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   Jacket 31 — October 2006        link Jacket 31 Contents page        link Jacket Homepage

Robert Sheppard reviews

Poetry Wars: British Poetry of the 1970s and the Battle of Earls Court
by Peter Barry

(Cambridge: Salt, 2006) EAN13: 9781844712472 / ISBN-10: 1844712478 / ISBN-13: 9781844712472 / 276pp

This review is about 10 printed pages long.

Poets Behaving Badly

I wonder how this book reads to others, to people who weren’t, like me, distant witnesses to its events, and who aren’t, like me, writing a poetry which is heir to the radical poetics outlined here, or involved in acts of scholarship that constellate around the events chronicled. How excited could someone who wasn’t born in 1977 become about the internecine struggles of factions of poets at the under-funded Poetry Society in Earls Court, London, and about this detailed account of a group of radicals’ failure to capitalise on their fortuitous entryism?

Doubtless, at the level of generality, lessons may be learned: the need in ‘political’ struggles for strategy, discipline and solidarity, against the predisposition in human affairs for tactical error, ill-discipline and schism.

Book Cover

At times Peter Barry’s exquisitely researched ‘event history’ has the air of one of those TV documentaries where talking head politicians of opposing parties calmly tell the ‘truth’ years later — here largely due to vivid correspondence uncovered in the Eric Mottram archive (housed at King’s College, University of London, where Mottram was Professor of American Literature). At other times it is more like a political history that infers actions from documentary evidence, largely the drier minutes of Poetry Society meetings, held in the archives of the Arts Council of Great Britain, the body that I was brought up by my poetic tribe to believe was the irredeemable villain of the piece. (It still is — but not the sole villain. Iain Sinclair — in his inimitable blurb for the volume — suggests it is ‘a warning to future poets. Never mix with bureaucrats. Destroy your correspondence. And count your fingers after shaking hands with the Arts Council.’)

The reason it matters — which Peter Barry doesn’t make explicit, though his close scrutiny and attention to detail implies it — is that many of the poets involved in the organisation at the time were the most important poets writing within the remit of the ‘British Poetry Revival’, to use Mottram’s term for the flowering of British modernism between 1965 and — it’s that year again — 1977. Members of the General Council included Germanist and visual poet Jeremy Adler, expatriate American poet Asa Benveniste, performance writer and musician cris cheek, major international concrete and sound poet Bob Cobbing, poet, novelist and biographer Elaine Feinstein, Welsh performance poet Peter Finch, polymath experimentalist Allen Fisher, major poet Roy Fisher, Anglo-Saxon scholar and poet Bill Griffiths, poet and translator Harry Guest, post-New York British poet and translator of Tristan Tzara Lee Harwood, popular Liverpool poet and painter Adrian Henri, poet and pioneering head of BBC poetry George MacBeth, radical poet and journalist Barry MacSweeney, poet, performance artist, actor, painter, cartoonist, musician and chronicler of the 1960s Jeff Nuttall, the only representative of the ‘Cambridge’ grouping of poets to be caught up in the events Ian Patterson, post-Objectivist heir to Basil Bunting Tom Pickard, poet and social worker Elaine Randell, the much admired poet Ken Smith, and the poet, artist and performer Lawrence Upton, who, like many of the participants, was also a small press publisher. Nearly all of them find their way into literary critical accounts of the period, such as Andrew Duncan’s The Failure of Conservatism in British Poetry, my own The Poetry of Saying, or The New British Poetries: The Scope of the Possible, which Barry himself edited with Robert Hampson. Many of the are still active. Important publishers of the period Peter Hodgkiss (Poetry Information and Galloping Dog Press), Stuart Montgomery (the seminal Fulcrum), Ian Robinson (the long running Oasis), and Anthony Rudolf (the eclectic Menard Press), the last three also writers, were elected. All of these appear in the standard histories of small presses, like Wolfgang Gortschacher’s Little Magazine Profiles. Mottram himself was a brief member of the Council, but resigned only in order to edit Poetry Review, the society’s journal in 1971.

During my PhD viva in 1987 I had a sticky moment with my external examiner, the very same Professor Eric Mottram, when — discussing my account of British Poetry which largely dealt with the poetic work of General Council members Roy Fisher and Lee Harwood — he paused over my introductory remark about the events of a decade before at the Poetry Society. I’d ventured to suggest: ‘Accounts vary.’ ‘They don’t vary!’ snorted Mottram, demonstrating an energy and belligerence that is both attractive and repugnant, and which Barry (a former student) captures well in his chapter ‘Eric Mottram as Critic, Teacher, Editor’, which also reminds us how shamefully little of Mottram’s work remains in the public domain.

Mottram was wrong. The accounts did vary. Barry, eschewing the myths and legends of the tribe, uses documentary evidence to tell the story as straight as he can. Despite this I predict the accounts will continue to vary, though future variations will have to register their differences with Barry’s minute chronicle.

The basic story can be told briefly (I hope). The poets and activists I listed above, one by one, but not all at the same time, from about 1970, constituted parts of the General Council of the Poetry Society, which was elected to house a National Poetry Centre at the crumbling premises in Earls Court, by the Arts Council which funded it. The ‘radicals’ (this is Barry’s reluctant term) set up a series of radical readings and lectures on radical poetry (the latter get little mention in Barry’s account) at the building, opened up a print shop for poets to print their own work, and turned Poetry Review, a long-running but moribund magazine, over to Mottram, eventually printing the editions themselves in the print room. They published the important Poetry Information magazine too. The building also housed the National Poetry Secretariat, a professional body which subsidised poetry readings nationally, crucially important for organisers outside of the capital, whether Ric Cadell in Durham or myself in Norwich.

The ‘takeover’, which is what it was — textbook entryism — angered both disgruntled members of the General Council and the Arts Council itself and after a coup by those members (which failed), the Arts Council, headed by Charles Osborne, sought to obtain control of the Poetry Society by commissioning a report that Osborne hoped (or ensured) would guarantee Arts Council scrutiny and a measure of ‘control’, relatively mild instruments of accountability by today’s standards, but stinking of ‘censorship’ and ‘interference’ as far as the radicals were concerned. At the same time (sometimes hilarious) letters of complaint were received about Poetry Review, from ordinary members understandably unable to understand the radical work! That a leaf through its pages reveals many now revered or canonised poets (from Ashbery and Oppen through to Harwood and Allen Fisher) doesn’t diminish the shock of this material for its first readers.

Mottram and Osborne are presented as the gladiatorial poles of the contest by Barry, both men ‘temperamentally inclined to a certain intellectual arrogance and impatience’. (Barry p 3; all future references to Barry as page numbers in the text.) But the equally ferocious presence of Bob Cobbing at the Poetry Society — he was officially Treasurer at one time — was crucial to nearly all aspects from the printing of magazines to running experimental workshops. Lawrence Cotterell (who was one of the unsung heroes who tried to keep the Society together), described Cobbing with startling perspicacity. ‘I believe him to be absolutely sincere and, like Robespierre, a sea-green incorruptible. On the other hand, he is capable of a considerable Machiavellianism to gain ends which he truly considers best for poetry and the poets and the poetry lovers.’ (p. 80) Here is the master manipulator of the strings for the greater good, one might think, but there is little evidence that he achieved a lasting effect (in this particular context).

It ended abruptly. The Witt Report commissioned by Osborne was rejected by the ‘radicals’ on 26 March 1977 and they walked out to operate ineffective boycotts against the Society and to instigate deep recriminations against those who stayed (for a while) like Lee Harwood, who explained his position in a letter to Mottram: ‘As a trade unionist I’ve never believed in resignation as a useful political weapon — it always seems best to work from inside an organisation… ’ (p. 94)

‘What the Arts Council’s investigating team had failed to achieve in months I accomplished in seconds,’ boasts Osborne of the fateful meeting when the avalanche of resignations was triggered by chairman Jeff Nuttall. ‘They marched out of the room, and I asked the Secretary to be certain to record their resignations in the minutes, for fear they should come to what senses they possessed and march back in again. But they didn’t return. Was ever a victory so inadvertently achieved?’ (p. 99)

This was the worst ‘strategic error’ of the radicals, because their moral high ground was an invisible Parnassus, invincible through its own detachment, although the boycott gained some publicity for their cause, but enough to make the dispute news that stayed news, as every resigning politician knows. (p. 172) I will return to the longer view. Barry lists other ‘errors’ of immediate strategy.

‘The decision not to have reviews and discussion in Poetry Review’, and to hive poetics, articles, interviews, reviews and annotated listings to the otherwise excellent Poetry Information, meant that radical work was not contextualised. (p. 172) The lack of discussion of poetics by poets of the British Poetry Revival (which is partly why I think poets emerging later than 1977 deserve different critical nomenclature) was countered singlehandedly by Eric Mottram’s public interviews — the in-house Poetry Information evenings that christened Hodgkiss’s magazine — and it is interesting to imagine what the effect on the audience and pundits of excerpts from Lee Harwood’s ‘Long Black Veil’ might have had alongside the interview Mottram conducted with him if they had appeared in the same magazine. ‘The decision to print the magazine on the premises when inadequate technical facilities and experience meant that a shabby-looking product was inevitable’ points not only to the heroic efforts of Cobbing, Griffiths and cheek — 2000 copies of a 60 page magazine is no mean feat — but to an important failure of perspective. Poetry Review had a large list of extant subscribers, who were bound to be upset by the contents and the format; but contrary to rumours, the magazine continued to sell well. (p. 172) The homemade ethos that dominated Cobbing’s Writers Forum, and which ensured that cheap and neat publications presented new radical work, was not appropriate to a mass-circulation magazine introducing such work to a new audience. (Admittedly, low funding was a factor.)

‘The exclusion of unsympathetic groups’ and ‘the reluctance … to make the print-shop facilities available to poets beyond a narrow circle of like-minded radicals’ was a recipe for resentment that would inevitably backfire, but it was emblematic of the refusal on the parts of the radicals to countenance their work as part of a possible plural poetry scene, which might have emerged if they had behaved differently. (p. 172)

‘The alienating of the paid staff of the Society’ was foolish, since they ran the successful National Poetry Secretariat and cleaned up after the admittedly untidy poets (nearly all men). (p. 172) ‘The housekeeper does her best to keep it clean, but it is an impossible task for her… . The kitchen is full of unwashed beer glasses. The counters by the sink are used to store pages of Poetry Review,’ one observer noted. (p. 166) To this might be added the mistake of the unruliness of the poets’ behaviour within meetings, which was observed, and also recorded, by various Arts Council ‘spies’: ‘Bob Cobbing proposed prefix “Ms” be abandoned; this provoked Eddie Linden to bawl an obscenity at Mr Cobbing.’ (p. 92) It’s not an edifying sight to see one’s literary heroes behaving like this; neither is it surprising.

(A political defence can be made for expelling certain groups, though. Barry hints that the ‘Poetry Round’ members were extreme right wingers. In one of my two visits to the Poetry Society I innocently attended what must have been one of these meetings and heard a member read a ‘National Socialist’ poem, so it is no wonder that — as Barry records — Barry MacSweeney kept up his opposition to them to the end. These were the years of the Anti-Nazi League in Britain, operating against a small but significant National Front.)

Even after decades the minutes of the meetings that Barry quotes from — implying bellicose ignoring of the protocols or boorishly obstinate adherence to procedure, open insults, closed accounts, accusations of hands in tills, a show of hands for poetic and summary justice — still suggest the chaos of those crowded rooms, smoke-filled and fragrant with the hop and vine.

This atmosphere was detected early, by Roy Fisher, who served on the Council between 1973-1976, and who wrote his poem ‘Sets’ between 11 September 1973 and 5 January 1974, a period when the internal conservatives were already trying to dislodge Mottram as editor of Poetry Review. At a reading I organised around 1980 — using National Poetry Secretariat funds, incidentally — Fisher made it explicit to the audience that he was thinking about the ‘paranoia’ at the Poetry Society when he noted:

If you take a poem
you must take another
and another
till you have a poet.

And if you take a poet
you’ll take another, and so on,
till finally you get
a civilization: or just
the dirtiest brawl you ever saw —
the choice isn’t yours. (p 106)

Clearly the poem, which can be read as a wry comment on the vagaries of canon formation, has wider import than the affairs at Earls Court, but in its limited context, it implies that the ‘choice’ is (or was) the poets’. Uniquely this was true at the Poetry Society in those years — and they blew it.

One of the revelations of Barry’s book is that he unearths private discussion about the civic responsibility of radical artists, quite rare in the public discourse of those times. (And we must thank Eric Mottram for not destroying his correspondence, as Iain Sinclair recommends.) Roger Guedalla, the Treasurer who did not join the walk out, can be found musing on the resignations in heightened political terms that echo Harwood’s comments above. He also berates the radicals for ‘hav(ing) handed the Society back to the most reactionary elements’. (p. 109). He name-checks all of the British socialist factions of the late 1970s (themselves not the best role models for the poetic radicals, of course, with their doctrinal schisms), and boldly declares, of his involvement in the Poetry Society: ‘I have always seen it as a political struggle, and thus as a question of tactics and organisation. I have taken it all very seriously but have been constantly reduced to being forced to make puerile gestures to prove that I am more radical than somebody else.’ (p. 109-110).

Curiously Mottram can be read stating similar views to Guedalla and Harwood; as a socialist, he ponders ‘how to survive in a capitalist society. Defeat is a defeat for any alternative,’ he notes, and decides that he must ‘try to form the new within the shell of the old.’ (p. 108). He writes this to calm an Allen Fisher desperate to boycott every manifestation of the Arts Council and its funding regimes. At the same time Mottram claims that to take any Arts Council money is to be tainted by the establishment, to become ‘a permitted avant-gardist — i.e., a freak or jester’. (p 112) If accounts varied, they varied within Mottram too. What we witness here is the boycotters and the ostracised trading the same entryist rhetoric to one another, while they yet maintained barriers between them that lasted decades. Barry notes that Mottram’s academic post shielded him from the dependency that other players had on the Arts Council’s shilling.

None of this disorganisation is any less defensible for the fact that the resignations may have been pre-planned in order to found a rival journal to Poetry Review, since these plans came to nothing. In the end, I think, it came down to how much a person could take. As Barry MacSweeney wrote to Mottram, as early as 22 March 1977, announcing that he would be resigning as chair: ‘I’ve done too much compromising and my skull won’t take any more.’ (p 96) Guedalla regrets adopting ‘puerile gestures’ of a placebo radicalism that, as Barry puts it, ‘was often anarchic and provocative, rather than Socialistic and disciplined, or, at least, tactics were not co-ordinated, wavered in an erratic way between the two extremes’. (p. 110) That seems to me the definitive judgement.

I’ve already noted the paucity of poetics in the British Poetry Revival and it is good that Barry supplies an excellent literary critical chapter entitled ‘The “British Poetry Revival” — Some Characteristics’ — which I do not propose to discuss here — as well as recovering one vital document, of almost poetics, which I had not seen before: ‘The Manifesto of the Poetry Society (1976)’. I say ‘almost poetics’, because I have always regarded manifestos as too dogmatic for the essentially speculative nature of poetics (as I have defined it, elsewhere) but there are some surprises here. (I think I detect the voice of the then chair, Jeff Nuttall, who tabled them, in some of the declarations, recalling the tone of his essential memoir of the equally shambolic 1960s, Bomb Culture.)

The 12 numbered paragraphs of the manifesto argue for the primacy of ‘creative imagination’, and poetry is defined as such; indeed, all forms of visionary art should be the concern of the society. (p. 202) Contemporary forms of writing will be necessarily innovative in both form and content, and may involve syntactic innovation. Communicative decorum may likewise be jettisoned, and poetry is recognised not as a National phenomenon but as an ‘international and trans-lingual’ one. (p. 203) While the study of the poetry of past was endorsed, it should guide the search for contemporary innovation, and traditional form (metrics) was rejected (though in a slightly ambiguous formulation).

Poetry was granted a direct social function, while it was declared ‘free of existing ideologies and dogma’. While this seems contradictory, it is not if read in the political light of a near-contemporary work, Marcuse’s The Aesthetic Dimension, in which its author states: ‘The autonomy of art contains the categorical imperative: “things must change”.’ (Herbert Marcuse, The Aesthetic Dimension (London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1978, p. 13)

The Poetry Society was to combine ‘printing, bookshop, performance, and library’ but to privilege the first two. Its role was to ‘inform the Nation of the unprecedentedly large number of poets now working in Britain’ in innovative forms.

(The odd man out — the point least concerned with poetics — was the minatory declaration ‘that poets and critics should not be impeded by their loyalties to various clubs, cliques and groups whose formation and raison d’etre have nothing to do with poetry’, which I quote in full because I am not sure whether this was a stab at the ‘Poetry Round’ forum, or the result of one of the conservative Council members dampening the Council’s radicalism. (p. 203))

Nevertheless, it is extraordinary to think this document was voted on and approved on September 11 1976 (but not made public until released by Poets Conference, the poetry trade union, in 1977). Reading it today (30 years and 1 day after its adoption) it still resonates and its optimistic utopianism still hurts.

It is precisely the impetus to ‘inform the Nation’ that was forfeited by the mass resignations six months later. What if something like this document had been visible in the year of its writing and open to wide critical scrutiny and debate? It may not have been the equivalent of the Imagist Manifesto, but what if it had received even a proportion of the attention lavished on its illustrious forebear? Barry is acid about the legacy of the central ‘event’ of his ‘history’. He wonders what the self-excluded talked about at the pub later — I would guess, their new magazine — and whether they were aware that they were inaugurating ‘at least a decade and a half of total cultural exclusion’ and ‘years of self-financing, of getting by’. ( p. 116-117) His description of poets in the years that followed reading to small audiences in dingy rooms approaches the grunge-epiphany that Iain Sinclair reserves for these occasions (both in his innovative fiction and in curatorial contexts such as his introduction to his 1996 anthology Conductors of Chaos.). I have criticised Sinclair elsewhere for the inaccuracy of his fabulous accounts and their abdication of poetics, and it is a shame to see Barry quoting him and impersonating the rhetoric.

Without wanting to repeat materials available elsewhere, the devastation of those years — Allen Fisher writes in the mid eighties of ‘a period of entrenchment and awe … speaking in a considerably small room’ — was genuine and lasting. (Allen Fisher, Necessary Business: London, Spanner, 1985, p. 163) But it also enabled the development of what Gilbert Adair called ‘linguistically innovative poetry’, which he unwittingly christened in the March 1988 edition of Pages (not an online magazine in those days as Barry states!), noting that British poetry had been ‘operating since 1977’ ‘in fragmentation and incoherence’.(‘Dear Robert’, Pages 65-72) 1988 saw also the publication of the anthology The New British Poetry.

In my analysis, linguistically innovative poetry (which, unlike Barry, I separate from Mottram’s ‘British Poetry Revival’) evolved in those years, particularly through the London Sub Voicive reading series. (See Chapter 6, ‘Linguistically Innovative Poetry 1978-2000’, of my The Poetry of Saying, and the relevant parts of my ‘History of the Other’ posted on my blogzine, Pages, at Barry acknowledges some of this, and quotes cris cheek on the activities in these smaller rooms (though the home meetings I organised in South London were in Tooting, not Peckham as cheek says!). I have to stress this, because it is the supportive context in which my own poetry and (shared) poetics developed.

I even had my own entryist moment of reviewing for the London-based political journal New Statesman in the mid-1980s. Mottram warned me it wouldn’t last, all this repressive tolerance. In fact, he was right. Fortunately, younger writers and those not connected to London (particularly those associated with Cambridge) did not experience the Poetry Society ‘event’ as a missed opportunity (though they might now, reading Barry’s book). I remember saying to Bob Cobbing, something like: ‘Oh well, it stopped the poetry becoming institutionalised!’ He grunted non-committally.

Robert Hampson, in his ‘Preface’ to Barry’s book muses, ‘Perhaps no other strategy was possible at the time.’ (p. xv) But Barry’s book gives me pause for speculative thought. If the radicals had found a way to capitalise on their entryism, and ‘hung on in there’ as the logic of entryism dictates, might they not have fulfilled (at least part of) their mission statement of ‘informing the Nation’ about this difficult poetry, given the visibility they had? Perhaps then, instead of organising a talking shop in my front room, I might have been chairing a roundtable discussion on poetics on BBC Radio 3? Or staged at the Bob Cobbing Foundation for Advanced Poetics? A look at other (particularly continental European) cultures suggests this sort of thing in not pure fantasy. ‘How come you lot are still the avant-garde?’ my Head of Department asked me the other day. I think he would enjoy Barry’s book, and then be able to answer his own question: ‘Because the radicals walked out of the Poetry Society in March 1977.’

The problems with the kind of event history model that Barry has adopted — rather than a Bourdieuean reading, say — is that it places a great deal of emphasis on the pivotal event over general social movements. It is comforting to imagine that everything might have been different if one thing hadn’t happened or had happened differently. It’s even the succour of the Trotskyites, after all, the master entryists. But, despite this, I can’t help thinking literary history would have been different, possibly very different, and this is why Poetry Wars is not only important to the revaluation of the poetry of the 1970s, but of the decades that followed, and to the state of British poetry today.

However, I disagree with Barry’s contention that ‘the “BPR” group possessed the typical avant-garde distrust of publication to a high degree’, although there is some evidence for this. (p. 185) I think he misses the aesthetic innovations possible through small press publication — Cobbing’s Writers Forum is central here — and he misses a little of the excitement that is generated through avant-garde exclusivity, which was certainly generative of fresh poetics in the years that followed 1977; again Bourdieu’s sense of how such groupings work internally might have tempered his externalising view. He quotes too much from Sinclair, with his sensationalist rhetoric, on the elective outsider status of the British Poetry Revival poet, though Sinclair offers little evidence for this. Barry relies too much on the later polemicising of Eric Mottram, with its self-righteous exilic tone, as though this were authoritative.

One of the characteristics of the anthology Floating Capital: New Poets from London which I edited with Adrian Clarke in 1991, was its deliberate sidelining of Mottram in favour of newer critical perspectives receptive to American language poetry.(Only at the end of his life — he died in 1995 — did Mottram become receptive to this material.) When, in 1987, John Muckle revealed to me his plans for the big press anthology that became The New British Poetry, it was with the explicit purpose of widening the franchise. At other times one kept things going: 50 copies here, 100 copies there. And even tatty upstairs rooms above pubs have their charms as well as their drawbacks as poetry reading venues. But one cannot help thinking that whatever was brewing in 1988 should have happened a decade before.

I’ve never been convinced by Barry’s notion (also expressed in his other excellent book, Contemporary British Poetry and the City) that the mainstream that emerged (unopposed, as it were) as British Poetry in the 1980s was so receptive to postmodernism that its tenets overlap with those of the British Poetry Revival (as expressed in the Poetry Society manifesto, say). There will always be some overlap, of course, but I think he reads too much into the rhetoric of the introduction to Andrew Motion and Blake Morrison’s 1982 anthology The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry with its postmodernist gloss and pays too little attention to the texture of the verse. What ‘overlap’ could there be between Douglas Dunn’s meditative ‘Remembering Lunch’ and Allen Fisher’s aggressively fragmented ‘Banda’? Dunn dreams away a literary afternoon:

The angry poets look towards London as to a sea of restaurants,
Cursing the overpriced establishments of where they live
And the small scatter of the like-minded not on speaking terms. (p. 60)

Fisher is alert to the multifariousness of the city, through collage and creative linkage:

Took chances in London traffic
where the culture breaks
tone colours burn from exhaustion
emphasised by wind,
looking ahead for sudden tail lights
a vehicle changes
lanes into your path and birds,
over the rail bridge, seem purple. (Gravity, Salt, 2005, p. 3)

Barry also pays little attention to what one of those Penguin editors says elsewhere. In his article ‘Young Poets of the 1970s’, published in 1980, Blake Morrison does acknowledge the editorial work of Mottram, but concludes ‘There is little sign yet of an important new poet emerging form under his wing: alongside Mottram’s polemical theorizing — poetry as revolution and poetry as research — the poems themselves look wan.’ (In eds. Jones and Schmdit, British Poetry Since 1970, p. 145) It is testimony to the Poetry Society years that this survey even registers such work, but it does not look as though Morrison would have been receptive to its continued visibility if the radicals hadn’t walked out. It would have been a harder fight than Barry supposes. But who knows? There might have been a fight. The issue will always be not how ‘we’ see ‘them’, but how such commentators see us, as the hegemonic commentators, the only power capable of granting what Bourdieu calls ‘consecration’.

Andrew Motion, on the other hand, mellowing Poet Laureate, provides the almost-consecratory Foreword to Barry’s book, a rather surprising and disingenuous piece that claims ‘One measure of Mottram’s success lies around us today — in the comparatively well-tempered acceptance that we live in a culture of poetries, not in one world dominated by an Establishment.’ (p. xii) As I argue in The Poetry of Saying the chorus of democratic poeticality that seems to dominate several fin de siècle British anthologies promotes a broad church that includes everybody but the ‘radicals’ and their heirs (See pp. 138-139). I hope Motion’s words prove true, since there is one exception of the new century to point to, Keith Tuma’s Oxford Anthology of Twentieth Century British and Irish Poetry (2001). One can only hope that, with the Laureate leading the chorus this time, a true plurality will emerge, albeit retrospectively for those radical poets of the 1970s who — yes, I have to say it — fucked it up for the rest of us.

Robert Sheppard — September 12/13, 2006

Robert  Sheppard

In a Russian restaurant in Riga, Robert Sheppard says no.

Robert Sheppard’s most recent critical volume is The Poetry of Saying: British Poetry and Its Discontents (Liverpool University Press, 2005), and his most recent book of poems is Hymns to the God my Typewriter Believes In (Stride, 2006). Forthcoming books are his Iain Sinclair (Writers and their Works) and Complete Twentieth Century Blues (Salt), the latter the time-based project written between 1989-2000, already sampled in such volumes as Empty Diaries (Stride, 1998) and The Lores (Reality Street, 2003). His work is anthologised in Other (1999) and Keith Tuma’s Oxford Anthology of British and Irish Poetry (2001). His is the editor of the ‘blogzine’ Pages, which can be found at He is Professor of Poetry and Poetics at Edge Hill University, Lancashire, UK.
    You can read a section of ‘Twentieth Century Blues’ in Jacket 9, and Robert Sheppard’s notes on that poem in the same issue.

Peter Barry

Peter Barry

Peter Barry is Professor of English at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. He is Reviews and Poetry Editor of English (the journal of the English Association). In the 1970s he was a member of ‘Alembic Poets’ (with Ken Edwards and Robert Hampson), and his previous work on contemporary poetry includes New British Poetries: the Scope of the Possible (co-edited with Robert Hampson, 1993, Manchester U. P.) and Contemporary British Poetry and the City (2000, Manchester U.P.).