the world and lay claim to particular territories both real and metaphoric. Deeply committed to the ethical position they take as poets committed to their art as a means of investigation, in the process more often than not redefining the resources of their art, they have learned to heed the American poet Bruce Andrews's maxim, "more art and less culture." It is a reader's, as much as a writer's task to achieve that. It is a process which will open one's ears to those voices we might otherwise miss: Scully or Selerie, Zephaniah, Johnson or Walsh - or indeed any of these poets, or the many others we would have liked to include.

Maggie O'Sullivan.
"To the Reader." Out of Everywhere: Linguistically Innovative Poetry by Women in North America & the UK. Maggie O'Sullivan, ed. (London: Reality Street, 1996), 10

    Finally, if any further justification is required for this anthology, we suggest that it lies in the quality and excitement of the poets gathered: like Maggie O'Sullivan in her introduction to her groundbreaking anthology Out Of Everywhere, we "passionately hope that this collection... will inspire you to further seek their work" [note 20] and map out the diverse territories described for yourselves.

Copyright © 1997
Richard Caddel and Peter Quartermain

 

Ric Caddel et alia

[ left to right ] Connie Pickard, Richard Caddel, Gael Turnbull
Morden Tower, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1975, photo © David James 1998

RICHARD CADDEL (above) is a Director of the Basil Bunting Poetry Centre, University of Durham, editor of Pig Press, author of three collections of poetry including Larksong Signal (1997), and editor of Basil Bunting: Complete Poems (1994).
 
Peter Quartermain
Peter Quartermain
photo © Meredith Quartermain 1998

PETER QUARTERMAIN (left) is Professor of English, University of British Columbia, author of Disjunctive Poetics: From Gertrude Stein and Louis Zukofsky to Susan Howe (1992) and Basil Bunting: Poet of the North (1990), and editor of Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Poets, 1880≠1945 (1986).


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