Wednesday, 26 August 2009

map of 7-volume work on modern British poetry

Map of the Affluence work

Note. This is an overall description of 'Affluence, Welfare and Fine Words', a history of British poetry (in English) 1960-97. For a list of publication data, see other postings (keyword 'affluence') on this blog.
It began in 1992 and stopped, more or less, in 2009. I had to draw a line in 1997 in order to complete the project.

1. The Failure of Conservatism

Every new poet who arrives believes that the landscape has changed with their arrival, yet a weighty sector of opinion believes that nothing ever changes and that there is no need to adopt any innovations arriving since 1955. I try to get behind this foreground noise, working back to what vanished, and to establish what the sequence of stylistic change was. Such a simple notion, to look at the texts and their dates and establish what changed over a forty-year period. This knowledge might be seen as merely forensic, the expertise in evaluating verbal objects which someone who works with them daily as part of a trade acquires unconsciously. Yet the possibility of dating texts, or of dating the formative moment of the poet who wrote them, is significant because it clashes with the conservative idea of English poetry, that nothing has changed in fifty years - and so that there were no innovations to celebrate and nothing is out of date. If stylistic dating attaches a verbal work to a horizon which is not simply a date but the context of people and rules by which the gestures and symbols can be interpreted, then the unpopularity of modern poetry might be explicable in terms of poets failing to find a horizon and, in particular, wishing to deny that the culture had shifted and that writing in the style of a previous generation was not good common sense.
In the texts, I identify 34 traits which by changing track the movement of conventions during the period. As a composite of indicators, they allow us to determine who is innovative during the period and who isn’t. The title of the book refers to the failure of attempts to create new poetry in the style of the past: even though the nation is profoundly conservative in culture, even though so many people are busy teaching pre-20th C poetry all day, manifold attempts at a restoration or re-enactment of past styles have proved unsuccessful, and at best a compromise between historicist pastiche and modern means has proved workable. Perhaps the solution is to re-invent this conservatism on a more thoroughgoing basis, or perhaps it is to accept that we are contemporary with the modern.

This story focuses mainly on the elite of innovators, who have the smallest element of passive repetition of the art of the past and who have the technical ability to channel speculation and wish into the concrete verbal form of poems. These are also the poets who were refused a place in history by conservative critics.

Poetry appreciation is more than just one person liking blond hair and one liking black hair. The conjunction of hundreds, even thousands, of associations works because of imitation: you acquire the symbols/values in sympathy, because you work out what the other person is saying, and later you slide into that position. This is a linguistic skill, and it is part of being good at language. It means that poems do not rely on random effects or on arbitrary preferences. Without shared norms poetry would slide into an ocean of the arbitrary and the obscure, something much vaster than the island of meaning. The value of a single time is that it supplies a set of public norms. The whole set allows the reader to share the experience of the poem - the unity of reader and writer. The poem has to use the language the reader knows, has to align itself with a series of shared experiences which because of their serial nature imply succession and variation in time. A poem which is based on a flawed sense of historical time will miss the reader and lead to an experience full of broken expectations. The sense of time is quite fundamental. Yet, time may not be the right word. In an age of mass cultural participation, there may be several different clusters of sensibility which co-exist in the same year and which yet have inner coherence - a harmony between reader and writer.
If time changes only in the eyes of an elite of initiates then it may be a secret time and forced to co-exist with other scales of time - other poetries, other speech networks sustaining meaning and symbols. Perhaps a symbol works on one side of a room, the usual metropolitan bar, and fails to work on the other side. Perhaps the conscious innovators live in a world of reflexive awareness which cuts them off from another world of limited knowledge, which changes more slowly, more hesitantly, and following a different time plan.
I think FCon gave poets a test which they could fail, and poets staggered through it wondering if they would fail or not. This was in line with what I expected of a work of cultural criticism. I used to find that kind of thing very stimulating when I was young. If you don’t have an artistic ideal you are never going to rise very high. However, people obviously found this kind of self-searching stressful. In later books I gave up the violent confrontation between modern-style poetry and conservative poetry, and gave up drawing conclusions about why bad or mediocre poetry was that way.


poets discussed: Charles Tomlinson, Philip Larkin, Edwin Morgan, Christopher Middleton, Peter Redgrove, Rosemary Tonks, Geoffrey Hill, George MacBeth, J.H. Prynne, Ken Smith, Isobel Thrilling, John Ash, David Harsent, Penelope Shuttle, Jeffrey Wainwright, John Seed, Jeremy Reed, Alison Brackenbury, Kelvin Corcoran, W.N. Herbert, Ian Duhig, John Goodby, Walter Perrie, Christopher Salvesen, TS Law, David Craig, Emyr Humphreys, Kenneth White, John James, B. Catling, Ulli Freer
(published by Salt Publications)

There is now a second edition which is about 50% new material. The rewrite was in 2016 (and the original was finished in about 1995). It loses Tomlinson, Larkin, and Hill because the chapter in the 1950s has been scrapped. But, see "The long 1950s", below. It adds George Mackay Brown.

2. Legends of the Warring Clans: The poetry scene in the 90s

No thesis, this is just a collection of reviews of books coming out in the 90s.
It only covers the 'underground' area (broadly speaking) as that is where I was dwelling at the time. It was issued on the Internet in about 2002. (see www.pinko.org  ). The issue of changes in the Mainstream or official poetry during that period is picked up in 'The Long 1950s'.
The introduction says among other things "A central sociolinguistic gesture in poetry is diminishing reality; there is wanting a verb whose meaning is 'I diminish your reality', 'I write off what you are about to say'. This is called 'blanking' in social contact: you say 'hello' to someone who then ignores you. Of course selective attention is a weak phrase, all attention is this. One source is inherited class strife; middle class people wrote off those of low income (also of low education, and low status), and working class people wrote off middle class people out of revenge and solidarity with their families. 'Not reading' and 'misreading' are local skills, people walk around with de-perceptual equipment, 80% of the social spectrum suppressed, as if by a high-tech glass. Non-listening sulks, tantrums, and walk-outs are absolutely standard in the poetry world, as common as amplified attention; dissimilation as violent as assimilation; people are still sulking about things that happened twenty years ago, or fifty. What we call personality could be an array of repressions, a unique signature of blocks dissecting an originally intact and common signal."
"I was touched by RL Mégroz's complaint, in his excellent 1934 book on modern British poetry, that poetry publication had by now reached such a spate that no-one could keep up with it. (It is upsetting how few elements of the contemporary scene really can't be found described in Mégroz.) Faced with some 2,000 poetry publications in a single year, my treatment is rigorously selective—in other words, indulgently exclusive. I have obeyed my own enthusiasms throughout, and where I get bored, I stop. Accusations about representing the official version will only evoke a sardonic sneer from me, since I wrote almost the whole book while on Income Support. The small circulation of almost all of those books points to a multitude of very precisely defined, elusive, markets."
"This anxiety gives rise to an inadequate grasp of theorising, and so of generating hypotheses which are the necessary forerunners, through experimentation, of new styles. British people feel that taking important decisions for themselves is a kind of treachery against central authority. A longing to share in impersonal authority blinds people to the generative powers of language— the 'sorcery, perfidy, and artifice' slumbering within it: the absence of style is taken as veracity. Almost everything we know is the result of conjecture; a precious few poets have taken the risks to become original."



**
chapter list
Reportage on launch of Conductors of Chaos (22nd June 1996)
Reading at Plymouth May 1997
Field Trip to Glasgow July 97
Out of Everywhere, edited by Maggie O'Sullivan
The poetic right-wing: Oxford; Mainstream postmodernism (Muldoon, Fenton, and Motion); Christian poets: (Hill; Thrilling)
Born in the 60s, part 1: Soft Metal; part 2, avant-garde neoclassicism (DS Marriott, Simon Smith); part 3, reviews (David Rushmer, sand writings; Nicholas Johnson, David Greenslade, Tim Atkins, Tim Allen, Andy Brown, Helen Macdonald)
Real space and virtual space; the volume that sound fills (discusses Norman Jope)
The critique of language and everyday life: Peter Finch, antibodies; Tony Lopez, Stress Management; Kelvin Corcoran, Lyric Lyric; Purple and Green; Two Women Dancing, by Elisabeth Bartlett
The pursuit of eunomia: David Barnett, All the Year Round; RF Langley, Twelve Poems; Four Poems, Michael Haslam; The Mummery Preserver, Vittoria Vaughan
The Talking Dead (Peter Riley, Distant Points; Steve Sneyd, In Holds of Earthen Coil; Kerry Sowerby, The Resuscitators; Elisabeth Bletsoe, Portraits of the Artist's Sister)
House of the Shaman, Maggie O'Sullivan; essay on shamanism
The Book of Demons, Barry MacSweeney
Rhymes with Hayworth: Tom Raworth
Allen Fisher and the School of London (Fisher; Robert Sheppard)
The tyranny of distance: essay on poetry and the Internet
(on the internet at http://www.pinko.org/  )


3. Centre and Periphery in Modern British Poetry

Whereas FCon dealt with stylistic changes in time, CP deals with a similar distribution over space. We identify a clear polarity between the cultural centre, with its higher access to publishing, fashions, and publicity, and the periphery, which tends to come second in any race. This less favoured position encourages the rejection of assets which they have insecure access to, and the development of assets which complement those of the centre by being polarised against them. We try to locate continuous traditions which would capture local values, and find that although discontinuity is the condition of these secondary traditions there are also rich cultural records in the North of England, in Wales, and in the formerly Gaelic part of Scotland, which repay attention and help to frame individual poets from those areas. We discuss the centre as well, recounting the critiques of the 'cultural Iron Triangle' of Oxford, Cambridge, and London articulated by intellectuals of the periphery, but relating these to the mainstream and its comfortingly low artistic standards, while pointing out that there is a more reflexive and intellectual tradition in the 'iron triangle' and that this has produced talent in great abundance. The work of Denise Riley is described as an example of major poetry written by a philosopher and undistracted by the communalist line.


chapters
Foreword
Part 1 the spatial distribution of cultural assets
Crisis and subversion
Small-scale politics and decentralisation
Theory of cultural space
Assets of the Centre: Courtly Poetry
The Georgian Revolt

Part 2 Poetry of the north-western periphery
The North
Assets of the Centre: Deceit and doubt
Cumulative and declining Celticity
Conclusion: the sound of confusion

poets discussed: Denise Riley, Lynette Roberts, Idris Davies, Glyn Jones, Roland Mathias, Joseph Macleod, Iain Crichton Smith, Sorley MacLean, George Campbell Hay, Wilfred Gibson, Derick Thomson, Colin Simms, Michael Haslam, John James
plus incidental mention of James Kirkup and J Redwood Anderson
(published by Liverpool University Press)
There is now a second edition from Shearsman Books.

4. Origins of the Underground


This sets out from a historical puzzle: was there an occult link between the 1940s New Romantics, who were closed down by the Movement, and the 'underground' which emerged in the 1960s very much in opposition to the Movement? It proceeds to pull at a number of loose threads and recover moments from the history of the marginalised. It also offers reports from the front line of psychoceramics - the scientific study of crackpots.
The subtitle is: British poetry between apocryphon and incident light, 1932-77. It is apocryphon because it is like ancient holy texts which were hidden and then brought into the light of day (kruptos, apokruptos); incident light is what falls on the revealed texts, naturally, but also refers to the documentary movement and its attempt to recover the visible without staging and studio lighting, a project so important to the poetry of the time.
In the introduction, 1-9, we gloomily describe the problem and quote a lot of poems to show that the occluded is worth de-occluding. On pages 9-23, we look at the exclusion of the 1940s New Romantics, around 1950, as a possible analogy to the exit from the mainstream in the 1960s. On pp.51-55, we go on to look at self-critical, reflexive poets of the 1940s. On pages 56-78 we look at the school which produced A Various Art, and consider possible influences from the 1930s (Objectivism) and 1940s (Charles Madge). We return to further discussion of neo-Objectivism, now with a more informed view of the cult of objectivity. We look on pp.24-30 at the ideal of precision in 20 C poetry as influenced by photography. Following the theme of photography, and capture of new channels of data, we look on pp.40-50 at the history of the information filling poetry, a dialectic pattern whereby an excess of inflowing data led to changes in the structure of the poem. On pp.82-97 we go backwards to look at British State propaganda between the wars, as a set of myths, ruthlessly repeated, which constituted what poets retreated from. We are depressed to see how far it created the school of British documentary, with its appearance of being truthful and left-wing. Puzzled at what other ideas get into poetry than official ones, we discuss the history of ideas in poetry - a very cautious courtship followed by an unrecognizable transformation. On pp.123-63 we consider the New Romantic school of the 1940s - a contraction of the radius of interest to the body, a rejection of documentary knowledge, world news, group propaganda, and precision, in favour of intuition and personal myth. Unfortunately, we have already seen that the A Various Art school was based on reflexivity and interrogation of visible light – an inheritance of themes just cannot be. The New Romantics were anarchist and pacifist. On pp. 170-85, we look at the haunted New Romantic figure of David Gascoyne, ending up in the 1980s with the occultist magazine Temenos, edited by another 40s poet, Kathleen Raine. So perhaps the offspring of the 1940s are not the school of Prynne but the New Age. Intrigued, we move on to look, pp.187-97, at Iain Sinclair, who is in A Various Art but writes mainly about deluded New Age figures; and, pp.198-206, at the New Age and Counter Culture, social-political movements which may be the poles of attraction which drew poets away from the mainstream and the High Street, and which want to found a new knowledge in special states of awareness. Anarchism? pacifism? distrust of machines? is this a return of the New Romantic 1940s? At pp.207-18 we take a trip back to the 1920s to reveal the origins of the Counter Culture in certain intellectual currents, largely derived from Symbolism, which influenced the New Romantics and only later gave rise to the New Age. On pp.219-224 we look at the Scottish end of New Romanticism and at avant-garde folk music. On pp.225-43 we move back to the 1970s to examine the struggle between Left and Right in the Labour Party as the source of embitterment which poisoned relations between mainstream and underground factions in poetry, the mutual contempt of pragmatists and idealists. On pp. 244-55, we look at the idea of autogestion, a society with totally decentralised power, as an inspiration for poetry which hyperassociates at every step – the loose joints. We dredge up a link between the 40s radicalism of Asger Jorn and the high-riding Situationism of May 68 (he founded it). We belatedly recover a genuine link between the 40s and a sector of modern experimental poetry. And are disappointed to find it's over.

Poets discussed: Basil Bunting, Richard Aldington, Francis Berry, Kathleen Raine, Terence Tiller, George Barker, Charles Madge, David Gascoyne, JF Hendry, Dunstan Thompson, Roy Fisher, David Chaloner, Jeff Nuttall, Andrew Crozier, Iain Sinclair, John Hall, Anthony Barnett, Ralph Hawkins, Martin Thom, Walter Perrie
(published by Salt Publications)

5. The Council of Heresy

The introduction starts with incomprehension and promises to solve it by explaining procedures, by explaining unshared ideas, by discussing malice and polarisation. It says that obscurity is poetic heresy but also that the idea of a Council is to sift and condemn false claims about talented poets - which are also heresies.

I was trying to reduce all this to a single line, but to be honest it never came down to less than two or three main foci. We could call it a ‘thematic polygon’. The foci are: the concept of ‘balkanisation’ as a necessary sequel to the rise of lifestyle choice in the wider society; a plea for depolarisation; the problem of cultural managers as agents of change without being primarily poets, and of the ethics of power; a primer of the avant garde, which is the site of most incomprehension; extensive description of other ‘unshared hinterlands’ to reduce misunderstanding again; the implications of the ‘balkanised’ state of culture; and Neoplatonism as a background and as a possible source for the avant garde.
The poets discussed, as usual, do not fit together. They are remarkably diverse. Persistently, we dredge texts up out of the mere ocean of forms and lay them on the shore where their true anatomy is exposed in the dry air and the crystalline light.

Was not G.R.S. Mead right, already in 1913, to compare the modern situation with the landscape of cults of the Late Empire? If you look at the cults (in the East Mediterranean, in the Late Empire, so about 2nd C AD) you find things extremely like sound poetry and visual poetry. We have to ask why that is, and the answer takes us down the road less travelled. The fragmentation permits endless creativity, while denying all creation the advantage of a public. With difficulty, we insist that the avant garde is not an offshoot of occultism. If an ideology is the product of a society, can an artist develop a new ideology without destroying the basis of the art and creating something self-referential and airless? But our society is culturally balkanised, it has refracted into hundreds of styles.
‘Emptiness, the infinite, and the spiral; or, Henry Corbin, Kathleen Raine, and Eric Mottram’ discusses the work of a certain French student of Islamic heresies and why his work is drawn on both by Raine and Mottram, apparently completely incompatible figures; and ‘Two Leaders of Heresies’ discusses these two further as leaders of tendencies; exploring how unusual intellectual ideas lead to unusual poetry; the ‘underground’ is not the only kind of deeply heretical poetry. We give information helpful to understanding what Raine and Mottram, as poets, were really saying. The focus on leadership and the creators of ideology gets us away from individual poets and texts, perhaps towards ‘the structure of the field’. With equal horror and awe we ask how the 20th C regime of poetry, in which everything links to everything else by invisible resonance, and genre rules or explicit propositions are abandoned, connects to the Neo-Platonist vision of the universe as governed by the transmission of invisible patterns that just need lenses. Would not an avant garde thrive, in the absence of a market to nourish it, in the protective embrace of cults, whose programmed departure from a shared reality allows a conscious development of language and symbols?

We pursue depolarisation through a discussion of Anthony Thwaite. The use of a poet as a token in a fiery debate is impolite, and I apologise. However, a brief and selective consideration of Thwaite’s work uncovers a ‘personal landscape’, roughly of Roman North Africa, which gives rise to a fund of private symbols and which amounts to a projected world which has visible similarities to the worlds also identified for Kathleen Raine (cults from the Syria-Egypt region in the Late Empire), Logue (Bronze Age Troy), and Mottram (cults again). This originality grants Thwaite’s poetry its depth (noting that there are numerous books of his which cover quite other psychological material) even though he has not launched into linguistic experiment to recover the private symbols. I suggest that there were poets who had made debuts in the 1950s, but had found the poetic conditions of the time restrictive and unsatisfactory, and who flourished in the liberal period, say 1960-80. That is, as highly gifted mainstream writers.

At the end of the book are ‘pages from a Balkan gazetteer’, a minimal kind of orthodoxy where we try to site a hundred or so individual poets within an overall cultural field, and where we define basic terms. The classification is meant to be acceptable to all, the minimum of shared knowledge from which a public debate could set out.

Poets discussed in the main text: Kathleen Raine, Christopher Logue, Asa Benveniste, Anthony Thwaite, Eric Mottram, Tom Raworth, Barry MacSweeney, Robert Hampson, Maggie O'Sullivan, Adrian Clarke, Tony Lopez, Kelvin Corcoran, DS Marriott, Helen Macdonald

(published by Shearsman Books)

6. The Long 1950s

The main push here is to revisit the generalisations about the mainstream made in FCon and to recover good poets from within the conventional realm. The subtitle could be "a history of the mainstream". (In fact, the book only gives moments from that history, moments of clarity we hope.) A specific style-historical claim is made that 'the long 1950s' came to an end in the 1980s and a new standard for the mainstream was set which resolved most of the problems of the previous version and which was ludic, hedonistic, and open to fantasy. There was a sub-theme about the value of moralist poets. Picking up a remark by Sean O'Brien, I was interested in the artistically positive aspects of the poets who had developed in the 1950s and who applied firm moral standards to the events they described. Thus, Logue and Hill were publishing the most significant books in about 1996 to 2006, a fact which could hardly be ignored.
This one was likely to cause outrage among the population of the Underground. But they like being outraged.
This one was essentially outside the design of ‘Affluence’. After finishing ‘Heresy’ I was still interested in the mainstream and I was searching systematically for good m-stream poets. This led me into a re-consideration of the nature of stylistic change in my period.
There were four foci: the recreation of 50s culture, the investigation of poets who could write about moral judgements, the end of the ‘long 1950s’ in the 1980s and the sequels of that, and the nature of ‘amateur’ poetry, something which wasn’t involved in the theoretical flights of the highly literary but which nonetheless was subject to history.
The interest in 50s culture was not necessary to study of the period 1960-97. It was just something I felt emotionally drawn to.
In FCon I dealt with the rapid stylistic changes belonging to a certain tier of poets who have the agility and audacity to translate theory directly into poems. If we get away from that we find a realm of much slower change. This might in fact be hard to detect. However, long-term comparisons, such as between the condition of 1955 and the condition of 1995, would lure these slower changes out into daylight and in doing so would give us a view of the history of the amateur poets, of the conventions which affect the entire poetry-writing population and not just the few poets freed from restraint by a dexterity of technique. This then is where we get the notion of the long 1950s and of a change of the central set of stylistic rules in the 1980s - a phase of liberation which is missed in FCon.


poets discussed:
Roy Fuller, John Holloway, Edwin Morgan, Peter Levi, Peter Abbs, Emyr Humphreys, Christopher Logue, Brian Jones, Judith Kazantzis, Pauline Stainer, Jeremy Reed, Jo Shapcott, Jamie McKendrick, Robert Saxton, Alice Oswald, John Stammers
WJ Gruffydd, Rhydwen Williams, James Kitchener Davies

(published by Shearsman Books)

7. Fulfilling the Silent Rules

This was written in response to a tender which wanted a self-contained book about modern British poetry. I figured the main point was the extraordinary range of poetry being written, so I did a design with 80 pieces on individual volumes. I had great trouble getting the list down from 120. This went along with chapters on syntax, on metre, on 'coherence', on the Long Poem; and chapters with a Thesis which described exceptionalism as the key to the poetic ambition of the period, and simultaneity as a particular effect which a large number of poets wanted in order to get away from simply being seen to carry out a preset programme. A study of grouping looks at the inclusions of 15 anthologies on the presupposition that the lines of mutual exclusion might reveal the underlying divisions of poetic space. This sample, touching 450 poets, allows a tentative identification of nine different poetic factions or clusters, (two of which are not found in the anthologies), and we suggest that the story might be better told if it tracked the nine clusters separately.

A set of generalisations says among other things “The classification system leads directly to the notion of a collection - where the owner does not wish two copies of any object and is on the look-out for sorts which he/she does not yet own. This leads us into a demonic and beautiful world of differentiation - where poets reflexively modify their style, creating something unique because it is artificial. The sense of a classification system of poets - shared by a community of reflexive poets and interested connoisseurs - points the way to acquisition of a unique proprietary niche in the historic form series. This may appear to other observers as a great refusal - being located by a massive compilation of negative instructions which tell you where you must not go. If one poet writes work n, the second poet must avoid n. Where a thousand poets have written, the set of what must be avoided is {n1 + n2 + n3 … n1000}. This is a large set, and the space which is outside it is specialised indeed. But there you must go, outside the focal dislike, if you sign on to the reflexive project. It is demonic because the series it conjures up are so huge and because the solutions it draws the victim towards are so extreme and exotic.”
The book was originally written in 2002-3 but I tinkered with the list of poets included subsequently.

poets discussed: James Berry, Euros Bowen, Paul Holman, Grace Lake, Penelope Shuttle, Sean Bonney, Adrian Clarke, David Dabydeen, Peter Didsbury, Jane Draycott & Lesley Saunders, Jeff Hilson, Kathleen Nott, Allen Fisher, Iain Sinclair
Ted Hughes, Alexander Hutchison, Mimi Khalvati, Pauline Stainer,
Frank Kuppner, RF.Langley, Tom Lowenstein, Helen Macdonald, Peter Manson, Brian Marley, D.S. Marriott, Roland Mathias, Kevin Nolan, F.T. Prince, Kathleen Raine, Alan Ross, Colin Simms, Sacheverell Sitwell, Martin Thom, Philip Toynbee, Karlien van den Beukel, Vittoria Vaughan, David Wevill, John Hartley Williams, Michael Haslam, Rosemary Tonks, Michael Ayres, Ian Hamilton Finlay, JF Hendry, Denise Riley, John Ash, George Mackay Brown, Geoffrey Hill, J.H. Prynne, Peter Redgrove, Robert Crawford, D.M.Black, David Jones, Gavin Selerie, Tim Atkins, Elisabeth Bletsoe, George Barker, Francis Berry, David Chaloner, Deryn Rees-Jones, Vicki Feaver, Judith Kazantzis, Hilary Llewellyn-Williams. Menna Elfyn, Nigel Wheale, Walter Perrie

(to be published by Shearsman in 2018)
***
Dropping standards slightly, I am going to mention some work outside the "core" of Affluence. The design of the books just didn't allow everything of significance to be included, but I have now put much of the excluded material on the Internet - either here or at www.pinko.org. Labels should take you to the material on this site, but for Pinko you may have to scratch around a bit. You may well ask, if it's important why isn't it in the books? No answer. There are probably 20 poets who should have been in the work but aren't. On this site: see details at catalogue-of-this-site :
Dunstan Thompson
'Sexuality and the body' posting (includes Jeff Nuttall, Ruth Pitter, Barry MacSweeney, Robert Conquest)
David Wevill
Stephen Spender
posting on "The Long Poem of the 1970s" includes Ken Smith, MacSweeney, Allen Fisher, Tony Lopez, Andrew Crozier
'Shopping update' contains notes on Giles Goodland, Philip Jenkins, John Burnside, Paul Gogarty, Gerard Casey, Harry Guest, Dan Lane, David Kennedy, Harry Gilonis and Tony Baker, Tom Rawling, Ian Bamforth
Elsewhere, notes on: Eric Mottram
Audrey Beecham
Dorothy Wellesley
Richard Aldington
Paul Brown
Tony Conran
Kathleen Nott


On www.pinko.org:
John Seed
Robert Sheppard
Gavin Selerie
Chris Bendon
WS Graham
Essay on Scottish poets: Alexander Hutchison; Robert Crawford; Frank Kuppner; Robert Garioch; Douglas Young; Ian Hamilton Finlay; Alastair Mackie; Sidney Goodsir Smith; Norman MacCaig
"review of Faber anthology" includes pieces on George Mackay Brown, Edwin Morgan, DM Black
Essay on “Christian poetry” includes David Jones, CH Sisson, Kathleen Raine, and Peter Abbs.

details on past issues of Angel Exhaust

These are some back issues of Angel Exhaust. Issues 15-23 still available from 165 Coppice Road, Nottingham, Notts NG5 7GX




flier for AE 20, 2009

Angel Exhaust 20 ‘You just rang Anne Widecombe?’– out now

material whose polished
surface becomes you
its character and interpretation
an exact technology
of tribal celebration
nut-brown warp thread
gold and indigo weave

you speak a tongue made
fluent by its origin
sensitised to the composition
of tectonic plates
(David Chaloner, from Void Heaven)

Awesome new poetry by John Kinsella, Kelvin Corcoran, Jeff Hilson, DS Marriott, John Goodby, David Chaloner, Jesse Glass, Rita Dahl, Jason Wilkinson, Michael Haslam, Charles Bainbridge, Chris Brownsword, Colin Simms, Out To Lunch, Carrie Etter. 144 pp.

PLUS the results of a survey where contemporary poets explain what’s wrong with the poetry scene. A fearless analytical exposé of the moral gutter where the sleaze flows night and day. We toss those bastards into the big wok of repentance. We rake the muck and rack the mopes. It’s twilight for the deep pigs.


Q So are you going to put an end to all this nonsense in poetry? To abstract ideas, subjectivity, experiment, modernity, complicated technique, radical politics, all those up in the air things which the ordinary housewife doesn’t understand?
A Essentially, no.

In an intense options auction conducted by satellite, Charles Bainbridge and Andrew Duncan won control of the “Charles Bainbridge” and “Andrew Duncan” contracts and so Angel Exhaust is still being run by the original editors applying the same artistic policy based on beauty and tranquillity. The only magazine which has used three five-year silences to improve the structure of the literary field. Buy Angel Exhaust and say goodbye to those sub-prime cultural investments.


Price: £7.00 including postage. Address: 21 Querneby Road, Nottingham, Notts NG3 5JA. Cheques payable to ‘Andrew Duncan’ please.

This issue is being published late as a tribute to Britney Spears. The missing years “are part of the magnitude of what I’ve become.”



details of past issues of Angel Exhaust

flier for Angel Exhaust 14, 1994: Hit the North - Poetry in the North of England



For the housewives, the workers, the peasants, and the intellectuals. For the squatters and the musicians in coloured clothing.
Poetry by John Hartley Williams, Chris Bendon, Simon Smith, Robert Sheppard, Richard Makin, Ricardo Lagares, Khaled Hakim, Maurice Scully, Blair Ewing, Eva Okwonga, David Bircumshaw, Robert Sheppard, John Goodby, Nicholas Johnson, Stephen Rodefer, David Barnett, David Greenslade, Kelvin Corcoran, and Karlien van den Beukel.
The early traditions of English poetry, whether courtly or bourgeois, were concentrated in the south because the north lacked equivalent social formations; mediaeval civilisation was sustained by the richer nobles, but land tenure and climatic rigour produced a different social structure in the north, less hierarchical, and less moneyed. What happened in the privileged core of Europe had little bearing on the militarized, autarkic, and marginal uplands. In the absence of written poetry the oral tradition proved much more tenacious in the north; where the arrival of a new industrial civilisation found no echo in the existing literary culture, oriented towards agrarian scenes or fashionable towns. Pride and revolt were animated by the suspicion that fine discriminations of culture have to do with a highly stratified society where individuals strive to signal tiny social attainments, as if verbal complexity served to display both deference and cultural assets. The explosion of northern poetry after 1960 came with new institutions and cultural centres, the geography of the country changed and became decentralised. The figures of John Riley, Colin Simms, John Seed, Barry MacSweeney, and Ian Duhig have been carefully chosen as waymarkers in the development of a culture, through industrial crisis, political gagging, and intellectual experiment. Objectivism reflects a distrust of the verbal code itself by dissolving its constituents away. The modern northern poet responds to a crisis of mediations by exploring the pre-verbal and the process by which artistic equivalents are found for the primary data in which we are immersed.



flier for AE 18

ANGEL EXHAUST 18: HEX INHAUSTION DUX
Available 4th June 2005

Contains 120 pages of poems by: Nigel Wheale Peter Philpott Kevin Nolan
David Bircumshaw Carolyn Ducker Paul Simmonds Michael Krebs
Jesse Glass Elisabeth Bletsoe David Barnett Karlien van den Beukel
John Seed Out To Lunch Niall Quinn Chris McCabe
Ralph Hawkins Simon Smith Charles Bainbridge Tim Atkins
David Chaloner Gig Ryan Wayne Clements Gavin Selerie


Thanks to the contributors, this is a landmark issue and exhibits the best of contemporary poetry in a setting which is sympathetic to it.

You can order it direct from the magazine for £7.50 including postage and packing. Edited by Charles Bainbridge and Andrew Duncan.

We follow the New Line of serenity and depolarisation freed from factional heats
after pulling out of the archaic siege works moving out towards the pristine
visiting the deposits of research and techniques cafe of sociability and good company
dissolve the bonds of loyalty and territoriality hear the long spans of beautiful sound
a partially stabilised column of air rich with l and z sounds


Prisoners at 9 on the flight-deck, Der Rosenkavalier
burning through mid-heaven unweaving Destiny
(Transit) and State (Navigation). You follow on
in wolf-toned sectors of the reflux. Escaping predators
don't get the drift (and when is drift not an Apology
for Heroic Poetry, anyway?) And what did they want,
besides, the Semnae, the Oneida, the Morlock, never
even blinking when we reappeared? The whole
is not a part, even flying apart, even flying over Kansas.
The satellites pale, tail-lights on the ship
wink steadily, so lucent in the dawn
The wings will burn, leak plasma, wax and
honey; the hostages will wave us past, and we
will rise.…

And it was later that week (sub rosa with the fuselage
bent) the Captain took me under her wing:
'Before you shoot the dog' she breathed 'make
sure you know its master'.

(from “Owed to the Centaurs”, by Kevin Nolan)



flier for AE 19, 2006



ANGEL EXHAUST NINETEEN: INVEST IN YOUR ARCH-ENEMY
*pronounce: devastate your Aunt Jeremy

available now

poetry by:

Joseph Macleod Adrian Clarke Alison Croggon
Kevin Nolan Peter Philpott Peter Manson
Chris Brownsword Paul Holman Jesse Glass
Kelvin Corcoran Philip Jenkins Brian Hardie
David Chaloner Wayne Clements John Muckle
Giles Goodland Ralph Hawkins
Colin Simms Harry Gilonis
Andrew Duncan Marianne Morris Elizabeth James

Editors: Charles Bainbridge Andrew Duncan

Methan Beerlight, postmodern viral marketing consultant, talks to Manly Bannister, Angel Exhaust's Head of Ideology, about product conformance issues for AE 19.
Methan: So why is there no blurb?
Manly: We favour calm and serenity. Our contributors look on public image as like having a 13-year old version of yourself following you around talking egocentric nonsense.
Methan: Why did the last issue take 6 years to produce?
Manly: We had trouble finding a cafe to meet in.
Methan: Why is it called Invest in your arch-enemy?
Manly: We believe the unity of the poetry world is more important than quarrels about fine points of verse regulation. If you can't kill your neighbours, you have to intermarry with them.
Methan: Did you call for the government to withdraw grants from magazines which published reviews not totally favourable to the poets you publish?
Manly: No, that was someone else.
Methan: Why is it called Devastate your Aunt Jeremy?
Manly: It was a misunderstanding between the two editors.
Methan: Could we just describe the individual poets?
Manly: Let me go as far as I can. Corcoran is like Corcoran. Glass is like Glass. Holman is like Holman. Holman is more like Holman than like Morris. Poets like Philpott and Nolan are too overwhelming and intricate to be described in a few words.
Methan: I've never heard of them.
Manly: Maybe you should read Angel Exhaust.







jacket text for AE 17, Colonies of belief: Ireland's Modernists; edited by John Goodby and Maurice Scully (1999)

The problem of a British poetry which is critical rather than communalist, traditional, and sentimental are well known to anyone informed enough to reach this book jacket. Withdrawing from the cosy fug of inherited symbolic forms appears cold; gambling on unpredictability makes the reader sincere and anxious. Independence in Ireland removed the biggest antagonism from politics, but as a social and cultural revolution it led to the "carnival of reaction" Connolly foresaw on both sides of the Border. Rigid censorship and an 'Irish Ireland" ideology which blended ethnic purity with Victorian repressiveness put Irish art in the deep-freeze between 1930 and 1960; despite their support for independence and Catholicism, the heirs of Joyce in Éire were excluded by an imposed "tradition" of saccharine shamrock Georgianism. A fantasy of rural Gaelic purity underwrote the rhetoric of politicians and ideologues like Daniel Corkery in the years from the death of Collins to the stepping-down of De Valera in 1958 ("the devil’s era" of Finnegans Wake), country was turned against town, and the literary opposition took satirical and realist form. Experimentalism was forced abroad - Italy, Paris, the USA, England - until the belated and breakneck industrialisation of the 1960s. Since then, the pattern of long silences, lack of presses and journals, and general exclusion has been repeated, although things are changing now with a new press, journal, and critical recognition (centred on University College Cork) emerging. We are fortunate to have engineered a link with this growing energy and attention: although completeness is not on offer, there are essays making up an unprecedentedly full survey of Irish poetic modernism, from the WWI veteran Thomas MacGreevy, to the thirties generation of Brian Coffey, Denis Devlin, Sheila Wingfield, and Mary O'Neill, to Eugene Watters in the 1950s and early 1960s, the 1960s/70s New Writers' Press poets Trevor Joyce and Geoffrey Squires, and a poet from the latest generation, Randolph Healy. An anthology of poetry, selected by Maurice Scully, offers work by Healy and others of the most recent group. Everyone has been too polite to bring up their objections to traditionalist poetry, why cosy conviviality can so well dispense with poetry and stick to beer and chat, why some people are not overwhelmed with delight at poems which infallibly recall days in primary school and songs there committed to memory, why the constant re-enactment of the past leads to the atrophy of memory and of hope, why freedom and solidarity are not interchangeable. No one mentions the opportunities which a generous and convivial literary world offers to brutal managerial types propagating teleological myths and suppressing anything that doesn't fit into the breech of their cultural carbines.


£4 including postage. not sure any copies are still available.



OLDER ISSUES
Issue 8: The Blood-soaked Royston Perimeter; a confrontation of the London and Cambridge Schools
Issue Nine: anthology of new poets
Issue Ten: Screed Heid
Issue Eleven: Art-Politics, or, dream date with John Wieners
Documents of the Culture Dreamed of: Angel Exhaust Twelve AUTUMN, 1995: Special Issue on Cambridge Poetry
Issue Thirteen: Massive Transfers from Rich to Poor—Poetry and Socialism
Issue 15 Bizarre Crimes of the Future AVAILABLE
issue 16: From the Heroic Life of Bohemia AVAILABLE



Saturday, 15 August 2009

Death Cult and Dog Star

(Note. This is based on part of the material for ‘Origins’, and was expanded for a talk at Cambridge. I can’t remember the details. 2003? Origins was published in 2008, after many years. )


Death Cult and Dog Star




This talk starts with the prevalence of long poems in the 1970s. I made a list of 50 significant long poems published and written in that decade, see Long poems. A lot of them came out as A4 stapled photocopies - the long poem strained the capacity of a trade adjusted to magazines, anthologies, and short books. The current which swept poets away from the market, and into these uncharted waters, must have been strong. The long poem is a vote against the common stock of knowledge. It allows the poet to seize the context. It allows the construction of a whole new space, with its own rules. We are curious whether the modern and newly permitted poetic material was about intellectual ideas, or about personal myth. If it has to do with ideas, necessarily unfamiliar if new, then we can see it as the tip of a kind of cone; few people read it because it belongs in an area of high uncertainty, and the writing helps to acquire this new territory for the common stock of knowledge. One can explicate such poetry by clear exposition of the uncommon, print-mediated, ideas which they draw on. But if the precious wares of poetry are personal myth, the atmosphere is much less austere, the benefits more subjective, and the small size of the audience has to do with the fission of a possessive individualist society, and the aftermath of the collapse of a set of shared myths. This variant does not oblige poets and readers of poetry to be intellectuals - the price of entry is something different.

The formula for the 1970s was, crudely, to imagine the surface of society to be blasted away, the top thousand metres or so broken off to shows something deeper, which was the raw material for a New Society. The interest was not in the deep past for its own sake, but in the nature of the raw material out of which the new society was to be constructed. This 'deep' study was parallel to the exploration of a new consciousness and new social arrangements, which was too new at that time but has become more substantial since.

Richard Aldington published a major poem in 1935, which is a pioneering effort to bring archaeology and anthropology within the boundaries of poetry and so provides a starting-point for thinking about the 1970s. We should start by mentioning something forgotten, the school of cultural diffusionism. This was an object based group of scholars who collected objects, arranged them in series, and then hypothesized that the idea for the objects started at a centre, a Great Culture, and then radiated out to areas of lower culture. Thus the ‘high spots’ were surrounded by series of circles at various distances from the point of origin, very easy to draw on a map. The attenuation of the ideas as they travelled accounted for the variation of cultures. Because the culture came in packages, single objects were seen as evidence of the transmission of entire cultural systems, which did not need to be demonstrated. This favoured acts of recognition by connoisseurs, which were the point scoring moments: recognition over long distances scored even more points. The method saw a process like radio waves diffusing out from a broadcasting tower, and liked to use maps of Europe and the Mediterranean lands on which the waves could be tracked. The idea of the poem, Life Quest, is like this:



It seemed I was not on the world's edge
But in the real centre of the earth
Between Egypt and the Western isles
Feeling in a flash the long generations
From the first of the husbandmen
To the last of the machine men.



The Life Quest is a phrase from Grafton Elliot Smith, whose idea was that "Though the sacred literature of every country... mythology and folklore, persistently make the search for life or the elixir of life... the essential motive of human behaviour, students... ignore it." When we look for "the constituent elements of civilisation", […] "the search almost invariably leads us back to Egypt as the place of origin, and to the Life Quest as the motive that inspired the... custom." The search for immortality, for substances sympathetically charged with life-giving magic, "was responsible for the creation of civilisation, with most of its arts and crafts." The Egyptians had a high culture and travelled great distances because their country's alluvial terrain lacked minerals; these expeditions were really the start of culture in Western Europe. The megaliths are 'degraded mastabas' and their distribution along the Atlantic littoral as far as the Orkneys traces the diffusion of Egyptian cultural ideas, rendered without detail because of the limited expertise of native workmen. The principle of imitation is built into this: the founding point is a place of high prestige, and the imperative to imitate is what the history of art recovers. Beyond that is the self-aggrandizement of the patrons of the original projects. Aldington's poem shows



Grimaldi bones smeared with red ochre
That apes bright blood the life-giver
Conjured in vain as age by age
Rubble and drift and ashes built a tomb
A stiff and rocky shroud
but saved no soul
More splendid fantasy robed Osiris dead
In gold and natron under pyramids,
Furnished the palace-grave for an eternity
The Ka has never entered.



The ochre of the Palaeolithic tomb in a cave at Grimaldi (in Liguria, near Ventimiglia, and circa 26,000 BC) is red to symbolise blood, playing a part in Smith’s system: the whole purpose of culture is to achieve immortality, not only art and medicine but also mining, chemistry and engineering are products of this primal drive among the wealthy. Aldington is saying the Life Quest failed, it saved no soul. After 28,000 years, the Palaeolithic skeleton was covered in six feet of debris, rubble and drift and ashes, but was still there, as deposed. The Ka never comes back to the body. Aldington therefore wants to re-orient culture towards Life: "You are rotten with death-worship!" The original thematic material in his poem includes a fierce criticism of the culture of contemporary Britain, close to Lawrence but also perhaps to George Orwell, researching in Wigan at this date -



In misery have I walked the London streets
That rich proud city
Of the penurious and humiliated

An Etruscan tomb is gayer than London streets.

Sharp-lined and glinting
The traffic clots go curdling
Through the dark veins of the town
In sharp mechanistic spasms
Like the fierce bleeding of a great machine,
Breaking the rhythm of our blood
Until the soft swirl and lapse of Thames
Alone seem unreal.



If you delete the original imperative to imitate, the 2nd imperative to aggrandize the mighty egotist, you have a Pristine Blank in which you can start culture afresh. This is a life raft project. Aldington came out of the trenches of the Great War as a revolutionary, someone who wanted to overthrow and re-found Western culture. The poem goes immediately on to mention the obelisk of Thuthmoses, erected on the bank of the Thames, as a link to Egypt; he is attacking the whole Death Cult of inherited wealth, inherited cultural imperatives, as it has thrived since Thuthmoses. For Smith, the tombs are also part of the Life Quest – and the "death cults" were also the great creative cultures. Aldington took the idea that ‘the gods’ were deified ancestors, went on to destroy the contents of traditional religion, and goes on to demand a new worship of natural forces, Earth Sun and Sea. He identifies the founding of culture by the powerful in Egypt with the failure of leadership by the governments and aristocracy of Europe in 1914 to 1918, and demands the start of a new culture:



You are building up the world with prisons
For yourselves and your children,
You are rotten with death-worship.



He is launching an attack on authority and on all the ossified imperatives of authority, in order to lead life as a carrying-out of innate and vital imperatives: it’s life and life only. This is what is happening in Life Quest. It follows on directly from Lawrence’s Apocalypse, with its demand for a return to worship of the sun, and the Elliot Smith material is just the illustrations. The people are 'the last of the machine men' because the next generation is going to abandon the machine and go back to organic life, under Earth Sea and Sun (like life at Ascona maybe?).

Smith says that Egyptians used malachite as eye makeup because of the life symbolism of its green colour. Then, they discovered that you could smelt it, and began making copper chisels- just in time, as they needed them to make wooden coffins, the forerunners of sarcophagi. The concrete detail is genuinely Holmesian, though the whole chain of deduction which follows is nonsense. The idea that metallurgy is an offshoot of cosmetics is precious. Another source I read says that the malachite killed insects and so protected your eyes - so this could be primary, with the cosmetic effect secondary.

Smith started from anatomy, which has a basic conservatism due to the stability of the gestation process: as we know, some genes to do with foetal development are the same in flies and humans, and we can quite rightly compare the limbs of insects with those of vertebrates. Culture is not governed by genetics, and the whole 19th century efficiency of darwinism does not apply there. The idea that you can set a large number of objects in a series, as if in a glass case in the Natural History Museum, and read off from the comparison which ones are old, which late, and which ones are related to each other, is intoxicating in the same way that Conan Doyle's stories are. The people who really bought into diffusionism as a theory didn’t give it up when the rest of the scholarly world abandoned it; they died without recanting. It just gave too many moments of glory: the professor picks up one single artefact and reads the most amazing things from it. Too many Sherlock Holmes moments. Of course diffusionism continued as a marginal and amateur stream, preparing the way for the Pseudohistory of the 1960s and later. The other main school of diffusionism was in Germany, and both Germany and Britain were very interested in the imperial idea at that time. Diffusionism shows one culture transmitting itself across the world, and transforming the lives of peoples who were living in a backward and conservative state until then. It is hard not to see this as a kind of projection of the British Empire. I read a book on ethnography published in Germany in 1940, which was not a peak year for intellectual endeavour in central Europe. However, Dr Bernatzik did manage to demolish the diffusionist school, what was known as Kulturkreislehre, pointing out that they were museum directors or, like Frobenius, plunderers of objects to ship home and stuff in museums. They did absolutely no fieldwork. Didn't see the point of talking to non-Europeans. They just weren't interested in how objects or buildings fit into cultures. Smith, depressingly, talks about how culture is transmitted through language, not heredity, but tells us that culture is wholly conservative. Innovation is impossible - thus he saves diffusionism. To revive the psychological structure of diffusionism would be to revive imperialism. This isn't the main reason why anthropologists in the 1920s rejected Smith's ideas, but it does prohibit a revival. Having got that out of the way, we can admit that it would be worth looking for traces of Egyptian influence in cultures of the Upper Nile, at the relevant period, or also for traits spreading west across North Africa and into Spain, and from there into Atlantic Britain. Great cultures do radiate and ships do cross the seas.

Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat is partly about the effect of watching two films by Stan Brakhage, one being ‘Dog Star Man’. He links this to the Egyptian architectural forms of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s East End churches via the Dog Star Sirius – whose rising allowed priests to predict the Summer floods of the Nile and so led to the invention of arithmetic, astronomy, and the calendar, in Egypt. Lud Heat is also based on Brakhage's autopsy film "The act of seeing with one's own eyes", filmed in a morgue in Pittsburgh; Elliot Smith, in his capacity as a medical officer working for the Egyptian Government, dissected many mummies. Sinclair: "These acts are close to the Egyptian autoptic rites that set free the Soul Bird and preserve the body shell. Anubis weighs the death upon his scales. He supervises the measurement. The hands of the practitioner are his, as they slice up the dead shape. ‘The knife manifesting upon incision the signature of a Starre.' But if they bottle the removed organs it is only to fill up a police report. They are scribes of the book of the city, which remains unread." ‘Autopsy’ is also a technical term from divination: the chosen person ‘sees with their own eyes’ a god, and this is the source of the knowledge which is recorded in their text. The word has special connections with a custom in Egypt, Greek Egypt by now, of incubatio, sleeping in a shrine so as to gain insight into an illness and how it could be healed. The solution was expected to come in a dream via an ‘autopsy‘. (Richard Reitzenstein wrote about this.)

There is a direct link between 'Life Quest' and parts of Lud Heat, although Sinclair probably got his Egyptian diffusionist material from marginal occultist magazines. H.J. Massingham’s 1926 work Downland Man offers a significant parallel to Lawrence. Massingham started from a similar position of radical politics, in relation to the war, to Aldington. He rejected the Celts as militaristic barbarians, going back emotionally to the non-metal using Neolithic cultures, in an obvious reaction to war trauma. His idea of the Neolithics as very wise, peaceful, rich, harmonious, etc., was influential on the 1960s; he was one of the people who codified the Imaginary Village, in a long series of books. He also says that the Neolithics, i.e. English village culture, took their culture from Egypt; 'this English poem, English to the tip of every grass-blade, bears the water-mark of Egypt' (Downland Man). His Merlin was an Egyptian, one of the ‘children of the sun’ (cf. Heliopolis). He says that the long barrows are imitations of mastabas, a kind of Egyptian tomb. As the chief among many writers on “the countryside” of mid-century Britain, he adopted Perry’s theories – and spread diffusionist ideas to a generation of ill-informed writers on British antiquity. When seekers after lost knowledge set out in the 1960s, they carried a baggage of romantic diffusionist ideas. Massingham made the key link between megalithic tombs and Pyramids; it was only necessary to add to this another stream of pathological Egyptology, the one starting with John Taylor in 1859 which saw the secrets of the cosmos as encoded in the dimensions of the Great Pyramid, to produce the ley-hunters, who saw the megaliths as beacons for flying saucers. The attribution of special virtue to the geometry of buildings is a legacy of diffusionism. It builds one story for the species and so drops someone standing by an English megalith right into the middle of early Egyptian history. That's me in the picture. They extended the analysis to churches - bringing us back to Hawksmoor. Diffusionism is the ancestor of sacred geometry. In Lud Heat, the Egyptian motifs in Hawksmoor churches in the East End are used as the anchor points of a weird geometrical transform, turning parts of London into a re-enactment of the Nile as the highway of the dead and the Isle of Dogs into the lair of Anubis: "St Anne, in plan, is seen to be closely related to the horned scorpion gate form, described by GR Levy in The Graves of the Giants. And this goes back, once more, to Egypt.... not by direct route, carried by migration - the plodding cultural-transfer theory - but by sap connection... archetypal expression of common needs. It is the essential shape of a peculiar kind of fear. Hathor, the Moon goddess, whose horns hold up the moon disk... contains Osiris, by assimilation. Our rapid spirits trace out a moving cage of paths and tracks around the pyramid... are bees, pieces of the sun. (...) The church is a mummified bee surrounded by water." If you look at Massingham's original diagram of how megaliths evolved from Egyptian rock tombs, reproduced by Elliot Smith, you see the same Sardinian design: the Graves of the Giants. The diagrams of sacred geometry, with their curving lines of force, bear a odd resemblance to the radial ripples of diffusionist maps.

Philip Jenkins, too, wrote about water and Egypt, and both works have themes in common with Life Quest. Book 1 of Cairo was published by X Press, which published another extreme, elaborate, mythical-psychoanalytical long poem - The Accident Adventure (by Paul Gogarty, 1979). Both bear some resemblances to Martin Thom's masterpiece The Bloodshed the Shaking House - published by X Press. This was a marginal operation even among 70s underground presses. They seemed to have no demands beyond the A4 typed photocopied stapled sheaf, and I don't either. Cairo is based on a stripping-down of the self to its ancient irreducible parts. Egypt features as the origin of farming, the source of European myth, kingship, of the peasant social order. The primal is seen as a visual order which recedes before reason but is always there as the basis of rational sight:



the thin line ties
the neck of the bottle
to the edge of the table

the line is heavy: it bows

that small hominoidal face
brush strokes define a vigour
mark the movements that will
obscure, eventually obliterate

the passage from the fingertips
the outstretched arm
follows through
(‘Cairo’)


Jenkins starts out from ways of seeing, from cognitive orders for recovering information from the visual plane. This is different from the project of getting behind the ‘hegemony’ through archaeology or anthropology, but is perhaps equally important. Egyptian art has very different rules for organising visual space than what we are familiar with, showing the arbitrary nature of rules in visual recording. Their rules seemed normal to them. Eric Mottram says in his 1973 book Local Movement:



after coffee in the Heliopolis Hotel 1955
under dome and propeller out to Giza
crawling night into the Great Pyramid
down the stone tube to a centre

thunder of beaten sarcophagus weight of stone measures
in that night a terror of ignorance I should have quieted
meditated on measure but framed by knowledge I lived blind
old untouched by harmonia mundi and magic techne

('Homage to Denis Saurat')


Mottram's problems with montage seem directly related to Aldington's. The habit of super-vivid isolated images came from Imagism, which is where Aldington started as a poet; the transition to long forms produced the montage effect quite naturally. Continuous treatment of complexes of ideas is just not possible in poetry; radical cutting back gives a satisfactory pace, and yields a pattern of high points separated by violent discontinuities, which is a good description of Aldington's poems from 1920 on. Denis Saurat was an early theorist of ‘lost knowledge’, and wrote notably on heretical, Gnostic themes which he found in Milton; Milton as a forerunner of Blake. Heliopolis means city of the sun, and features in relation to Campanella's 17th century socialist utopia, the city of the sun. This really was based on Heliopolis in Egypt, because of his sources in Hermetic writings, as explained by Frances Yates in her work on Giordano Bruno and Renaissance magic. This is where the harmonia mundi comes from. Hermes Trismegistus is, however, one Egyptian too many for us.

So, various 70s poets were preoccupied with Egypt, and use its role as the origin of civilisation as a jumping-off point to explore the origins of personal identity. Is it too mean of me to say that fortune-telling is associated with Gypsies, whose name is a memory of Egyptian? The thematic rhymes do allow us to relate Aldington to the modern thing. Anatomy, archaeology, the invention of technology, do offer glimpses of the origins of human nature - allowing us glimpses of the planes in which we are free and the rigid planes which are the limits of our freedom.

I read Aldington because Macleod said in a 1930 essay that he was most influenced by Aldington, Lawrence, and Walter James Turner. Was this the underground line of English modernism? I am wondering if there may be an alternative view of the 30s via books like The Ecliptic, Foray of Centaurs, We The River, Petron, Canons of Giant Art, Gold Coast Customs, Variations on a Time Theme.

The aerial view is the regard of Sirius. Aerial photography revealed many features of the countryside invisible on the ground, and stimulated the search for ancient structures. English artists of the 1930s, according to a current display (2003?) in the Tate Gallery, saw aerial photography as akin to modern art, because of its flattening quality and the loss of the horizon line. From above, the earth is the horizon line as well as the plane of the image. Aldington has come pretty close to disappearing, which is perhaps going to be the fate of the underground of the 60s and 70s. Aldington is a buried monument, an anomaly of the countryside showing up in photo analysis.

The use of Elliot Smith is booby-trapped. He was one of the most respected scientists of his day. His ideas were apparently narrowly scientific, Positivist, respectable. But on closer examination they turn into vapour and waft away to the realm of the crackpot, the conjectural amateur, the system-builder. Research into the history of ideas in contemporary poetry has shown, repeatedly, recursion to the marginal, unedited, primal stratum of ideas, for example occultism or theory about myth, where the indigestible rational shell is discarded to get at the soft pulp of mythic rules, the circular and the archaic. Where reality testing is suspended. What Smith provides us with is a wonderful myth about the saturation and occupation of thousands of tons of rock by a projection of human organs and vitality. He shows the cosmos as hidden behind the imperious projections of tyrants, of their viscera, musculature, dream appetites.

I read a book about the Piltdown Man hoax which fingered Elliot Smith as the hoaxer. The evidence was all circumstantial. Of course he knew about brain and skull anatomy. He published on the evolution of the brain. Smith had a powerful brain and lacked respect for the conventional thinkers he found in England. The painting recording the accession of the Piltdown skulls (one of the two, sad to say) shows the scientists ritually welcoming it; Smith is in the painting. Supposedly his expression of triumph is proof of guilt, but this is totally speculative.

Bringing myth and the body together has certain resemblances to the development of painting in the 1940s, the realisation that abstraction made the canvas the arena for a direct depiction of the artist's body via its movements, that the destruction of spatial scale opened up the canvas to let it swallow the viewer's body, deprived of reference and quantity in a state akin to myth. Unsurprising that mythical animals appeared in the paintings, and that these were linked to the objectless depths of the unconscious. Elliot Smith appears to be translating the Great Pyramid into an expression of life force 481 feet high. I think this is just a coincidence. Remove the surface appearance of things to show something unresisting to disembodied forces, which become visible through it, apparently independent of location. This is analogous to diffusionism, where stone monuments on islands off Scotland are appearances of the idea of the pyramid.

Life Quest frames the questions - about the link between anatomy and behaviour, about the story of civilisation in other countries, about archaeology and deep time - which we recognise in the poetry of the 1970s, and which took it outside the common stock of knowledge and of reactions. Like other investments, ideas about archaeology can go down as well as up.

I don't have a problem in finding links between 'Life Quest' and the new poetry of the 1970s. Where I do have trouble explaining the gap between 1935 and circa 1974. One can measure every poet by their relationship to myth, it is always a interesting question. The mid-century had urgent items on its agenda that led it away from the deep questions of myth. Perhaps the fad for psychoanalysis distracted it, before slowly giving way to creative versions of myth.



Conclusion

1. a revolutionary impetus is coded in the interest in archaeology and anthropology
2. this is found already in DH Lawrence and in his ideas about cultures peripheral to the West, and the refounding of Western culture. Getting away from the line of (Christianity + science + the Classical civilisations + the mainstream history of Western Europe) was the vital first step.
3. A deep critique could not be carried out in short poems
4. long poems converge on myth as they get back to the origin of meanings
5. the Imagined Village was an anti-urban critique that paralleled the Left critique of modern capitalism. The hippy movement was an offshoot of, or incorporated, the Imagined Village and its besotted interest in the Neolithic.
6. the study of visual representation is an important parallel line. Archaic means of organising space correspond to mythical thinking.
7. the interest in archaeology and anthropology gets away from the State to centre interest in the family. It followed in fact a loss of interest in party politics and in industrial relations.
8. poetry of this kind needed montage in order to avoid getting bogged down in paraphrase of very complex factual arguments

The discipline of archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge began as an offshoot of the Classics faculty and had a lot to do with one person, Walter Ridgway, the teacher of Jane Ellen Harrison. Its early history was filled with imperatives derived from the early Greek world and it was designed to fill holes left by an intense emotional relationship with the Classical world. The interest in Arch and Anth may have begun with a feeling of a hole where myth had died. Structurally, we can imagine a hole opening up where poets stopped believing in Christianity. Then there was a hole beside it as they stopped being able to use Classical myth, too. But there was a phase in an interim where Classical interests were turned into paganism and sensuality, a belief in instinct.

An Edwardian paganism preceded the pagan myths of the 1930s. The worship of earth invoked in Life Quest leads unmistakably back to Swinburne's great poem 'Hertha'. Swinburne and a belief in ‘pagan sensuality’ were the predecessor of 'critical myth' in Lawrence and Aldington. Lawrence began in the wake of Swinburne, in the swathe of energy left behind by that great poetry. Aldington's idea of a rotten religion being torn down continues Swinburne even if it also takes on the revolutionary atmosphere induced by the failure of civilisation in the Great War. Aldington was still a classicist, and started (around 1912) with Greek lyrics.

I have discussed Egypt here, but anthropology went off in a hundred different directions, and in the 1970s poets could be classified according to the tribal culture they chose as their 'special place' - for example the Hopi for David Wevill, Inner Asia for Prynne in 'Aristeas', shamanism of roughly Siberian nature for a range of poets, Dark Age Western Europe for others. This was prefigured in Lawrence's patronage of the Etruscans, limited as his scholarship was.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Metakaluptical notes on the 1940s

Note. There is a chapter or so on the 1940s in my book 'Origins of the Underground'. This, below, is extra material about the poetry of this lost decade.


3rd edit June 2017

Metakaluptical: The shared 40s project
or, The neo-Romantic Agony
(version 1, January 2002, was released on the Pinko site)
(status: eager & scruffy research notes)
This area is meant really as an hommage to James Keery, after I got to understand his point about the continuity between the 1940s and the 1960s – especially through his wonderful essay ‘Schönheit Apocalyptica’, which I read in 1999. I hope to get James to release some material here. “Schönheit” is available on the Internet in the symposium on Prynne which Kevin Nolan has edited for JACKET. (http://jacketmagazine.com ).

My book ORIGINS OF THE UNDERGROUND (published by Salt in November 2008) is about the 1940s and the 1960s, and the origins of the underground. A shift towards the 1940s really meant the end of my contemporary poetry project, towards history and, inevitably, politics and ideology (both historical only). I wrote the 1940s chapter of ORIGINS in 2000. My ability to read this kind of poetry, and my knowledge of the range of poetry of that time, have increased greatly since that time. The kind of rethinking of the long duration which Keery is proposing is not going to complete in a short time. The pressure of new material has been wonderfully exciting but has not permitted a complete rethink so far.

Addendum. Salt keep moving the publication date, but they have now sworn that they will get me proofs in November 2007, so we can expect publication in the first half of 2008. High time, given that it was nearly in a finished state in 2000.

Metakaluptical brouhaha: Wonderment at the fate of the New Romantic poets
Apocalypse reverses apokrupsis: what was hidden shall be revealed – and, apparently, vice versa. One of the phenomena of the new decade (and of the later nineties) is the recovery of the poetry of the 1940s from under carefully-supervised Movement debris. The equation was easy to make, in the 1960s: the 1950s literary commissars (the interpenetrative elite) had risen to prominence by destroying the careers of the 40s poets (New Romantics or Apocalyptics), were busy destroying the nascent careers of the 60s radicals, and the conclusion followed (wrongly) that there was an occult link between the 40s and the 60s. There was this incentive to dig out the works and persons of the Encrypted Generation, and to use them as ammunition. I believe this is the background to the wave of revisionist readings of the 1940s which is now destabilising literary history. James Keery’s edition of the poems of Burns Singer, republication of Lynette Roberts, the announced publication of a Selected Poems of Joseph Macleod by Waterloo Press, the new volume of WS Graham’s Letters, point to a disturbing re-arrangement of the past.

Joyce Cary supplies this perfect description of the Apocalyptor: “But how much more fearfully ghostly was this apparition that shook in every joint, whose enormous pale eyes were full of an excitement equally extravagant – whose very words sounded like the language of a world where meanings defied any common syntax.” (description of Gerald Wilde, in Nimbus) Let’s get this joint shaking! Wilde was the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins of 40s painters, wires jittering with the conduction of chaos.
One of the appeals of 40s revisionism is as a shopping project. An increase of prices is probably a symptom of the legitimation of a weird retro-ist subculture, alas. I remain irritated at various record-breaking claims by other people “I bought a complete run of Nimbus for 15p from a car boot sale in Wigan in between collecting the kids from Sunday School”, etc. But shopping drove the whole engine – once you’ve bought Hendry’s the orchestral mountain for £3, you want to develop a device for reading it. Reading is a purposeful distortion of the receptive organs. This was the source of the delay – but is proving productive now there are some people who can read the further reaches of 40s excess. Deform without breaking. I admit that I bought a copy of the 1949 New Romantic Anthology for 55p. Keery’s bulimic recuperative-bibliophile raids on junkshops, library sales, the cellars of Warrington Town Hall, a disused Police Store in Southport, municipal dumps outside Lewes, the fishdocks at Peterhead, and a sunken wreck somewhere off Spitsbergen, defy description. When competing with James, it’s time to pull out the cards of doubtful legality – Peter Yates, TS Law, Macleod’s Choric Scenas. The search for ever more marginal NR poets goes on apace in the pages of Poetry London, Kingdom Come, Folios of New Writing, White Crow, Cormorant & Cicada, Poetry Scotland, Phoenix, Ore, Cambridge Front, Counterpoint, Poetry Quarterly, Cahiers Apoplax. Attempts to revive Randall Swingler, David Gascoyne, or Nicholas Moore have met with incredulity on the part of the decryptic community.

The craze starts as a reaction against Tolley’s version of events. Really, it’s only people ignored or knocked about by Tolley who score you points in this game. Bouncing a ball off Ian Hamilton’s head also scores – he wrote a haughty essay denouncing the Apocalyptics for not being soldiers and for not being Real Men like Keith Douglas, so James finding an original copy of Douglas’ first book with a Horseman of the Apocalypse on the dust-jacket was a moment of restitution. Karlien van den Beukel’s discovery of translations of Dunstan Thompson into Spanish by Jorge Luis Borges also invites envy.

The three-dimensional insight that a whole scene was essential produced light from various angles. James Keery has undertaken a stunning revision of the whole modern history of British poetry. “Schönheit apocalyptica”, his new essay, methodically demonstrates the links between Apocalypse, religious language, and Prynne – a dizzying step forward. Simon Jenner has adopted a group of “second string” 40s Oxford poets, as expounded in a recent issue of Eratica, while remaining agnostic on the subject of the New Romantics. Nigel Wheale has written on Lynette Roberts in connection with the Romantic films of the 40s, especially ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, opening up fascinating perspectives on the use by poetry of the cinematic imagination, its new landscapes and ways of seeing. David Mellor’s ground-breaking 1987 Barbican exhibition on the Romantic 40s, 'A Paradise Lost?', put the New Romantic painters back on the agenda. Malcolm Yorke’s subsequent book Spirit of Place: 9 neo-romantic painters and their times is of great value for these artists, directly illuminating the poetic universe of the time. Andrew Crozier wrote the section on poetry for the catalogue of the exhibition, and republished some key poems of Hendry for the Conductors of Chaos anthology. I have been trying to rehabilitate Dunstan Thompson and George Barker.

All this is more than just a historical metaphor for the resurrection of poetry of the 1970s from under a flooring of cultural lies. However, just as the unspoken question was whether the poets of the 70s were ever going to blow their way out of the crypt, the unspoken problem with the NRs was why they had fallen silent under hostile pressure, and, researchably, had there been a “second generation” of this poetry, “extravagant excitement” in some lost valley of the 1950s proto-underground. James claims that there is a goldmine of 40s poetry composed in the 1950s, which I remain sceptical of. Ore magazine (1953-96) did actually claim to be a “second generation” of the New Romantics.

Let us imagine a separation of rational and irrational faculties, into right hand and left. This separation runs through religion and art. The replacement of (most of?) the temporal functions of the Church, over the stretch roughly 1850-1950, by the secular State (charity, schooling, writing of books) has led to a revaluation by Christians of the irrational, of primitive religion, and of the apocalyptic books. The Apocalyptic formula was "Blake plus Lawrence", and the group were immediately dependent on Lawrence’s book Apocalypse. The literary or spiritual sources of this were in Ascona, an arty community into the natural life, expressive dancing, and (especially) non-European religion – notably via the Eranos gathering. Martin Green’s book on Ascona is called The Counter-Culture Begins, and he is right – this was a source of the Counter Culture. The Ascona/ Jung/ Eliade connection was rather important for the new poetic imagery of the 1960s and 1970s, the “New Age” groove. The English translation of Jung leads us to Nimbus, one of the last New Romantic magazines, flourishing in the 1950s (and dug up by Keery).

The release of a book by Charles Madge (only fifty-three years after his previous one!) brought up questions of documentary and sociology which lie slumbering beneath the modern pattern. For example, could we see the urge to phenomenological accuracy in describing mental experience as a derivation of documentary and Mass Observation, an optical analysis taken one stage further. Madge is the obvious forerunner of certain attempts at philosophical precision of recent decades, but the new (1949) work in the Anvil volume, Poem by Stages, includes a lot of religious imagery – bringing it close to the Apocalyptics. Madge planned to write a book on dreams at one point. Poems by Madge and Terence Tiller show a distinctly non-romantic view of poetry, preoccupied with optics, reflexivity, the insight given by tiny flaws.

The 1949 collection (A New Romantic Anthology) reveals the prominence of Welsh and Scottish writers in this uproar, offering a new angle on the cultural coup of the Movement gangsters in the early 1950s; their vision was not only stylistically narrow but also geographically confined to Southern England and to Oxford and Cambridge. The Welsh angle points to a connection between the anarchist-pacifist strain of politics, the political burden of the NR style (as shedding reason and the State and war), and Welsh Christian sensibilities asking for an ethical community which was not “a State” and did not make war. Plaid Cymru is now questioning the polythanatic American alliance against the Taliban in a way no English politician, seemingly, dares to do. That weird moment of Modern Welsh Poetry (1944), a whole anthology which works, remains a beacon. Jones remarks in an unpublished interview that 2/3 of those poets stopped writing. Daring in the 1940s paved the way for 50 years of cheerful banality. So far no-one has breathed a kind word about Vernon Watkins and Henry Treece – crow scarers, a step too far for the resurrection men. But Glyn Jones and Roland Mathias were perhaps the most significant survivors of the heady days of the 40s.

The cultural critic Peter Fuller responded to the 1987 "A Paradise Lost?" exhibition with a campaign in favour of the sublime (and against the ayatollah-like barrenness of conceptual art), using the New Romantic painters as infantry in his onslaught. The result was that conceptual PR people adopted the language of “depth… landscape… painterly heroism… mystery… the sublime… transcendent” as part of the brand blather for the people Fuller had been attacking. However, Modern Painters covered the 40s sympathetically, and functioned as a “neo-40s” magazine complementing Temenos, edited by a genuine survivor of the 40s (Kathleen Raine), and peddling a line which can be taken on as a legitimate descendant of New Romantic dislike of the object-machine and realism in art. A figure like Peter Abbs is pursuing this line. Temenos was deathly boring, to be honest, but Fuller’s probing into the links between objective and subjective knowledge in art, and how the transcendental disappears from art to leave merely “dead objects”, is of the first interest and likely contains a great part of the truth. Fuller’s recovery of Protestant mysticism gave an iconic position to Rudolf Otto, author of The Idea of the Holy – and founder of the Eranos.

The American connection was briefly exciting, but eluded us in the end. We did decide that Lowell and Berryman, eminent products of the poetic 1940s, had bought into the belief in the legitimating role of the unconscious, typical of the period, and that their idea that mental illness gave them status as poets is a reflex of the apocalyptic mantle of the time. The Welsh connection is more exciting. Recognizing “the authority of illness” as a distortion of “prophetic authority” allows us to recognise Al Alvarez, in his 1962 Introduction to The New Poetry, as a reflex of the Apocalyptics.

The reliance of MacCaig and Hendry (at the time) on improvisations which excluded the rational mind points to a faculty exploited by abstract painters and by jazzmen. The space without geometry, the space without reference, the space radiated by the body and reflecting the inside of the body, is where New Romantic poetry elapses, and shapes its curious lack of bones, its feverish quality, its reverberation without distance. This capacity to tap the unconscious and become the eyes of the abyss later (post Eliade) sustained the fantasy of being a “Western shaman”, and would have been more productive with more practice and time.

I can’t draw any conclusions, since all is contrast, mystery, and confusion. I think the “standard model” of the collective history of poetry in the past 60 years is more holes than hull by now. New information is rolling in month by month. I would like to underline that the “blakean” strain may not have been the most productive in the long run, and that analysing experience to produce a sharper and more surprising picture may have been artistically more productive. Philosophy may have shed more light than psychoanalysis.

Other exciting work on the 1940s issues is by Andrew Crozier and Nigel Wheale. Tony Frazer is also reading through the back stacks of neglected books. No-one in this field is not grateful to John Pikoulis for his work on Lynette Roberts, culminating in an edition which was injuncted for rather extraneous reasons. Because so much new work is being done in this area, I am sure that there will be a symposium or a book to exhibit it – but I don’t know what form this will take. I think Keery’s work will culminate in a book, and Crozier has apparently written a book (perhaps on the whole period 1930-56). [2017, It is now clear, alas, that Crozier never wrote this.] It seems inevitable that there will be a revisionist anthology – since the suppression of the New Romantics took place half a century ago, and there has been no dissident anthology since that time. [2017: James Keery is now working on such an anthology for Carcanet, title "Apocalyptic Anthology"]



Issues
This area was opened up partly as a search for historical alliances against the hegemony of the Movement (as it was in say 1975), partly as an ancillary to radical shopping activities which discovered and captured incomprehensible artefacts from the 1940s. We learnt how to read these books. This gives us two issues: how to read 1940s poetry correctly, and where the “retrieval project” ends. I am afraid that this means a “double rejection” for some poets – turned down by the Resurrection men as well as by the Movement assassins. There is something obscene about this, but no-one could revive these poets wholesale without violating basic aesthetic principles.

GeneralisationThe New Romantic style was adopted by a large proportion of the poets born between 1910 and 1920 who had literary ambition.
Other poets wrote simple documentary poems about their war experiences - interesting (as collected by modern anthologists) and in a separate domain.
The movement affected Wales, Scotland, and England in equal shares.

A list of 40s poets would have to include:
Francis Berry George Barker Dunstan Thompson Terence Tiller Hamish Henderson
Charles Madge JF Hendry Roy Fuller Lynette Roberts WS Graham Joseph Macleod Douglas Young David Jones Henry Treece Vernon Watkins Sidney Keyes Alan Ross GS Fraser Norman MacCaig Dorian Cooke Dylan Thomas Edith Sitwell Edwin Muir Roland Mathias Edwin Morgan Christopher Middleton FT Prince George Campbell Hay Sydney Goodsir Smith Nigel Heseltine Glyn Jones Nicholas Moore Peter Russell Burns Singer Michael Hamburger Randall Swingler DS Savage TS Law Alex Comfort James Kirkup Kathleen Raine Lawrence Durrell Philip O’Connor David Gascoyne Ruth Pitter Peter Yates Patrick Anderson Davies Aberpennar Terence Tiller Kathleen Nott

And I suppose the basis for entering the game is just to read these poets. However marginal some of these figures, there is an “outer margin” of poets even more obscure (and, possibly, more extreme).

I would think ten of these names are significant and worth resurrecting. Another group wrote significant poetry after the 1940s (after a premature start in the 40s style). However, no-one in the project wants to have anything to do with Vernon Watkins or Henry Treece. Peter Russell has some claim to be the worst modern English poet (evoking usually the retort, “What, worse than Nicholas Moore?”). The cultural historian Andy Croft has developed an interest in the Communist Randall Swingler, has even written a book about him – but, if anything should be consigned to the archive room with no door, it is surely the work of R Swingler. I freely admit that a lot of New Romantic poetry published in the 40s justifies the attacks of its enemies. But, let’s be careful. I find the very existence of Nicholas Moore embarrassing, and digging up a whole book of his stuff was surely a blunder, but he wrote two excellent poems. These alone would justify a reconnaissance in depth.

Simon Jenner’s magazine Eratica did a special issue on the 40s, which included material (based on his PhD) on Drummond Allison, Philip Larkin, and Keyes. I don’t find these poets at all interesting. The issue also includes an interview with Martin Seymour-Smith, who was involved with these poets, back in the 1940s, as a schoolboy - his thing was to hang around in pubs listening to them. (He edited a couple of books of Poetry from Oxford for the Fortune Press, a few years later.) It’s a good interview.

Missing biographical resources, or, the neo-Romantic agony

This appears here on the Internet partly because the information isn’t available. What happened to all those New Romantics who were banned from publishing in around 1952? This is really a blank space – a hint that I would like someone to do the research and write a book on this.

Patrick Anderson (1915-79) lived in England till 1938 and moved to Canada in 1940. Somewhat later, lived in Malaya and near the Mediterranean. Became a travel writer. Books: The Colour as Naked, New and Selected Poems. (2 more volumes as well) edited a magazine, Preview, in Toronto, which might contain Canadian parallels to the New Romantic style. Wrote some terrific poems.

George Barker (1913-88) I think everyone knows the story here. There is a biography of him. Went on writing prolifically until his death. A forerunner of the New Romantics, and more gifted than most of them. The period 1933-4 saw the debuts of Barker, Berry, and Thomas - arguably, the essential poets of the New Romantic style. This is several years before the codification of the style (which may have been irrelevant?).

Beecham, Audrey (1915-89) I know very little about her (there are some amusing stories on the Internet). Catalogued as V.A. Beecham in the British Library. published a volume in the 1950s, (The Coast of Barbary, 1957). It was on astrological themes and is notable for its dark, negative, Gothic qualities. The style is Fifties formalism. She lived in Nottingham. I should make clear that even if the book came out in 1957 many of these poems were definitely written in the 1940s. Beecham is just about the most interesting figure to emerge in the “rereading mid-century poetry by women” which has been going on. One view of “Coast of Barbary” is that it breaks out of the damaging behavioural imperatives of daintiness, being ladylike, being other-directed, etc., by being emotionally negative – the whole book is about loathing, unhappiness, malevolence, and even the title means that. (The epigraph clarifies this, fuge litus avarum.) This is a brilliant coup. You can hardly think about this without being reminded of Sylvia Plath, who carried out a similar inversion a few years later. A prominent example is “A Black Spell” (A wind like this tonight/ For such a one/ To clutch his throat/ And bind with ice-thongs tight). This poem, a curse, seems to have been taken up and remembered. Part of this poem is that, if Beecham was gay, the subject would actually be “her” not “him”. However, it had a “threshhold role” for a number of feminists, it offered the realisation that the male loved object could be the one who was hurting you. While I have no doubt that her poetry belongs with the 1940s and with the New Romantic thing, her work is terser and tougher than what was around it. 'Per fretum febris' [fever across the sea] says “From the pit of ambush, the tumbled billow/ Struck to death the kite of love/ The fake-belief false swallow” and appears to mean that the speaker was in love with a seagull, the rapacious and merciless scavenger, but a wave caught this predator unawares and killed him. This does not fit into the “home making” atmosphere of 50s culture! False swallow – looks like a swallow but is greedy and extreme. Swallow as a verb also suggests swallowing a line, of deceit (fake belief), or even being swallowed up by the loved one. Kathleen Raine's sleeve note says “Her vision is of the dark, sinister side of feminine experience'. Bet on that. Could we rephrase the "dark side" of feminine experience as "male unreliability and selfishness"? Hmmm.

I regret that the first time I read Beecham's book I didn't really connect to it, as I usually don't in the British Library. So weak of me. But when I bought a copy (in a second-hand bookshop in Nottingham, where she lived for many years) and read it again, it did all get through. I thought Beecham was an isolated figure, if brilliant. However, when I read a book about English cinema, there was a key essay about melodrama and feminine taste. It talked about a whole series of Margaret Lockwood films in which the actress did nothing but suffer in multiple and serial ways. This is a key to 40s melodrama, and films like “They were sisters” and ”A Love Story” have suffering right at the centre. So they are perfect matches for “The Coast of Barbary” and so drive a connecting road between this rather intellectual poetry and popular melodrama. Once again it seems that watching 40s British films, preferably not the famous ones, gives a better understanding of 40s poetry.
 There is another 1980 book by the same poet. It includes a poem to Francis Bacon - who was arguably a visual equivalent to Beecham's poems.


Jack Beeching 1922-2001 his collected poems did come out a while ago. I haven't read them. He is hugely admired in some quarters. Left-leaning, hung out with communists. He was one of the poets published in the Key Poets series in 1951. Finally something I haven't read. My impression is this is in no way neo-Romantic but terse, politically sophisticated, world-weary. He was included in one of the Penguin Modern Poets series, quite easy to get hold of.

Francis Berry continued writing throughout. published a Collected Poems in 1994. One of the best New Romantic poets. See my article in ORIGINS

Gerard Casey This may be a case outside our jurisdiction. I can find no trace of Casey publishing anything before 1973. However, consider this. His work forms a logical unit of study with the work of Kathleen Raine and Vernon Watkins. He was born in 1918 (? 1921), in the right decade for our postulated ‘New Romantic generation’. His poetry (‘South Wales Echo’ available for purchase in an issue of Fire magazine, edited by Jeremy Hilton) is very interesting. There is at least a case for assessing him as part of the New Romantic generation. His career is a little obscure, but his book 'Echoes' contains no original verse besides SWEHe was interested in theosophy and occultism, specifically the Traditionalism founded by Rene Guenon, and published essays in magazines attached to that esoteric and anti-western cult current. 

Alex Comfort career as a poet vanished after 1950, although he went on publishing. Not really a New Romantic in style. Not at all a good poet. Much better as a novelist. Influential pacifist and anarchist.

Dorian Cooke student member of the first Apocalyptic group and friend of Hendry, Moore, etc. He had become a much better writer by the time of 'Fugue for Our Time', written in 1949 but published in 1951 by the brilliant Key Poets series. Vanished from literature, so far as we know, with the 1950s. Peter Riley rediscovered him to publish one poem, as a pamphlet, in about 1990. Peter Manson has been working on a project to produce a Collected for him. I was told that one entire book (in typescript) seemed to have existed but been lost by a Scottish publisher well-known for losing unique typescripts.

Davies Aberpennar (William Thomas Davies, 1911-) co-editor of Wales. Pacifist, nationalist, minister of religion. He published poems in 'Wales', in English, which have never been collected. He later wrote poetry in Welsh, which I have only seen in anthologies. It seems to me much less ambitious and interesting. He became a professor of Church History, which in Wales means something highly national, political, of mass interest, and tied up with the language issue.
'His membership of the Cadwgan Circle of writers during the Second World War had a major influence on him. This was a group of avant-garde intellectuals which met in the home in the Rhondda of J Gwyn Griffiths and Kaethe Bosse-Griffiths, two Welsh-language writers, husband and wife (...) Art for these people was almost a crusade. They discussed it - along with politics and related subjects - with high seriousness. In their search for complete honesty they held confessional sessions (...) Indeed they sought to revolutionize Welsh literature both in subject-matter and technique... Not surprisingly they were regarded as enfants terribles by outsiders." In Welsh, he used the name Pennar Davies. "His poetry makes no concessions to cultural Philistines. Indeed, its allusiveness is almost frighteningly wide-ranging." (Profiles) He published a novel in 1968 which is in some ways a portrait of this circle. Confusingly, there is one volume in Welsh as by 'Davies Aberpennar', which I have just bought on the Internet (Cinio'r cythraul, 1946).

Lawrence Durrell not really one of our team, but he did write poems in the New Apocalyptic style. The first collected poems neatly excises all these, but the second one, with more comfort and historical loyalty, includes them. A gifted writer but not an important poet. The best poems are prose pieces about fictional Greek painters, which so obviously point the way towards writing novels.

HRL Edwards brilliant poet in 'Wales'

Simon Evans brilliant poet in 'Wales'

GS Fraser complex career for which I lack the details. as an editor, he once published a poem by my father. and several by Veronica Forrest-Thomson. He only wrote a few New Romantic poems.

Christopher Fry (1907-2005) We could debate whether he belongs here at all. My perception is that he came out of the terrific verbal brilliance of the 40s, the willingness to fly and to risk everything on cascades of glinting and paradoxical phrases. His originality was to be perfectly lucid. He also got away from the personality cult, since he was writing for actors. Perhaps this was the way in which New Romanticism was evolving, its true direction. Arguably, you can understand Barker and Dylan Thomas much better if you set them beside Fry. In around 1953, poetry was truly popular - with the thrilling rodomontades of Fry and Thomas. Points to a branch of 40s poetry which is identifiably Romantic but cannot be identified with Apocalypse. Sweet & sociable. Also includes Keyes. Possibly Peter Yates.

Had 3 years as a schoolmaster at a prep school (and this was the one where Tippett taught – so in Oxted, Surrey?) but otherwise was employed in the theatre from 1927 on, actor then producer. So had a real grasp of the audience. His first poetic drama, for the Church, was in the 1930s; the Bishop of Chichester re-inventing verse drama, good for him! Devised pageants? so in touch with a stratum of performance other than realism. Where the aesthetic takes over. Was in Pioneer Corps for 4 years (the battalion where Derek Stanford served) so circa 1940-4; and this indicates pacifist beliefs. Stanford wrote a book about Fry, pretty cover and design, almost too gushing.

1st professional production was 1946 at the Lyric Theatre. The hit was the 1950 production by Olivier. He became very unfashionable after 1957. Frothy and cheerful, related to other “timeless” works of the 40s, or culture about culture, cf. Sacheverell Sitwell. Especially to a strand in the theatre which was aesthetic and artificial rather than documentary. Fry also wrote words for Tippett’s music for the Coronation. Strange to find two pacifists engaged in this. But so it was. I think the negativity (of e.g. an Allott) towards him was unbalanced and based on a possessive view of what was allowed to be poetry.

Venus Observed is kind of ridiculous. Cosy, English, whimsical, a fantasy, timeless, secure. Vaguely related to Shakespeare productions (but also to drawing-room comedy). No excesses – Fry has complete tact. Knows what will play. But there are also moments of real poetry.

Roy Fuller nothing to do with New Romanticism. wrote very finished poetry about dissociation, political distrust, selfconsciousness, the expectation of a completely new society emerging in the near future. Marxist, of course. His 40s poetry does not offer intense psychological rewards. It is certainly persuasive. Reading alienated poetry is sort of alienating.

David Gascoyne pedestrian and hysterical at the same time? What a combination. I have written a long essay on Gascoyne which is now included in Origins of the Underground. He did write some excellent surrealist poems.

Kenneth Gee born 1908. published one brilliant poem in Poetry Quarterly. Am trying to find out if I like the others. He did get a book out, with the inevitable Fortune Press.

WS Graham The quality of his New Romantic work needs to be underlined, in the face of revisionist historians with positions to defend. Obviously he is a New Romantic poet. His later evolution is wonderful in its scope. But 'The Nightfishing' is already a great work.

Michael Hamburger I have not read the poems Hamburger wrote in the 1940s. see notes here Hamburger His mature poetry is definitely not New Romantic.

George Campbell Hay his collected poems have recently been published by the WL Lorimer Trust. Most of them are in Gaelic. His one book of the 1940s was in Scots and English, and is remarkable - if linguistically eccentric and highly keyed-up. In about 1940, he resisted his call-up and took to the hills – in Argyllshire. This is the peak of romantic Scottish anti-britishness. It was going well, but the local authorities put pressure on his family, and he gave himself up. He then served in the Ambulance Corps. After a nervous breakdown in Greece while serving, he was basically a medical case for the rest of his life. Spent long periods in hospital. The traumatic incident is slightly obscure, or overloaded, but it was a confrontation between Hay and some right-wing Greek partisans who thought he was too Left, so he wasn’t strictly a victim of the anti-German war, or a soldier. Still, he was one of the long-term victims of the war.

Hamish Henderson wrote a great book, Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica, one of the very best books of the whole decade. Certainly Romantic, but quite different in its focus and ideals from the New Apocalypse group. Marxist and nationalist. gave up poetry to become a folklorist.

JF Hendry exactly how good he was is an issue now. There is also an issue about unpublished poetry (and poetry in magazines). 36 year publication gap broken by ‘Marimarusa’ (composed circa 1947, published 1978), which I think is a very fine poem. Its relationship to “Malcolm Mooney’s Land’ (and Seven Journeys) is an undetermined issue. Discussed in ORIGINS. The correct form is "Morimarusa".

Nigel Heseltine (1916-) He published a book, The Four-Walled Dream, with Fortune Press (in 1941) which I rather like. Participated in the anthology Modern Welsh Poetry, and was one of the highlights of that book. Was the son of the composer Peter Heseltine. Spent much of his later life in Africa (acc. to Peter Finch's Companion). Published translations of Dafydd ap Gwilym in 1944. Published in 1946 Tales of the Squirearchy, stories about 'the decayed and anglicised land-owning class'. Wrote several travel books about Africa.

David Jones Jones is possibly the most striking realisation of the New Apocalyptic ideal, writing personal myth which narrates Man's historical and religious destiny. It would seem a lot of his poetry was written in the 1940s (although dating is difficult).

Glyn Jones (1905-95) major poet, one of the significant survivors of the 1940s. collected poems published recently. edited the 1949 New Romantic Anthology. influenced by DH Lawrence, in the beginning. first volume published by Fortune Press.

James Kirkup (1918-2009) perhaps the most prolific poet of the 20th C. Not really a New Romantic. His career has been obscured by his sheer prolificness, a complete turn-off for the curious. Was an anarchist and pacifist during the war, according to some accounts. Reached a peak in the 50s, I think - I would admit to not having read 90% of his output. Did a joint volume with Ross Nichols, the future Chief Druid. His 40s work is fey and even like a ballet libretto. You could re-view the Forties with this kind of thing as the centre rather than the prophetic/political stuff. It relates to Edith Sitwell and Dunstan Thompson, for example, and theatrical painting by Minton or Leslie Hurry.

Sidney Keyes killed at 22. Was posthumously very famous, and then mysteriously written out of the story. The poems are unbelievably good for someone of his age. It's hard not to believe he would not have dominated his generation. While his poems obviously fit within the New Romantic realm, we need to reconsider and extend the concept to fit his work.

TS Law (1916-96?) Communist of working-class origins from east Fife. Wrote in Scots. Published a pamphlet, Whit time i the day in 1948, connected I think with a Communist group and the magazine Our Time (edited by Henderson?). This was followed by a 30 year publication ban. He just didn’t get on with the people who ran Scottish poetry. It may be he didn’t get on with anybody. I like Whit time i the day (which I was given a photocopy of by the Scottish Poetry Library, hurrah) and see Law as yet another victim of an era of conservatism and intolerance. He began self-publishing in the late 70s, still very political. I am reasonably sure there is still a lot of unpublished poetry. Not a New Romantic. After the first issue of these notes his son wrote to me and said his father had been highly published all his life. All the same it was 30 years between his first pamphlet and his first book. This may not have been his game plan.

Emmanuel Litvinoff some of his poems have impressed me very much. Nothing to do with New Romanticism at all, but has the weight of sombre moral integrity and vision. His poem reproaching Eliot's anti-Semitism ("To T. S. Eliot") is tough enough to punch a hole in the wall. There is some story of him reading it in public circa 1945, and Spender trying to beat him up. Litvinoff was right. You can find this poem in "Passionate Renewal. Jewish poetry in Britain since 1945", edited Peter Lawson. Eliot almost got away with it. Not quite.

Christopher Logue 
The pigeon's blood delights the peregrine. 
Beezled in his scepter to be the faggot
Of a King's word. Colour of lust, mine

Accidentally with sight and range beyond

The Asian river where, gently, I washed
For centuries. The Knave my paramour;
Dyed by my signet all powerful his finger
I match the vellum that he daubs with blood.




Or on the apron of her breasts I crozier. 
Logue's first two books show a definite New Romantic flavour, as the quote above shows. He eliminated them very thoroughly from his Selected volumes. Those poems also resemble Christopher Fry. Logue was very original and his first books can't be reduced to the standard image complexes of the time. They should be republished to give the public a fair account of the time. (Beezled - bezelled, I guess.) Logue was always covering his tracks.

Joseph Macleod (1903-84) subject of a Selected Poems, edited by Andrew Duncan, and published by Waterloo Press in 2009. Not a New Romantic, but published books with Fortune Press and Maclellan. He wrote prolifically up till the end of his life; one of the peaks is around 1949-53.

Charles Madge there was a 53 year gap between his second book (of poems) and his third. Is this a record? Although a rational poet, he liked to base poems on dreams, and planned to write a book on dreams (according to notes in an obscure anthology I found a copy of). Mass Observation had a strong surrealist element, and differed distinctively from, say, governmental surveys, by paying attention to people’s wishes and fantasies. That is, they had a transitional position between Marxism and surrealism. Madge’s later work shows a sharp movement away from audenesque social details to religion –‘Poem By Stages’ is really an eschatological poem. This is parallel to the New Romantics – a typical shift from the 30s to the 40s. He went from Marxism to personal myth. Another long poem, from about 1950, 'The Storming of the Brain', was published by The Cambridge Review in 2009. My commentary here Storming

Roland Mathias (1915-2007) published one brilliant volume during the 40s, Break in Harvest (1946). His work does show the influence of Dylan Thomas but really pursues imperatives which are quite outside the New Romantic thing. It is both true that he was a 40s poet who continued and ignored the Movement, that he was ignored in England throughout, and that he found resources in Wales, where the rules were different. So "The glorious beggar Bushell globed his light,/ Lean for the Calf of Man, the oil and herbs/ Of parsimony back/ In the mustard method his great Bacon taught,/ Back in the panorama of his pageboy grace-/ And calling Charles, the noble slipmaster[.]" -surely this shows the Thomas influence. The poem is "Enstone Rock". The theme is a 17th C mining engineer, a pupil and protege of Francis Bacon, who had Charles II as a patron. details in Aubrey's Brief Lives. The pun on eating herbs and following Bacon is surely dylanesque. The Enstone Marvels, designed by Bushell, are described in Roy Strong's The renaissance garden in England. On the theme of parsimony, let me boast that I bought Break in Harvest for 80p. Slipmaster? is this like "slipshod"? 'Harvest' was actual his second book.

Christopher Middleton published two books in a high New Romantic style while still a teenager. Poems in Poetry Quarterly, etc. There followed a pause before his mature work (starting with torse 3, 1963). Are the two phases connected? I doubt it.

Norman MacCaig One of the New Apocalyptics who radically forswore the style and denounced it in interviews forever after. So far as I can find out, he refused to serve in the world war, lost his job, did "war work" as gardener, missed promotion (as a teacher) afterwards. But was he a nationalist or  pacifist? He kept quiet about this, which was the safest thing. So often we find the New Romantic style linked to rejecting the war idea.

Nicholas Moore published six volumes, I think, during the 1940s. widely regarded as the worst poet of the era. Could not get published in subsequent decades but went on writing. Rediscovered by Peter Riley in the 1980s (dates?). was not really a Romantic, and his best poems are imitations of Wallace Stevens. was not really a Romantic, and his best poems are imitations of Wallace Stevens. There is a very interesting portrayal of Moore in Wrey Gardiner's autobiographical book The Dark Thorn (1946). Gardiner projected onto him as the symbol of poetic creativity. He wrote two really good poems.

Edwin Morgan (1921-1910) became Scotland’s greatest modern poet. Although he wrote some pure Apocalyptic poems (up to 1951?), the style did not suit him. They are there in Poems of Thirty Years.

Edwin Muir If we revisit the 1930s, we find a configuration which anticipates the New Romantics, and in which Muir is vital. 'Variations on a Time Theme', a 1934 long poem, is remarkable. His openness to myth and the transcendental is exciting. he made the critique of science which was basic to the New Romantic approach.

Hubert Nicholson I did find some people who had known him. As usual, they didn't recall anything of interest. He was a journalist. He must have been involved in Marxist politics during the 1940s. New Spring Song (1943) was published by Fortune Press and is so stylised it almost falls over. But not quite! Sort of modernist agitprop. Dig 'Logic of fascism' 'Where is Jean Cocteau' 'Catechism for dead flowers' (preceding the Rolling Stones?). It includes the famous 'Nero': 'In my wreath and purple/ walking down the Strand/ looking for a pansy/ to paddle by the hand'. Obviously this is an exposé of the decadence of late bourgeois society, and you aren't meant to enjoy it. Oh No. Not a bit.

Kathleen Nott

I have written about Nott on this site.  Nott  One of the most significant discoveries of the whole resurrection project. She has nothing to do with the New Romantic thing – which seems to be what I have come round to in the last ten years (written 2017), the importance of a whole group of poets who were neither NR nor part of the Auden thing. The clearer the NR thing becomes, the clearer it is that these poets did not belong to it. Nott published her first volume, Landscapes and Departures, with Editions Poetry London in 1947, which would have put her on the map as New Romantic – just when the boys in charge were writing it off. Nott had a completely disastrous career if you accept that she was a really important poet – this 1947 book is clearly important and was just ignored. Another proof that Tambimuttu had a genius radar-vision that could see through thousands of manuscripts to find the brilliant unknown poets.

And these deaf dumbfounded
sons of the thought and skeleton
have ears only of bone,
whose hearing finds no bearing
in this supersonic sphere
where silent music of a breedless love goes writing peaks of snow:
only of size
framed to the derelict crustacean buildings,
ankylosed
corners, echoes fashioned in the stone
and the primitive hammer
of the clamouring heart
and their own deserted wells
of tears and blood.


The sense is a cliff with many birds, and also holidaying people who are not the birds and who are indeed “the deaf dumbfounded”.  

Ruth Pitter (1897-92) began publishing poetry in the 1930s. 'Garland for a Mad Lady'. is either not New Romantic or a marginal New Romantic with a quieter style.

FT Prince cannot be defined as a New Romantic poet. he was just one of the truly admirable poets to be active in the 1940s.

Kathleen Raine (1908-2003) peaked after the 40s. She opined that she hadn't really mastered poetry until her 1953 volume. Then, the poetry she published after the age of 65 is wanting. This leaves a prime period in which she wrote really terrific poetry, exciting even if you aren't a neo-Platonist. Built up vague mystical feelings into an authoritative system, which was a big mistake. Shared a house with Cecil Collins. Edited an 80s magazine called Temenos (1981-92), which is the legitimate heir of New Romanticism – everything has been transformed but the links are clear. Temenos evolved into the Temenos Academy, which is part of the Prince of Wales’ Institute of Architecture, whose director of research is an ex-co-editor of Temenos. I could not read her poetry while she was alive because I found her personality so overpowering.

Herbert Read the basic story is that Read published (for Routledge) many New Romantic books, inspired them as an anarchist of stature, was a fan of 'the first hour', but did not also write Apocalyptic poetry. This is something we shall have to revisit. My brief foray into Read suggested to me that he had a great influence on Stephen Spender, and perhaps on the Auden clique in general, in writing poetry about politics.

Lynette Roberts I think everyone knows the story (see John Pikoulis’ edition of her work, and the issue of Poetry Wales on her which he edited). It seems she didn’t write any poetry after about 1953. Her two volumes (Poems and Gods with Stainless Ears) are indispensable, soaring high above the other poetry of this period. Patrick McGuinness has now collected and published all this poetry, with a masterly introduction. A wonderful book.

Alan Ross not a New Romantic. Published some not especially good poetry during the 40s but also wrote some terrific poetry in the 50s and, much later, reflected on his traumatic wartime experiences to produce wonderful poetry about battle. Was a destroyer officer during the war. Seriously underrated as a poet. Wrote some of the poems which redeem the 1950s as an era. The long delay was because of the traumatic nature of his experiences – that is, he was a war victim even though he went on leading a normal life and was a brilliant editor. He was much influenced by Lawrence Durrell.

Peter Russell published with Fortune Press under another name (Gwyther Irwin?). Went to live in Italy and write amazingly bad poetry. Was published a lot in the 1980s in Temenos, another scrap of evidence for Temenos as a continuation and transformation of the 1940s.

DS Savage not really much of a poet. Wrote a prose memoir of his experiences as a pacifist during the war (published in a collective book of memoirs of pacifism).

Tom Scott. I would rather be beaten around the head with a brick than read any more Tom Scott.

Burns Singer lived as a journalist in London and died young. Big fan of WS Graham. Trained as marine biologist. see the new edition of his poetry by James Keery.

Edith Sitwell One of the older poets who wholeheartedly took on the Apocalyptic style. Frankly, it isn't her best work. Her enthusiasm and willingness to develop are most impressive.

Robin Skelton   Skelton made what may have been the last new Romantic debut, Patmos and other poems (1955). The Apocalypse of John was written on Patmos, so this is a pretty strong signal. Skelton went to Canada and wrote many books about which I know nothing. Born 1926? 

Sidney Goodsir Smith ‘Under the Eildon-tree’ is an ‘archetypal’ work, heavily influenced by Robert Graves. This is romantic rather than apocalyptic. It is in Scots. Smith seems to have faded from view. There is a story (maybe I shouldn't tell this) that he was theatre reviewer for a prominent Edinburgh newspaper, and one evening he fell out of his box. As everyone knew who he was, this rather "liquid" incident could not be hushed up, and he lost his job. His poetry is theatrical, this is the problem. He was not a Scots speaker so his poetry is a magnificent act of display rather than deeply personal. Christopher Whyte, in what is probably the best book on modern Scottish poetry, shows small mercy towards Smith.


Stephen Spender. Spender did write his Apocalyptic poems, although these do not appear in his Collected Poems. See posting on this website for more details. Jim Keery resurrected this lost moment. Spender repented of almost everything. His Apocalyptic poems are just about the best anyone ever wrote. This just shows up that most of the others were insecure about technique.
stephen-spender-and- the eternal-present

Randall Swingler famous as a librettist for Britten and for Alan Bush. Communist. Wrote public poetry for political festivals, I think. Edited a poetry series for the Communist Party (Key Poets) in 1951. Almost totally uninteresting as a poet – ideology crushes the poetry, the “personal” parts are deadeningly conventional, imported from religious poetry. Left-wing poetry began from scratch in the 1960s because the local Communist poets were so bad that nobody read them. It seems to be the fate of Blake that stupid people think they can just copy in his imagery & rhythms and the result will prove them to be “visionaries”. The transcendental is not susceptible to these essentially bureaucratic methods.

Dylan Thomas I don't suppose there is anyone who hasn't read D Thomas. The New Apocalypse school is largely to be understood as the first wave of admiring response to Thomas. The original group went to great lengths to get Thomas to join them - and he did contribute to the first anthology. There is a case to be made that the style elements pre-existed Thomas and were synthesized by him. Certainly George Barker, the other most significant debut of the 1930s, developed his style before Dylan had published. It would follow that the 40s style was already there in 1933. Surrealism was certainly a key stimulus. I believe John Goodby is now working on this moment of origin.

Dunstan Thompson (1918-75) American copyist of George Barker. It has to be said that he did it better than Barker, in general. A Roman Catholic, like Barker; tinged by Francis Thompson. Produced two terrific books (Poems, Lament for the Sleepwalker) and then fell silent. A posthumous book (Poems 1950-74) collects his later poetry, which I don’t like very much (a kind of travel or antiquarian style, concerned with ecclesiastical history). It seems none of these poems after about 1954 were published in his lifetime. He was stationed in London during the war, but had developed his style while still in New York. Later, he lived in Norfolk. You can get his books through the Internet quite easily. This is just about my favourite 40s poetry. (I guess the books sold very well on publication; they're cheap now because his name was forgotten.) I wrote about him in ORIGINS. and Dunstan

Terence Tiller (1916-87) nothing to do with New Romantics and in fact attacked their style at the time. Spent the war in Egypt. I really like his poetry, which has been written out of history by various people. He belonged to the “wrong faction” of English poets in Egypt. Worked for BBC radio as a producer. Why do I mention him? Er. It's because I really like his work, because it has never been reprinted, because I like those 40s books as physical objects.

Henry Treece lamentably bad poet in a “high” New Romantic style. Lived all his life in England, had a Welsh mother, defined himself as Welsh. Wrote about Wales as if he'd never been there. Wrote essays defining the style (‘How I See Apocalypse‘, etc.) and edited a flagship magazine called Transformation.

Douglas Young pretty much gave up writing poetry after 1950. Wrote a few very significant poems in a deep Scots. A professor of Greek, took time off for Scottish Nationalist activities and resisted call-up during the war. Despite this, became chairman of the Scottish Labour Party.

Eithne Wilkins had a whole string of amazing poems published in Kenneth Rexroth's 1948 anthology. Heaven only knows what happened to her after that. She certainly translated many books from German and French. A long poem appeared in Botteghe oscure in 1953, rather Under Milk Wood tinged. She was Welsh according to a remark in Poetry Quarterly.

Meurig Walter brilliant poet in 'Wales'. I think he wrote in Welsh after that. Essays in Ysgrifau beirniadol, that sort of thing.

Vernon Watkins went recklessly on publishing extremely bad poetry with Faber.

Peter Yates half William Empson, half George Barker. born 1911. not sure what happened to him after 1950. Wrote some good poems in a distinctive style, appreciated by fans of the period. Cleaner and more effective than many of the well-known poets of the time. I like his book ‘The Expanding Mirror’, of which I have a copy. It is not as prone to autosuggestion as most NRs and also lacks the tone of religious angst. Actually, not a million miles away from Terence Tiller. It's more like John Donne than Dylan Thomas, to be perfectly honest. On reflection I don't like the Barker comparison, I think the source is Baudelaire in fact. One Internet site claims he was born in 1914 and was the pseudonym of William Long; the London Library catalogue says he was born in 1911, as does the jacket of 'Petal and Thorn'. I think there may have been confusion here. I think he published 3 books of poems (further The Unmoving Dancer, Dark and Light) and wrote verse plays. There was a selected poems in 1983 ('Petal and Thorn'), it doesn't have all the good poems but does have a lot of hitherto unseen ones. You have to go back to the original books, unfortunately.



The truly marginal
Paul Dienes published one book with Fortune Press, The Maiden and the Unicorn, undated. One of the most extreme poets of the century, to the point of delirium. Interesting for a mixture of Gnosticism, Hinduism, and synaesthesia. Could be considered as proto-psychedelic or late Symboliste.

J. Redwood Anderson also published several volumes with Fortune Press, to the excitement of those who are turned on by the distinctive Fortune design style. A trilogy on Iranian cosmology (or a synthesis of several religions), they fit in with the New Romantics only by extravagance and lack of realism. Actually they remind me of William Watson (who also turned to epic poems about Iranian cosmology when it was too late for anything else). I haven’t read them – I just skimmed through them. Anderson was a hangover from the First World War era. He was leaning away from poetry and towards esoteric religion – cf. Kathleen Raine. He (and Watson) can be seen as forerunners of Temenos. He was the kind of illuminated crackpot who turns up in Anthony Powell novels. An index shows him as publishing a poem in The Quest magazine (the successor to the Theosophical Review, and with the same editor) even in 1909. Fortune Press didn’t have a policy – they published anyone who paid them (which is fairly obvious if you get a bunch of their books together). However, because Nicholas Moore did work for them sometimes, his friends tended to publish there – a cluster of which Anderson is obviously not a part.

Geoffrey Matthews wrote war poems which by a publishing freak were published recently (in 1999?) for the first time (as War Poems). I think he wrote very few poems after the war. These are finished poems but not highly rewarding – he was a Marxist and had got that alienated quality, that Roy Fuller has, off perfectly. An atmosphere of anxiety and detachment from “shared goals” points to sudden changes of behaviour in the offing; it could have tipped over into something more expressive if he had gone on. The poems don’t deliver any experience the poet truly participates in and it is hard to participate in the poems. We feel detached and uneasy. He went to live in Norway, which probably didn’t reduce his alienation very much. Academic life probably didn’t encourage the writing of expressive poems. It’s certainly interesting to see these poems emerge after half a century in the drawer. I think Fuller’s poetry suffers from the same problem.

Underground survival in the 1950s
This remains an open issue. James is very sanguine about an underground stream of brilliant poetry, continuing 1940s ideas. The magazine Ore seems to be a source for this kind of material – Eric Ratcliffe (editor) is keen on Druidism and Arthurian poetry, amongst other things. Ore ran from 1954 to 1995, which is pretty amazing. I haven’t seen the 1950s issues, but I did see an editorial in which Ratcliffe claimed to have been a second generation of New Romanticism. I think Ore was also a low-profile magazine which lacked any contacts with the original NRs. I did find poems by Ithell Colquhoun (in issues from the 1980s?) (and an Ore pamphlet, “Grimoire of the entangled thicket”) which seem like a direct continuation of the 1940s; Colquhoun was a contributor to The Quest, then a Surrealist visual artist in the 1930s. See website here Ithell . Her Surrealism led her to Celtic religious revivalism and to spiritualism. The website says that after being expelled from the Surrealist group she made overtures to the Apocalyptics (in 1941).  I think we would look to the organs of spiritualism, Jungianism, neo-paganism, etc. for the current of changes which neo-Romantic poets of the later period absorbed, and which their readers were quite familiar with. That is, once we accept that the poetry is not primary, there is a huge corpus of evidence which we can draw on to uncover the later history of New Romantic ideas. (There is good material on Colquhoun in Michel Remy's The English Surrealist Movement.) There is a very good painting by Colquhoun in the Brighton Museum.

What seems to be the last gasp of the 1940s is Savage’s republication of EFF Hill’s prose writings during the 1980s. I remember going to Small Press Fairs (around 1990?) and seeing these things and being incredulous. It’s possible that DS Savage was behind the stall, selling them (to a sceptical audience). Hill died in 1955, but Savage was his literary executor, and printed his works (although only after 20 or 30 years). Hill wrote about the Apocalypse – no interest in poetry, this is just a mixture of Christian mysticism and politics. Poetry was not essential to this streak of apocalypticism.

David Wright’s anthology of Contemporary Poetry (1965), for Penguin, is a striking example of an alternative taste – in violent contrast with the Movement hegemony. This is a valuable document of the sort of Fifties poetry which is still artistically retrievable today. Wright deserves whatever medals can go to an editor who obstinately explores outside the territory which the bien-pensants have decreed to be acceptable, without being paranoid or depressingly factional. He excludes all the Movement pets – but doesn’t this explain so much of the mutual hostility which has smouldered over the last 40 years, that the most influential people weren’t even going to get printed if someone concerned for artistic values was at the helm. They had to be good at discrediting people, didn’t they?

The Movement hegemony
Because I spent 20 years thinking about this every day, I now find it an utterly tedious subject. All the same it is the salient fact about British poetry from 1955 to 1980, if not longer. There now seems to be a very wide consensus that it was a bad thing, and that Movement poems are tedious, shallow, smug, sententious, emotionally dead, etc. When people speak about the mainstream, they mean that it shares these characteristics; but the poetry-reading public was never so one-sided, and In particular what they hoped for in poetry was better than what was on offer.

Wolfgang Görtschacher’s book on Little Magazine Profiles 1949-93 has essential information on the economics of magazines during the period. What his quantitative evidence shows is that there was a terrific dearth of magazines during the 50s – an impoverishment of openings which correlates with rigid and conservative poetry, and with the hegemony of a few people determined to exclude dissidents. Wolfgang’s definition of poets like Craig Raine and Andrew Motion as a continuation of The Movement deserves serious consideration, but perhaps needs to be nuanced slightly.

Connections with the Continent
"Time for black prophecies is over: the Winter of History is whistling around us.
Man, with suicidal power in his limbs, poison in his blood, craziness in his head like a mad dog: nobody can see his destiny.
If he wants to scarify people to the bone with his new instruments of devastation: his only attainments are loss of the wheel and of fire, forgetfulness of speech, life on all fours.
But let him extricate himself: let him give up his myriad maggot-teeming acts of idiot self-will, his termite provision-activities for the outer world: first let him measure and order the inner world."

Henry Treece? no, this is a 1960 poem by Sándor Weöres. He was writing prolifically already in the 40s (born 1913), and wrote a number of perfect Apocalyptic poems. A loss of belief led naturally to thinking about the skull, as the source of everything - and civilisation was not doing well between 1933 and (say) 1944. That idea of finitude led quickly to the worm - so there you have "skull" and "worm", the basic Apocalyptic images.
I think the comparative side of New Romanticism could get right out of hand; quite clearly there was a big wave of New Romanticism right across Europe in the 40s, and in most countries it didn't stop as it did, by administrative coup, in England. Gascoyne cannot be understood except in a European context, and this is asking us to use what has yet to be invented — a synoptic view of "europistics".
It is especially difficult to retroactively write New Romanticism out of the historical record.


Connections with painting and cinema
I tend to forget that there was a 1940s outside poetry, and that there was a whole world of style which throve outside the poetic groups, and which was much more publicly visible than they. What we remember about the period is that it came just before the arrival of a “new class” of educated people (of “nether origins”) brought along by the 1944 Education Act. This has no bearing on New Romanticism at all – quite unrelated to any strata of antique privilege.

We can name four strands of cinema as the melodrama of Gainsborough Pictures, the unique artistic style of Powell and Pressburger, the documentary line, now merged with wartime propaganda, and the war film. The Powell and Pressburger films (Michael Powell’s memoirs give a fascinating portrait of the times, where he emphasises the team nature of the enterprise, and credits their two German art designers, Junge and Heckroth) can easily be classified as New Romantic, and lend themselves to comparison with the poetry. The Gainsborough films, on a much lower artistic level, equally lend themselves to a New Romantic rubric: their formula, once they’d worked it out, involved the clash of sexual urges (mainly) with the rules of the class system, full-blooded characters played by glamorous actresses, passionate conflict, and an aristocratic milieu under pressure from basic instincts. The saleable aspect was individualist freedom appealing to an audience living in considerable hardship because of the war effort. It is hard to watch these films without being reminded of the melodramatic nature of 40s poetry.

“Gone to Earth” is a Powell/Pressburger film which steals most of the Gainsborough formula.

The films can easily be connected to the “aristocracy in heroic decline” theme described below.

American connections
James came up with some really interesting stuff on this (which see). Tantalising. We didn’t find very much in the end. Dunstan Thompson edited a magazine called Vice Versa, which I haven’t seen. Shipping and currency problems in the 1940s mean British libraries are not strong on little American magazines of this period. I did find an essay by Berryman in Partisan Review where he denounces the whole New Romantic thing as being sloppily written and out of touch with academic standards – which is fair enough, really. Probably the American end of “romanticism” (post Hart Crane) was more disciplined, closer to New Critical standards, and so looks very different from New Romanticism – and less exceptional. There was certainly a wave of anarcho-pacifism (and perhaps especially in Northern California?), but it had different results – the USA wasn’t really subject to wartime totalitarianism in the way that Britain was. Robert Duncan certainly had a crisis when conscripted, which led to his discharge from the Army on psychiatric grounds. It is fair to describe Duncan as influenced by British New Romanticism, it’s fair to describe him as a 40s New Romantic poet, but he was a cultured man who picked up and synthesized many influences. If he believed in esoteric symbolism, it is because he was raised as a Theosophist, with the usual cultural trappings of the Occult Revival as part of the household goods. He didn’t have the same publication ban that his British colleagues suffered. Rexroth was a classical Californian anarchist, visited Britain during the war to get in touch with anarchists and New Romantics, sponsored these poets in America, broadcast on the radio about them, but was very critical of their style. (see Rexroth interview in Melzer's book on The San Francisco Poets) Actually, the political links were probably more important than the poetic ones. We did uncover a magazine called Phoenix, which was dedicated to the work of DH Lawrence and had as co-editor the English poet DS Savage. This is not “New Romantic”, and the bond with Savage was through pacifism and a wish to return to self-sufficient organic farming. Robert Symmes was living at the farm (in upstate New York) where the Phoenix group lived, and helping to print Phoenix – this is before he changed his name to Robert Duncan. This is a fact, but not a literary-historical one – Duncan’s style takes nothing from Phoenix, or Savage, or even Lawrence. Symmes edited an offshoot magazine called Ritual (advertised in Phoenix) –it sounds very interesting, from the ad, but we haven't seen any copies.

Rexroth edited the classic anthology of the 1940s, The New British Poets (1948). Oscar Williams also anthologised the period very sensitively.

New Romantic prose
This is a blank for me. However, reading Gwyn Thomas’ All Things Betray Thee was a landmark in my path towards accepting that New Romanticism might be of interest. This is simply a great novel.

Sacheverell Sitwell’s Splendours and Chagrins seems at this date like the masterpiece of New Romantic prose. It is a great deal more realised than most of the poetry of the period.

I am pondering whether we could sneak in Northrop Frye's book on Blake (Fearful Symmetry), and certain works of G Wilson Knight, as works that shed light on New Romantic poetry and mythical thinking.

Theatrical romanticism and a school of stage painters
New Romantic painting was much influenced by a school of stage painting led by Tchelitchew and Christian Bérard (and Eugene Berman). This combination of imaginative freedom and uncynical reliance on the characters established by an older European court art produced something altogether more light-hearted than New Romantic poetry, which had a typical burden of anxiety and despair. It is a question why the poetry turned out this way – and it is worth searching for an alternative strand, theatrical and emotionally buoyant. Liberation from realism does not have to be pessimistic in flavour.

Sacheverell Sitwell is the literary equivalent of this dedication to the art of the past. He published no poetry in the 1940s at all.

To think of New Romanticism we must also think of the Sadler’s Wells ballet, Frederick Ashton, Leslie Hurry, and the origins of English ballet –or “music theatre”. Some of these designs were by Ayrton and Minton, significant New Romantic painters, who had got their painting style initially from the Parisian stage designers, on a trip to Paris when they were both still schoolboys. (Tch. was also E. Sitwell’s great love, chosen perhaps because he was gay.) If we stick to the theme of “non realism” manipulating “timeless figures”, perhaps we can see the myths of the poets as partly equivalent to the theatrical figures (Harlequin, the rake, Aphrodite, etc.) in the ballets. When a poem refers to a “marble statue”, we can see this as the injection of a piece of visual art into the verbal domain, and directly similar to the Classical figures which appeared in so many surrealist paintings (Delvaux and Di Chirico, for example).

If we go back to Tchelitchew, we find him as a continuation of the Saint Petersburg stage designers. That is, a milieu of court art, the last great court art of European history. So perhaps there is a link, after all, between his Parisian circle in the 1920s and the English culture of the 1940s.

Henze
Hans-Werner Henze wrote a volume of memoirs called Bohemian Fifths. I mention this partly because I thought this was an utterly wonderful book, partly because it does shed a light on English culture of the 40s. Henze has mainly worked in a kind of “music theatre” which didn’t exist in Germany before the war, and which reflects what he was exposed to in the British Occupied Zone, in the 40s, where he saw English ballet, met Ashton, and was commissioned by him. Henze has been a lifelong anglophile, and the kind of England he is in love with is precisely the aestheticism of the 40s. One of the strands which runs right through New Romanticism is producing a culture which rises above war and provides consolation for its griefs, and this musical culture clearly supplied exactly that for northwest Germany when hungry, deprived, and exhausted by war.

Prose again; The Disappearing Castle
When I think of the prose of the 40s, I think of Brideshead Revisited, of Osbert Sitwell’s four volumes of memoirs, and of James Lees-Milne’s diaries (Caves of Ice, etc.) What seems to link these is the theme of aristocratic classicism in heroic decay – a gigantic exploration of anxiety in the face of the conversion of the electorate to Labour. The architecture which features so prominently in these books is the equivalent of the classical figures which appear in the painting and ballet of the time; a classical, Italianate, and aristocratic past, seen as it were back-lit by the flames which are about to engulf it. The architecture of the 40s was ruins – especially the ruins of great and ancient buildings, which were the most impressive.

The authors mentioned either belonged to the landed gentry or profoundly identified with it. The poets did not – they were like fish out of water, aware that the old European culture had died but uncertain about a new life-space which could shelter them. This explains their insistence on deciding things for themselves, and their deep anxiety.

One aspect of the 40s is the crisis of the European aristocracy – not something which occupies centre stage when the threat of physical destruction was so universal. But perhaps it is something important which we miss when we look back. Because the audience for painting, ballet, etc., was so small, these art forms were closely associated with the nobility, for whom it was part of tradition. Their international nature was related to the international sense of the nobility, their aspirations to French and Italian standards. The 1940s saw the destruction of the eastern European landowners as a class. In Germany, they lost their status under the strain of war – the rise of the Waffen SS was a symbolic move away from the aristocratic officer class of tradition. The British aristocracy lost financial and social power on a grand scale. The Italian peasants saw major advances in their status, a move away from feudalism despite fierce resistance. Survivals of aristocrats with their estates and influence in places like Sweden, Spain, and Portugal seem archaic. In this context (little less than a farewell to traditional European culture), the angst of the New Romantics can be interpreted as a sense of being pressed between the old noble cultural rules and the new, aggressive, communist ones. The third possibility was an educated bourgeois culture which has been growing at several per cent a year ever since.

We are thinking less of the culture enjoyed by the nobility than of the nobility as an object of fantasy – the subject of popular art on a mass scale. The change would involve the shift for actors from a mandatory West End accent to a far wider range of voices, approximating to the real country. Something similar happened across Europe at this time – perhaps everywhere. In Britain, the shift would be from noble subjects (or living, at least, in the West End) to American film stars with classless “democratic” appeal. The influence of aristocratic salons (classically, those of Sybil Colefax and Lady Cunard) on artistic taste is hard to measure at best, but one should investigate the ascent, at this time, of groups of painters, composers, and concert musicians who achieved prestige without aristocratic sponsorship. Perhaps we need to take a look at the grim factors of economics to grasp why cliques that could deliver people with spare cash, who actually bought tickets, bought paintings, etc., were so significant for emerging new artists. Even symphony orchestras were bound by economics to fashionable hostesses. Painters do need to sell paintings occasionally. Patronage remains the basic question.
Perhaps there is a connection between John Piper and Madge’s The Disappearing Castle after all – Madge’s brilliant definition of the loss of a noble background for culture and Piper’s serial illustration of the scenery in which it had taken place. Piper’s interest in cataloguing and recording beautiful buildings exactly resembles Lees-Milne’s activity as an officer of the National Trust, preserving stately homes – with the precondition that the owners were going to die and that the families no longer had surplus wealth. The cataloguing was a preoccupation of the period, an act of loyalty to a way of life threatened by Communism and Fascism. As a rational and didactic activity, we can see it as the forerunner of the takeover of culture by academics. We can also see it as the successor to the Shell County Books, symptoms of a redefinition of the countryside and its precious objects as a leisure park for the “common man” as liberated by the motor-car. Aristocratic culture was thus drowned by a new psychological perspective changing all the tonal values of its battered objects.


Back to the land
This is something I failed to find anything out about. (In 2002 – I have since found a whole string of sources.) Savage spent the war on a smallholding (maybe two successive ones), the Phoenix group were into self-sufficiency, this correlates with anarchism because it rejects the commercial system. Bringing it all back to the body (you work with your body to produce food, the product of the bodies of plants and animals, it’s all visible and tangible) seems to correlate with Apocalyptic rejection of the “object-machine”. Non-mechanised farming seems to connect with organic imagery in poems.

There must also be a link with the arts and crafts movement, or its descendants of the 1940s.

Horizon; fantasies of the Mediterranean
My image of the 40s was dominated by Horizon for many years before I developed any serious interest in the New Romantics. The volumes of selections from Horizon retain classic status for me.

One of their lines was nostalgia for the Mediterranean – nourished by despatches from people serving in the Middle Eastern theatre and trying to lead a cultural life. Cecil Beaton picnicked in the Western Desert and found a notice for picnickers saying Please leave the desert as you found it.

The cultural assets (architecture, paintings, sculpture) associated with nobility were largely of Italian origin. This combined with a hot, dry climate to produce a specific image of the Mediterranean, and a craving for the favours of that image. Poets writing about the Mediterranean in wartime include Lawrence Durrell, Terence Tiller, and Hamish Henderson. Because the New Romantic thing was happening in London, the poets in the Middle East were not caught up in it, did not feel part of it and in some cases found it ridiculous.

Horizon’s reception of the NRs was very selective, and is a guide for us. They ran articles on English Romantic painters by Geoffrey Grigson, who was very much against New Romantic poetry. The rediscovery of Danby, John Martin, etc., and indeed of Blake, contributed to the atmosphere of the time. Martin’s use of apocalyptic scenes from the Bible reminds us of the roots of “apocalypticism” - in popular religion. If we look at the Biblical epics which Hollywood was still producing in the 1940s and 1950s, we see something occultly related to the Apocalyptics – the set designs for the prototype Towelhead Picture (the first “Ben-Hur” film etc.) were based on Victorian Bible paintings which were generic descendants of John Martin’s canvases.

Continuity in Wales
A high proportion of the New Romantic poets were Welsh, and there was a classic anthology, Modern Welsh Poetry, edited by Keidrych Rhys, 1944, exhibiting a whole school. There was more continuity of the style in Wales than elsewhere. However, later currents proved much more influential on Anglo-Welsh poetry in general. The Rhys anthology is, distressingly, much better than later Welsh anthologies, in the era of grants.

Roland Mathias is, for me, one of the most interesting poets to emerge in the 1940s. His style, too, evolved. Note a “recovery issue” – there are a lot of poems in his early volumes which didn’t get picked up in his eventual Selected Poems. The Roses of Tretower (1952) can be considered as a variant of the Heroic Nobility theme – Tretower was the residence of the Vaughan family (as in Henry Vaughan), and is a classic building. Mathias’ ability to think about the past, rather than merely recount legends, is quite admirable. (His recent collected poems may be really complete, but I haven’t seen it.)

The 1960s
One assessment of the 1960s would be that, whatever currents of “alternative” thought it picked up, it swept them all away and changed them irrevocably. So, it would be extremely stupid to look at recent years and expect to find elements of the New Romantic style original and untransformed. Their ability to transform is – what, a sign of life?


Nimbus
A magazine of the 50s (1951-8?) which James came up with. It is of high literary quality. Because the editor was Tristram Hull, and because RFC Hull appears in the magazine, I conjectured they were related. RFCH was the translator of Jung into English. The name of Tristram Hull just vanished from the scene, but this is a very good magazine. There is some information about it in Christopher Logue’s memoirs. Martin Green claims to have founded it (in an essay appearing in the Aquarius issue about Graham and Barker – an issue of astonishing tedium, I’m afraid).

(Peter Riley claims in an email that RFCH was the father of Tristram Hull. Riley knows a lot about 20th C British poetry, but his ideological presuppositions limit the value of his writing about it. He has some very specific investments, unfortunately.)

Enthusiasts of the NR style should turn up Christopher Logue’s work prior to his 1959 book – poems which he has rigorously excluded from his volumes of Selected. He published in Nimbus, and is probably the most interesting New Romantic to emerge after 1950. It was not mainly a poetry magazine; and had a strong left-wing element, liking Brecht and Neruda. Later issues show “New English Review” as a secondary title – the mag may have evolved into something no longer called Nimbus? Ominously, it also stopped showing an editor’s name – just a publisher (John Trafford).

What Nimbus shows us is the ideas of the 40s evolving – the discourse was changing without losing its basic direction. This is significant, because it means that if you are looking in the 1970s the succession to the 1940s is not going to look exactly like the 1940s. That is – poetry based on archetypes is itself subject to vagaries of fashion. The White Goddess changed everything which came after it (in that line).

The poetry editor was David Wright – an intriguing figure whose tastes we should investigate to track the flow of underground, anti-Movement currents in a time of apparent literary dictatorship.

The rise of academicism; the New Criticism
One of the images thrown up by older literati (by the old cultured class under threat?) was of people coming along and working very hard at culture and deriving no pleasure from it whatsoever – crossing a line between “work” and “pleasure” which has proved a problem ever since. If we look at Horizon, all the articles are quite short – raising the possibility that producing massive books quite literally missed the point of culture, burying it under tons of essentially tedious information. It would be nice if this wasn’t true, but the atrophy of poets who went into academic life seems to say it was – literature became work for them and ceased to be literature. They stopped writing poems. Wherever sensibility flees to, is where we have to go.

The eclipse of New Romantic poets by talentless academic critics is thus part of a larger and tragic story in which literati became unable to write poetry and new poetry ceased to play a role in the life of the reading public. Academic life doesn’t have to be drudgery. I would like figures for how many academics were bored and exhausted and how many were having a good time. Otherwise I think these issues will remain open.

Lees-Milne disliked the advent of intellectuals in the life of the arts; but what his diary records is his own heroic efforts to get around the country to visit potential National Trust acquisitions, heroic because of the appalling weather, the breakdowns of his car, the rundown of the infrastructure while all resources were going to the war effort. Art had become a job for him even though his great terror was of art being reduced to a form of work. In sober fact he was immersed in paperwork, petty vexations, the management of repairs to the fabric, etc. – not in designing beautiful buildings or even living in them.

The relationship of the new bad poetry of the 1950s to the New Criticism is contentious. Essentially, I see it as a piece of crooked political asset-grabbing – you justify your bad poetry by “contamination”, linking it to an obvious classic. I don’t see how Cleanth Brooks’ criticism adds lustre to dismal Movement poetry. This was a hallucination. Meanwhile, relating the classic works of the New Criticism to mass classroom practice is too difficult, because the evidence is lost and would have to be available on a mass scale. I would like to cut my losses by observing, merely, that the New Criticism could justify any kind of poetry, and that the route from serious academic study to writing bad Movement poetry is opaque and obscure.

If I look at Northrop Frye, I find a strong interest in archetypes, myth, and religious experience – all of which would form an outstanding theoretical foundation for the New Romantics. I suspect the other classic New Critics mostly show a similar enthusiasm for myth and religion as the most privileged subjects of poetry. What comes next is the opaque and obscure bit.

Gay thematic in 1940s poetry

Quite a few of these figures are gay, maybe more whom we don't have information about. Is this a vital theme? Malcolm Yorke, in his book on 9 neo-Romantic painters, remarks that several of them were gay. This is very tempting and exciting, but only if you don't expect gay people to be present, in a minority, everywhere. Since that obviously is the case, the panorama of gay writers in 1945 is not vitally different from a similar array in 1965, 1975, 1995, etc.

Gay life was different in wartime, as various witnesses have said. The imminence of death, the break-up of settled patterns, even the blackout, made brief but highly-charged encounters more frequent. So there was a flourishing gay world in London, and some part of this world overlapped with the world that produced new culture. Dunstan Thompson's poems probably reflect this.

My guess is that there is a specific 40s style, impetuous, dizzy with exaltation and anxiety, more interested in feelings than facts, which was repellent to a wide range of conventional people, but which was attractive to a certain group of young people, of whom some were gay and some were not.

Was there an originally gay style for living and feeling which spilled over into a New Romantic world? This would be a very exciting idea. I don't think that is what happened and I am not sure that there was a gay style which people could recognise, and which contained this mode of self-expression, prior to 1939. I think there was a range of stylistic/emotional stances in the cultural realm which was already there in 1930, let's say, and one of these is what New Romanticism sought out, made central and expanded.  
I think there was a lifestyle which went with the NR art style - but I am doubtful which of the artists were actually leading it. In fact, that is a question worth asking.

Sources
Little has been written about the poetry we are interested in since 1950.

Nigel Wheale wrote about Lynette Roberts and cinema (where was this?). James Keery has written a continuing series about the 40s in issues of PN Review.

Fundamental information on the Anglo-Welsh scene is in Glyn Jones’ The dragon has two tongues.

The sources I used most are the original books and the poetry magazines of the era, Poetry London and Poetry Quarterly at the forefront.

Rob Jackaman, The course of Surrealist poetry in English, has probably the most serious account of the New Romantics currently in print.

MP Ryan, Career patterns in modern British Poetry, (1982 doctoral thesis), has a wonderful collection of interviews with poets, including many of interest to us. There is a copy of this in the Poetry Library. I don’t know of any more worthwhile books on the subject.

Derek Stanford’s Inside the 40s is an invigorating book of memoirs.

Addendum: Berger King: A new interpretation of the 40s

Something I mentioned the 2007 version of these notes was Peter Fuller's rediscovery of the New Romantic art of the 1940s. I have just been reading his 1988 book Seeing Through Berger, and this provides an opportunity to explore his interpretation of changes in British art leading up to and during the 1940s.

Something that needs to be said at the front is that Fuller had a gambling problem (and wrote a book about gambling) and came from a fundamentalist Protestant background which looked for the hand of Providence in the surface events of the visible world. What Fuller says is that the destruction of so much devotional art by the Protestant movement in the 1530s, but also more radically in the 1640s, created a hole in the English art tradition. (The Scottish and Welsh artistic legacy is passed over but may never have produced much of very great and abiding value.) The genre of landscape painting mutated to come and fill this hole culminating in figures like Turner and Constable. The English landscape had emotion poured into it, it came to be the repository of the sublime, of comfort and hope. By this path it came to be great painting. Fuller writes brilliantly about an 1858 painting by William Dyce (a Scot who painted frescoes for the Houses of Parliament) which shows figures on a beach hunting fossils, and a meteor in the sky. The theme is geology – and before the painting was finished Darwin had published The Origin of Species. Geology was swallowing up God. Fuller remarks that because the landscape had become a vessel of religion, the acceptance of theories which displaced God, and which relied on things in the earth, fossils and rocks dating to hundreds of million of years ago, shattered the morale of landscape painters. A vein of landscape paintings expressing bleakness and emptiness became a new hole – the hole reproduced itself. And so things went very badly until the start of a neo-Romantic wave – starting with Graham Sutherland's etchings of around 1930. This wave reached a great height in the 1940s, not just with Sutherland but also with Moore, Hepworth, Bomberg, Paul Nash, and even Craxton. This was well known to Kenneth Clark and his associates in the government patronage of contemporary art, and they directed major funding straight at the best thing that was happening. Love of the homeland and a sensitivity of touch as applied to the material of the artwork produced allowed these artists to get in touch with greatness – there was “a great welling up of indigenous romantic sensibilities” and the hole was filled. However, “after the mid-1950s, the great achievements of the neo-Romantic sensibility were, by and large, swamped and displaced first by social realism, and then by all the nonsense of imported later modernisms, i.e. Pop Art, Americanised abstraction, conceptualism, political art, New Expressionism, etc.” Clark fell back: “In the 1950s, however, those who possessed the power of patronage suffered an alarming loss of nerve, right across the political spectrum: Clark and his colleague began to believe that the advocates of anaesthesia had a view as deserving of public patronage as their own.” The identification with Clark is there because the whole book is an attack on John Berger, an authoritarian Stalinist ideologue whose most eminent work, Ways of Seeing, was designed as an attack on Clark’s television series, Civilisation. Fuller is saying that the hole returned, between 1952 and 1988 – and is the property of his enemies, as an art reviewer. Awkwardly, Fuller had begun his career as an ardent follower of John Berger. The 1940s are also a gaming counter in his struggle to separate himself from Berger via praise of Clark. He sees the 1940s as an asset of Clark, as (roughly) Art Czar for the government in that time.

What does this give us? I am doubtful about the vastness of the scheme, in which an impersonal force is running in 1858 and is still running in 1958. (Actually, the story he tells starts in the 1530s.) I cannot see it as profoundly accurate, and the scale puts a pressure on individual, local phenomena which distorts their human and personal reality. To be specific, so much of the art of the 1940s was bad that I can't simply start to see it as a means of Salvation, too many images of bad paintings flood my memory. I don't think that you have to prove that the art of the 1950s was bad in order to reveal how good things were in the 1940s – this is a tic of art journalists.

Fuller's inclination to risk everything on a glittering theory, and to see Providence shaping art history, led him sometimes to overrate some artists and underrate others – the pattern he sees has much sharper colours and boundaries than the one I see. His commitment to Berger, Stalinist and anti-aesthetic and authoritarian as he certainly was, is one of these plunges where the stake was lost.
But, in the end, Fuller has produced a very powerful historical-cultural pattern and this is what we ask cultural critics to do. It was a creative act. Moreover, he is not wrong. The pattern is so vast that a few local difficulties are not prominent. He gives a very sharp picture at certain points. While other patterns are also visible in the history of English art, they are not more correct than the one Fuller has drawn. I regret that Fuller's study of the 1940s does not include poetry within its scope. His account of things dramatises, I feel sure, ideas which the poets of the time were excited about – maybe not what they achieved, but what was lifting them up and propelling them forward.

From May 1940, imports of art from the Continent were virtually impossible. Anyone who wanted to buy modern paintings or general objets d'art was going to attend to the local wares, British art. This was bound to give a lift to British artists. Even the art magazines were blockaded, people were thinking about the local scene, which was often neo-Romantic – and often documentary, recording bomb damage and the war effort. Part of that war effort was the government pouring money into new art. All of this was bound to come to an end after May 1945. It just wasn’t going to come back. I think Fuller was quite likely right about the temporary success of indigenous artists. After that, the claim that artists were confused by the volume of stimuli from other countries, mediated by magazines as well as by large and impressive exhibitions, is likely to be true. Someone with a clear and single idea of what they want to do is more likely to succeed than someone dazed and disoriented by too many stimuli. However, blockading art done by foreigners sounds like a re-run of the image-smashing of the Reformation, rather than a credible policy for the arts.

Since I am looking at this page in 2017,  I may as well say that the Forties recovery phase has lost its impetus. There was a burst of activity following David Mellor's 1987 exhibition, which lasted probably 20 years. But, somehow, things have slowed down.