Sunday, 14 March 2010

personal statement on the project on modern british poetry

20 years in Tehachapi: concluding personal statement (February 2010) about the project on modern British poetry

17 years after starting this project I have made the last neurotic adjustment to the last paragraph. I can look back on it. The project covers 140 individual poets and this suggests the limits to any coherence: the artistic achievement is scattered over a huge spectrum in which the separate clusters have nothing to do with each other. The more patterned the account, the less faithful it can be to this disparate data. So I don't have a grand scheme. The scheme is Britain, poetry, a period (1960 to 97). That's it.

I wrote a seven-part work on British poetry 1960-97 to which I gave the overall title of 'Affluence, welfare and fine words'. It took me 17 years. The question is why anyone would set out to do that.

There were two overwhelming factors at the beginning. First, British poetry was utterly marginalised in the books market. A celebrated figure (I really don't have the source for this any more) showed that poetry accounted for 1% of the books being sold, and that within the poetry sales 96% was of dead poets and almost all the remaining 4% was either Ted Hughes or Seamus Heaney. (Hughes was still alive at this point.) Secondly, while British attention was so wholly directed at the past, the attention everywhere else welcomed dead British poets, but for the present era was exclusively interested in American poetry. Information (inaccurate no doubt) suggested that the only university outside Britain to take an enthusiastic interest in modern British poetry was Salzburg. The pattern of publication could give the impression, even unconsciously, that poetry in Britain had stopped in around 1945 and the Spirit had flitted across the Atlantic, where the most eminent avant garde and the most eminent kitsch writers abounded. Less crucially, there was the irritation that the available accounts of British poetry excluded the innovative sector, which was where most of the good poetry was to be found.  In this context, I could suppose that there was a mass of material which no one but me was going to write about - my study would be necessary and also it could be the competitive leader (because there was no competition existing). It also followed, unfortunately, that there would be almost no market for such books - the subject was already dead before I began to write about it.

I was therefore seeing the poets as creatures needing protection. This was qualified by a pessimistic view about translating values into a wider world - I could see that a long work which said everything was wonderful would have no effect at all, being simply written off as ‘loyal but incredible’. It would be a pointless exercise. So the whole work had to be critical and careful in order to raise the reputations of the people it praised. Another issue was the inclusion line - out of all the poets publishing in the period, I was only going to take on 140. The ‘protection’ function ran out on a certain line - it became something quite different, which was less attractive for me or for others. It is arguable that the work on genres (in The Long 1950s) allows descriptions of the work of many other people through evocation of styles which they use. In the end, it is still true that there are vast numbers of poets who I never read and quite a large number of poets whom I read but found were boring and unsuccessful.
The specialised poetry world has dwelt on the exclusion line- an area which I find very uninteresting.  Poets talk about the exclusion/inclusion line of different products every day, it is a verbal habit which consciousness has vacated. The coherence and impetus of the work depend on a limited focus. The focus corresponds with my taste - because I wrote it.

The work goes back before 1960 at a number of points - and includes 20 or so poets who were not active after 1960. This was unnecessary, but it improved the design of various books to widen the view slightly. I was happy to get the names of Lynette Roberts and Joseph Gordon Macleod into the picture. If you delve into the 40s and 50s, you find talented poets who (on scrutiny) weren't active in the 1960-97 span. That also becomes a question - why does the scene have an edge, why is there a list of silent poets. Why didn't things get published.

I began the work in December 1992. At that point I was asked to write an article for a magazine about recent British poetry. The article never got published, but it sucked me into a project. At that time there were huge gaps in my knowledge of the period, so it was inappropriate for me to draw conclusions. The first book came out in 2003 - year eleven of the project. We could say that the project was a failure in its first life but was retrieved after its death and even reached a public. I had given up in about 1999 but kept coming back for various reasons. In 1992, I thought it was an interesting project. I didn’t realise how inadequate the guides were, and how hard it was going to be to locate the good poets from around 7000 publishing in the period. I was grossly over-optimistic about the visibility of the good poets, in their entirety. I also thought that I would get at least one book out within 5 years.  The ‘history of the mainstream’ in The Long 1950s was almost a separate project, which did not start until perhaps 2003. I hunted for good mainstream poets and was at times successful.

The extremely large number of talented poets in this era is a bad thing for any individual poet, hidden behind the excess of data, but is wholly a good thing for the reader.

I am reading Robert Murphy's British Sixties Cinema and take comfort from his attempt to mention every film he likes. A couple of hundred, I think. This is the approach I favour and that is even though I recognize that this makes things move very fast and removes an overall focus.

Inclusiveness is irritating. I was chatting to another poet from Nottingham (that cuts it down a bit!) who was amazed that I’d included Jo Shapcott. This is where I feel I do better than any other critic, that I like more poets than anyone else gets around to. If you don't want to read about the wider spectrum then you will not enjoy the book. It is very inclusive. I am better at the periphery than the centre of the stylistic space. Just after that I saw a copy of Peter Yates’ 1943 volume The Motionless Dancer on a stall and snatched it up. Surely the literary world needs someone who knows who Peter Yates was and who can recognise and cherish his unique virtues. As it happens I never mention Yates in the work, anywhere.

Johan Cladders says in an interview ‘I wanted art to stand for itself. I always looked at art as the solitary activity of individuals who make works. I found it important to present these works as purely as possible, which was possible only in a solo presentation. I never thought much of exhibitions in which 20 individuals are presented with two or three works apiece. This does not provide a clear picture of an artist. The primary focus must be on works that represent an individual.’

This is a delicate area because I agree with Cladders and of course this means my project fails - it is certainly very much like an anthology. I believe there is a let-out - the solo experience is the book by a single poet. Of course this has the purity which Cladders speaks of, and my work points to hundreds of solo volumes. I dislike the solo concept because in England it has meant the complete exclusion of the talented poets in favour of bozos, and the key experiences for me were always finding someone who slipped through the bars momentarily and so became visible to me. Thus I discuss about 35 poets born in the 1940s, not 5.

There is no very obvious link between writing about 140 odd individual poets and producing seven books that (more? or less?) display themselves as coherent and even argued stretches of prose that describe and demonstrate or qualify arguments. The design of the separate books is overlaid on treatments of all those individuals and the line of juncture is, abidingly, arbitrary. I had great difficulty taking all that teeming material and constructing books out of it. It might have been better if I hadn't drawn lines of continuity running through it all and had just consented to 145 disconnected chapters or essays. It may be disappointing to the poets that the line does not stop, in adoration and satiation, with the pages on them, and decline, as if faced with a form of torture and exile, to move on from that culminating moment. Why should the poets tolerate the discursive thread that competes with their claims to totality and perfection? how can I bear, having reached those emotional places, to leave them again? how many poets want to share a book with another poet? With such a book the forward movement must seem, most of the time, like a mistake; you get there and then you leave again. “I own this pattern and it is not there”: why should these autonomous, even excessively autonomous, beings be subdued to my notions of symmetry, repetition, asymmetry, fulfilment and violation?

In about 1960, English cinemas had intermissions, in which they sold ice-creams and Kia-Ora, carried by usherettes, conventionally young girls, on trays hung round their necks and lit by a peculiar built-in light. This meant that you had to have a supporting feature. No feature (or featurette), no intermission. The support was usually short and usually much cheaper than the feature film. There was a series of fifty-something short films in the ‘Annals of Scotland Yard’ series, from about 1955 to 1962. Murphy has evidently seen all these and tells you which are the good ones. This man is right. This is the way to do it.

Although there is also a spectrum of different responses to each or any text, I have not covered this potential space. I photograph everything from one point of view, mine. The data that could be involved in explaining the diversity of the market is too great and anyway the drive of the whole thing is the look-you-in-the-eye full-on presence of me stating something I believe in.

I have a certain nostalgia for being in Camden around 1984 and discussing films with other people who included gay and female subjects. 'The Maltese Falcon' lent itself so well to rewriting from the point of view of the gay characters and the female characters, and the domination of the plot by a male heterosexual was particularly glaring and subject to demolition. The scriptwriter hates the characters who aren't male and heterosexual. I enjoyed all that, I think we all did. But poetry is not so susceptible to critique, perhaps because it is not plugged into raw fantasy the way Hollywood is and because in the decades concerned it was being written by people who were pretty hip and who could do the subversion themselves. I don’t have the ability to interpret poems from a dozen different spectrally-specific angles and the results would be totally suspect because I would be making the information up. Collecting it from informants would be intractably difficult. The make-up of the cultural field is a real thing that can be recovered, but in my view it has not been recovered. The division into male nongays/ male gay/ female nongay/gay female is remarkably useless for poetry and does not explain how it was written or consumed or constructed. Despite enjoying this so much for 'The Maltese Falcon', I dislike the breaking and entering approach to texts because it is colonialist: me critic, you peasant. I don’t think it’s appropriate to write criticism at length in that mode. Stupid art is funny, yes, but only serious art really repays attention.

There is a Judith Kazantzis poem in which she watches a film called ‘Earthquake’ and claims that in the first half you see Ava Gardner being temperamental and in the second half an earthquake and that the latter is brought about by Ava being so excitable. This is very funny. There is not much hope of throwing JK’s poems off balance in this way: she is too intelligent and too aware. I think the message was that much art was a derivative product from fantasies of supremacy, in which for example gays and women were shown (as part of the scenery) to be too emotional and childish to have political and economic power. This is no longer deniable. Such fantasies are certainly common and they are a raw material for art. Leaping sideways somewhat, I would speculate that the basis for being a credible poet in this time is that you were hip enough, about the unconscious tiers of meaning and the acts of breaking and entering with which people cracked open texts and inverted the conscious and unconscious tiers, to write poems that couldn't be subverted by the knowing and over-educated. I think there are deep implications of this, that to get across that river you have to jettison or unlearn a lot. It may follow that modern poetry is cut off from the primitive and that it is distanced from cinema (let’s say) by this premonitory jump into the abstract and original, to get away from primary narcissism and unreconstructed fantasy. So I think gay stereotypes or female stereotypes are not much to be found in modern poetry and people who want to read texts subversively tend to peg out their pitches in other forms of art. I don't think that mainstream poetry is vulnerable to clever overturning in that way. Maybe there is a stratum of poetry which is not so substantiated or sophisticated, and which does not get published in credible magazines just for that reason. I do not recall any brilliant critical essay which reads a modern poet subversively (in the way that Kate Millett, for example, reads so many writers in Sexual Politics).

I wrote an essay at one point saying that ‘Falcon’ was driven by the idea of showing that the straight ‘manly’ man was always right and that the variously gay and female figures were there as emblems showing the constitutional weakness of the groups they represented. The plot was a sham and this was the substantial underlying drive behind the events of the film, symptomatic of a basic scenario unrelated to the surface events to do with intrigue and the pursuit of treasure. One line in the film refers to the Elisha Cook Jr character as a ‘gunsel’, a word which literally is Yiddish underworld slang for a young gay man in need of protection, original meaning ‘little goose’ (gunsel). A gosling follows the big goose around. This slips through because the censor had no idea what it meant. The interchange between the falcon and the little goose is intriguing indeed. The final dialogue between Bogart and Mary Astor (“I’m sending you over, baby. 20 years in Tehachapi") is quite frightening. I never analysed any poet in this way. Perhaps I was just fed up with this line of country by 1990. I am sure there is an anti-gay line in poetic opinion, but people keep this out of print and I don't see a gay way of overturning the poetic order and its symbolic systems. These characters are just left out, not narrated in a distorted and condescending way.

I think one of the sinister changes in the cultural scene is the loss of belief in the artistic choices of gifted individuals and the attempt to move power into the hands either of committees or of bodies of regulations drawn up by committees. There is a collective if covert pressure to drain sensibility out of prose response, to hem it within the limits of what is merely objective and external. I have no time for this. If I lose the power to react subjectively, by this new enactment, then so also does the reader. Reading poetry thus becomes a pointless activity: an experience you cannot own based on a series of decisions you are not empowered to take. Priestley: 'The trouble about Ernest and Hilda, who were kind and sweet, was that you could not laugh at anything with them [...] They would listen to plays and music too, but in an anxious sort of way, never for fun and magic, but as if at some time they might have to pass an examination on cultural subjects. [...] They did not care much for comfort and cosiness, preferring coldish rooms and hard chairs, scraggy meals with salads and no appetising smells, and always discussing rather than talking[.]' (from Festival at Farbridge, 1951)

The feast is there for those who wish to partake of it. What is in play here is that the middle class began as a class of higher servants to the land-owners and aggregated power to themselves by being faithful servants and saving rather than consuming. This means leading an unpleasant life. You can develop objective knowledge but not knowledge of pleasure. In order to enjoy culture you have to unlearn this attitude, inculcated over centuries. You have to partake of the feast. If you lead the unpleasant life, you cannot be magnetic to other people, you cannot add energy to the scene but can only drain it. By refusing to take part in the subjective plane of culture, you lock up your own best energies without ever using them. You can be equally indifferent to a range of poets, and so avoid partiality: but you cannot explain why any of them is interesting.

I can see that there is a whole group of people who are willing to write in a bloodless way about poetry because they have complete contempt for poets and what they write: the loss of the core of the poetic experience is quite welcome to them. I think there has to be a balance between demolishing the results of subjectivity and demolishing the products of objectivity. I do not really believe in the supposed aggression of the interest groups: perhaps people are willing to attack my responses because I am male, heterosexual, middle-class, etc., but I am not convinced of it. Withdrawing into objectivity supposedly defuses the aggression but I am not even sure it is there. I have great admiration for Cyril Connolly, who it seems to me was a connoisseur who wrote out of that connoisseurship and made no concessions to consensus or guilt. This was how it was in the 1920s or the 1940s. It was quite simple and we have to get back to it.

I wonder sometimes about consistency. The campaign of 2005-9 was different from the campaign of 1993-6, let's say. I began by emphasizing separation and moved on to long for unity.

Around 2000 I had a mass of material, wasn't writing any more, and had great frustration at not being able to get that stock published. The process of turning it into books involved finding designs to fit around the primary material about scores of separate poets, and the books emerged out of organising the stockpiled material into arguments. So most of the time after 1997 I was stitching together the material I had amassed during 1992-7. But there was a major exception to that. The original campaign was driven by a sense of neglect, so it got excited by rejected and misunderstood poets, who tend to cluster together in a few striking groups. After establishing who the important poets (of the 60s and 70s) had been, I wished to reunify the realm of poetry in order to give the winners something to win. So later, and especially in the run-off period of 2005 on, I moved over to anti-balkanisation as the core imperative. This meant that I personally had to reverse my drives and search for good conventional poets. So it followed that I had to search through stacks of work by conventional poets and try to find ones I liked, because these were going to be my personal victories and be the demonstration that you could unlearn inveterate habits and move into the quadrant where you had been blind. Peter Levi, Judith Kazantzis, and Anthony Thwaite were the main finds here. I won’t go into the ones I read but couldn’t get with, but those three were poets I could really get enthusiastic about, whose themes I was excited to sense and explore, whose disparate books I could track down on the internet or in dusty second-hand bookshops. The interview with Thwaite in Peter Ryan’s doctoral thesis ("Career Patterns") on the development of poets was a compelling moment of knowledge here. Reading Levi and Thwaite led me to think intensively about the 1950s and so to write about them, in The Long 1950s.

The notion of blind quadrants and of raiding into the blind quadrants may sound deeply unsympathetic and quite unlike the following your secret inclinations which is basic to poetry reading. It was a policy I developed because I got so fed up with the divisions in the poetry world and saw that I had to resist them consciously, even if the effect of the unconscious drives of all the players, in the aggregate, was to maintain divisions and to develop new ones. There was also the simple consumerist supposition that if you spend 20 years scarfing up cultural pleasure objects from the same patch of territory then you tend to graze it down, and there are benefits to jumping over the fence and making off into what is for you an unexplored hinterland.

I tried to demarcate poetry by what it wasn’t - the clichés which no poet could write. I was aware that the contemporary virtually excluded {narrative, drama, repetitive metre, rhyme}, and that these negatives unified in one category a very wide spectrum of poets, who might seem in other ways to have nothing in common. So a big part of the rules of poetry in 1980 is “don’t do all these things which people were doing in 1910 1930 1960” etc., and so big a part of that is reacting against the patriotism of older poetry, the emotions poured into the Royal Navy and the Empire by poets like Newbolt, Noyes, Kipling, Watson. For many poets, there is a big empty space which is full of the things which “I will not do because the last generation did them". I thought of the learning phase of poetry as a course in which you learn 1000 things which are high-calorie but which are unusable, used up. I looked for lists or catalogues of clichés, and came to works of propaganda about the British thing. I looked at the libraries of images of the Empire, in which this propaganda was rich, for example a cigarette card series 'Picturesque peoples of the Empire'. The idea of image libraries led me to look at deposits of images, at the history of books and prints, of the knowledge of costumes and so on deployed in theatre. I became fascinated by the ideologists, the people who designed the Empire Exhibition in 1925 or the films etc. made for government propaganda. I became so fascinated with this that I wrote it up and forgot about the 'index of clichés'. I followed it out to an interest in the objects in poetry and how a complex act of arranging objects might be the early stage of a poem. This was useful for thinking about Pauline Stainer, where the initial choice of objects is obviously one of the most significant planes.

Although poetry is indeterminate, the power of shared conventions means that for the target audience it is significantly less indeterminate. Clearly the role of the critic is at least partly to make this knowledge available to outsiders and aliens. I was embarrassed when trying to create a list of sources because, although it’s everywhere and its working parts were chosen because they are so readily available, almost none of the information came from books. It came from emotional identification with other people who understood poetry, from sharing in a big linguistic feeling that raised me 80 feet in the air. It's easy to say "if you'd sat there in the audience listening to X read it you would KNOW what it was about', but this ignores the fact that nothing was made explicit in that hall and people didn't state in words what they were feeling. Also, that some people were there without getting any of the vibe, the big group feeling. None of this stuff came from books but still books are soaking with it, the big shared things are visible in hundreds and thousands of artefacts. So we are faced with this darkened space of the implicit. It's like a million lines of software which include a few mistakes. There is no written source for this software, and no notation, but if you read 300 books of poetry from this era then you probably have the context for the 301st. No poem ever states explicitly the energy it draws on, which seems to be very big when you’re inside it and then to be fine to the point of non-existence when you can’t find it.

If I could make a comparison, it is with trying to get into Welsh poetry (especially in Welsh) and later trying to put into words what was happening with it. Again, if you read books about Welsh poetry they leave almost everything implicit. The things you are meant to feel are obvious if you read enough poetry, but it's very difficult to make them explicit once you have got them. I have a big problem with the kind of academic approach which wants me to find bibliographical sources for the implicit. I feel I know, when a poet of my moment uses symbols, that I know what the symbols mean and I can follow their development without dropping the parts or losing my way. This is unprovable. Naturally there is no reference hall where the things that the symbols mean and the schemes they are organised by are stored, to resolve arguments perhaps. The feeling of understanding what everyone else is feeling is not tied to objects or measures.

This feeling of symbolic-linguistic belonging is part of the reason for stopping. I have perfect pitch for a certain period of British poetry, where I exist as a first person actor. The borders of this period are hard to demarcate. I suspect it all tapers off as we slide towards the year 2000.

The reason the work stops at 1997 is simply that all the work was predicated on a physical situation, that I was unemployed and had nothing else to do all day and couldn’t afford to go anywhere. When I got a job, in 1997, that stopped. Shortly after that, I gave up being editor of a poetry magazine and so the flow of review copies stopped. Those two things together ended an era. In the following years, I was busy with the day job and with writing up the results of all that primary reading. I didn’t also gobble up all the new books coming out. 1997 wasn’t a break point in poetry, and in retrospect it would have been more sensible to stop the work in 1990, taking the advent of John Major as the end of the national nervous breakdown (described elsewhere). The polarisation of the era 1968-79 (especially) wore out slowly and we can take 1990, not wholly arbitrarily, as the moment when a different paradigm became dominant and the numerous people still preoccupied with the underground-mainstream split can be defined as conservative rather than central. The work as we have it has a momentum which doesn’t stop with that moment, and is dragged by it into a poetic world which has different rules and which can in no way be comprehended within the work, as its life cycle is not over. What I see is that the further back in time we go the more satisfactory and stable is the historical account which I write. Drawing the terminal lines further forward, into 2000 or 2005 for example, is thus rather unattractive. Drawing a deep breath, I can say that the work would have had a more integral and simple design if it had simply been about the war between the conservatives and the innovators of the 1960s and 1970s, focussed on its focal point and ending with the evaporation of that war.

I think it is reasonable to suspect that someone reading poetry is limited by the components of their own taste. I have listed some of the moments of my formation. I was a modern linguist from the age of say 14 to 20 and was very involved with French and German poetry, coming on to English poetry later. I was staunchly on the Left and always searching for Left commitment in poetry, for socialist realism indeed. I grew up in England but was conscious of being Scottish and was compelled, also as a teenager, by feelings about Scottish nationalism and the fate of the Scots language. I was fascinated by philology and in my early intellectual history took that as the great model for dealing with texts. Not incompatibly, I was involved with history and saw myself as a historian, and was a fan of historians. I grew up in a manufacturing town and my father taught at Loughborough University of Technology, I was heavily involved with the idea of engineering and wanted to read poetry or books about that subject. I was a pop fan from early childhood on and was particularly involved with punk rock and with New Musical Express as it was around 1977-82. I was living in North London from 1978 and was involved with the radicalism of north London, sexual politics or identity politics or what have you. I knew several of the Cambridge poets (the Grosseteste/ Ferry Press lot) from a fairly early stage and was involved with their fate, although I wasn’t part of their thing artistically. After a certain point, maybe 1984, I also hung out with the London School and I spent a lot of time with them over the following twenty years.

If you put these together, they obviously don’t cohere. They also give me access to a wide range of the spectrum - I couldn’t just reach one tiny segment and become indistinguishable from it. The outcome is that I cover the widest range of anyone, and this is the distinctive feature of my critical work.

People occasionally stumble over one of these biographical components and claim that it explains everything. You can see the whole story as one of me longing for Scottish and socialist poetry as the embodiment of pristine virtue and being unable to find anything to satisfy that hunger - dropping down onto English underground poetry as an unwelcome substitute. My initial predilections were systematically thwarted and I developed a set of tastes based on experience and not on inherited prejudices.

I understand that people may not like the ventures into psychoceramics (viz. the scientific study of crackpots) which surface here and there in Origins of the Underground and Council of Heresy. The underlying message is that these extraordinary visions of the unreal resemble the momentary and amazingly detailed universes of association which one sees during poetry, and so act as a metaphor for them. The worlds of poets are not the same as the worlds of Neo-Platonists and so on but draw on the same deep channels of the imagination. In fact, some poets have used these deviant cosmologies, with Kathleen Raine and Eric Mottram being just two examples. Also, these things are fun to read about. Out of 2000 pages I gave over maybe 15 pages to ceramic affairs, which you are welcome to leave out if you wish. A by-product of the work was to eliminate the irrational and non-Christian cosmologies as a factor in most poetry: they don’t matter for more than 90% of the poets you look at.

I left out the question of being English. The past forty years have seen an army of academics working in a disciplined way who brought in a lot of defensible data about European cultures which allows a new start after we throw away the old facile discourse of ‘national character’, and permits a whole new discourse of comparison. Explanations of national culture would be a step following this comparative project. If you look at ‘Affluence’ there is a plane of European-comparative discourse which we see glimpses of, but which I fought to keep out of the main lines of the work. This gets too far away from the dramatic surface on which poets make their conscious acts. It reduces the poets to insect scale as we see huge forces produce vague and huge actions. The events are dull and amorphous in exact proportion to their size. The differences between English poets are the object which gives the scale on which we want to be most sensitive and most attentive. So I don’t discourse on English qualities and correlatively don't explore the dimension of comparison with the Netherlands, France, etc. When I write about Welsh or Scottish poetry, I describe them without getting into the innovative but elusively complex question of how they differ from England, or from the London-Oxford axis in England. The comparison tends to draw us back to the moment of separation as the layer of origin of divergences which evolved in a self-organising way as time went by. This would take us back to the 5th century for England, or in fact for Britain. The trouble about going back to the 5th century AD is that having done a degree in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic I could go on about the 5th C AD at book length, and have manfully to restrain myself.

Cladders’ approach invalidates the sociological approach. If we got into the “what is Englishness" tussle we would discard the apparatus of State and in that emptied terrain would identify kinship relations as the remaining source of conditioning power. We would focus a lot on individualism, and how Emmanuel Todd identified various family types and found the ’absolute nuclear family’ as the type in England, which means that the owner of the land or estate can bequeath it to whoever he wants and can also sell it. This correlates with what economic historians (Wrigley and Hatcher?) found for England, that when documents start, in the 13th century, there is a very active market in land and so the idea of a family holding is already questionable. This means that you have to be an individual, the role is forced on you even if you don’t want it. It tends to produce a pattern with a large number of landless people or families and then a few families or people with huge landholdings. The landless become the labour force.

So it is possible that there is a plan for family structure and that the roles of individuals, the pre-structures underlying character, are given within it, and the shape of any role is given by the roles it interacts with, which delimit it. We could guess that if role underlies character then character could also be a pre-structure underlying style.

Feminism (and its congeners) have obviously made headway with this kind of approach, but by putting the questions in terms of men versus women you blank out the possibility of differentiating between different societies, which is a problem if you want family structure to account for the more gross level differences between the political histories of different regions of western Europe. You also blank out the differences between different male poets and different female poets, which eliminates the space of discourse within which writing about poetry would have been possible.

The notion of the family as a socialisation chamber which reproduces acquired structures of behaviour over many generations allows a concept of how Scottish and Welsh society differ from English society even if they have no States of their own (and until the mid-60s no meaningful political parties of their own). The statements of poets often identify a stratum of conditioning which they experience as distinct from the self.

This might give us a clue to the genre of domestic anecdote. It takes place inside a family and gives a comforting weight of predictability or reality to go with that, but is boring because of its denial of any critical or conscious dimension. As soon as you start to think about the Family, the pleasant texture of the poetry dissolves, and you have this draining and huge complexity to process meaningfully within the poetry, to complete before the poem can be allowed to end. So thinking about domestic anecdote may be interesting even though the genre itself is boring to the point of bringing on a headache. There is arguably an important genre of British poetry which sets out by rejecting the social roles, the unconscious level of conditioning, and making the sense of doubt and exploration central to the poem. The most tedious poetry is the sort which most faithfully records attitudes shared by millions of people and acquired early in childhood. By reverting into inherited family roles, poets close down the sphere where their actions were based on consciousness, or revealing of character. Recovering this inherited level by a critical approach which classifies people by their class origins, gender, region, etc. is likely to eliminate everything which is significant about poetry.

There is not much modern poetry about what the government does. That kind of politics is there for everyone but hard to write poems about. The politics which features in poetry is therefore what concerns the family and the arrangements of everyday life. To see everyday life as transformable is the first step to writing modern and demanding poetry. This applies, only slightly less so, to an attempt to defend the order of everyday life when it is seen as under threat by English capitalism and bureaucracy. It was easy to see everyday life as being susceptible to change when, as during the 1960s, it was changing in a revolutionary way. The rate of change was hardly slowing down in the thirty years after the end of the 1960s.

Better information would give us fine enough traces to determine whether Scotland is a relict Celtic society or whether its principal component is Anglian (thus akin to Saxon). Whether Scotland is split in any meaningful way, at the level of family organisation, between Celtic and Anglian components.

I don't get into sociology. This must seem like wilful stupidity. But I got through my subject in 7 volumes. I didn't want to expand the subject and write 20 volumes. The good poets had generally gone to good schools and had inspiring English teachers who liked modern poetry. I am quite aware that most 14 year olds didn't have that luck. Allott's 1960 anthology has 85 poets of whom 40.6% had studied at Oxford University.

It is time to say something about databases. Obviously I have poured lots of data into spreadsheets, obviously these are not reproduced in the books. I think their value is very limited. What they can do is stock a kind of knowledge about poets I don’t know much about - this is inferior in quality to information gained from reading and enjoying poetry, but it has some kind of residual value, a feeble detector for thousands of poets who exist but who I don’t read.

Debate with the poets is more significant. I did not get into this much during the writing but I can point to interviews, which are the space where poets can put their own views. They should always be kept in the forefront. Collaborating with Tim Allen, I compiled a book of interviews which shed a light on things. Dozens of other interviews are available, enough so that there is no piercing need to compile dozens more. I think this would be a different project. Kelvin Corcoran did a whole book of interviews with Lee Harwood, this has a lot of advantages over critical prose written by a second party. I think there is also a shared history which is not contained within the first-person narratives of players talking for themselves.

There is a fear that poetry went on a downward gradient after 1977. This comes out roughly as a contrast between poets born in the 40s and those born in the 1950s. The explanation would be that the revolutionary crisis which flared out in 1977 or 1975 was super-stimulating and that people who missed it just weren’t so exciting in the poetic flight. The fact may not be real, as there are non-facts which have coherent and clever explanations. I never got into this because I could see it was so depressing for everyone born in the 1950s, and that is when I was born. They were the unknown poets I was trying to put on the map. There is another project which was wholly about the underground poets born in the 1950s. It would have involved statements by the poets, mainly, and an anthology, but after a few months of work I didn't go ahead with it.
While I do not intend to write further about modern British poetry, quite a large amount of material prepared for ‘Affluence’ did not make it into the final cut, and these finished parts are now available on this website.
See the posting on ‘Map of Affluence’ for a discussion of how the separate parts fit together.

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