Handlist of late 20th century poets
pre-release version (part 1)
This is offered as reference sketches of careers, a few minimal details which may serve as orientation to the curious. After writing a compendious work on modern British poetry extending to 2000 pages, it occurred to me that I could do a low-calory version at about 1% of the length. Whether this is going to be helpful I do not know. For further and better particulars see http://www.modernpoetry.org.uk/nrsh.html , also http://www.archiveofthenow.com/ . For a map of which poets are discussed in which volume, see http://angelexhaust.blogspot.com/2009/08/map-of-7-volume-work-on-modern-british.html
This also gives me a chance to exploit the research into the Mainstream which I did roughly 2003-2010, so as to put poets from all parts of the spectrum into one frame for the first time. Poets writing in Gaelic and Welsh are included, at least marginally; my knowledge of these languages improves slowly.
This version is incomplete - I hope to add more names as I find the time. If you have other suggestions you can add comments and I will consider additions a year from now. The quotes are short enough not to give me copyright problems. This work was signed off in around December 2010.
DSMT is ‘Don’t start me talking’, a book of interviews. Ordering is roughly by decade of birth.
Tom Rawling (1916-96), a Cumbrian, published in 1993 Names of a Sea-trout, which includes some very good poems. The aesthetic is derivative of Hughes and Heaney to a remarkable degree – which makes it hard to write about him, and also reveals he was not writing poetry before 1976. His style is patient, full of physical details, without descriptions of feelings, compact, careful, vivid.
Reach through jutting thorns
for the blue-hazed sloe,
ignore the blood on your wrist.
Needle-prick to the hard stone,
watch their transfusion seep
through the gin.
of frost and thorns
and bitter fruit.
Edwin Morgan, (1920-2010) was one of the dissidents from the dominant 50s culture who plotted the breakthrough of a new culture in the 1960s. Is widely accepted as the greatest Scottish poet since MacDiarmid, and was officially national laureate. Was developing the ludic, dizzily creative, anti-realist, wholly decorative poetry, which was hailed in the 1980s, during the 1950s. More involved with European poetry than anyone in this list, and a great translator. Has written in virtually every genre and taken on the impalpable world of the random, the anti-human, the systems generated by artificial rules. Collected Poems 1949-87 was followed by several more volumes. see http://www.pinko.org/30.html
Gerard Casey, (1921-2000) From Cardiff, published one poem, South Wales Echo (1973). He also published some translations from Greek, and the conclusion from idle searches of the Internet is that outside poetry he was interested in the esoteric and occult. In this he was close to Watkins and Kathleen Raine. As a poet, he was influenced by David Jones.
James Berry, (1924) Jamaican poet who has lived here for many years. has written a small number of intense and melancholic poems which pick up the burden of history. Hot Earth Cold Earth (1995). Has been a painstaking anthologist of other Caribbean poets in Britain (News for Babylon, 1984). has also written for children.
Eric Mottram (1924-95), not really an important poet but features here because he was such a key figure on the scene. Even though most of his poetry is so bad, exposing all the problems with the ‘open field’ style, some of his poems (‘Tunis’ and even bits of ‘Peace Projects’) are quite good.
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
(from 'Homage to Denis Saurat', from the 1973 book Local Movement)
Eric coined the phrase ‘British Poetry Revival’, relating to the period 1960-74. Interview in DSMT. Also see posting elsewhere on this site.
Asa Benveniste (1925-90), Benveniste was a GI who stayed on in Paris after the war and worked on a literary magazine there. He never returned to America. His profession was as a printer and his interest was in Jewish mysticism (with some offshoots in Renaissance magic). Publisher of Trigram Press. His poetry is esoteric, dazzling, light as air, even psychedelic.
surmounted by butterflies sleeping asses
and thick rainwear assigning tickets
to aragonese boxes where visitors
familiar in deep religious fat tango
to the music of gematria
this is where it all fails.
Throw out the Lifeline Lay Out the Corse was collected poems 1965-85 and published in 1983 - yes! he is against factuality!.
Ian Hamilton Finlay, (1925-2006) began as a concrete poet but is now primarily identified with the design of gardens and the construction of objects embodying symbolic schemas. Advocate of a return to the idealistic purity of the early French Revolution as summed up in the figure of St Just. Was, around 1960, actively bringing ideas from the modern art world, in fact Brazilian concrete poetry, into Scotland, which seems to have provoked rage and hostility from virtually everyone involved in the arts in Scotland. Not much as a poet but his ‘avant garde pastoral’ has its virtues when encountered in three dimensions. As a ‘service refuser’ was in a battalion of Pioneers during the war, one officered supposedly by the critic Derek Stanford (see 'Inside the Forties'), who pays tribute to his ability to create mass confrontation and impasses even as a student. Maybe the trees and ditches of the Pioneers gave rise to the ‘avant garde pastoral’. Wikipedia says he joined the Army in 1942, but this contradicts Stanford’s memories and he was there. What is avant garde pastoral for? does anybody know?
Anna Adams poems in the 1984 anthology Purple and Green. born in 1926, began writing seriously in about 1965. came into prominence in the 1980s, as part of a great cultural change I suppose. married to the painter Norman Adams and began as a visual artist. There is a beautiful volume of his paintings with her poems ('Angels of Soho'). Books include An Intercepted Letter, Nobodies. Likes satirical poems also about the basis of identity and social role, like many other feminist poets I suppose.
With earth-grained hands
I root in mud
to separate incestuous sibling
parsnips for the pot.
Can these be poet's hands
scrubbing the corkscrew toes
flour makeup, onion scent
Hands meet in mud
lost metacarpal beads,
dust fingertips that grope for words,
(from 'Poet with Scrubbing-brush')
The more you recognise it, the less you can argue with it.
Ted Hughes, (1930-1998) more gifted than anyone else when it comes to imaginative richness and confrontational intensity but more shocking than anyone else in his relentless insistence on violence and destruction. Having achieved a fundamental liberation of the imagination from documentary or social constraint, he covered a great range of emotions but also played the same tune too many times, to numbing effect. certainly a Jungian and part of a group which made a new access to myth and the unconscious possible during the 1960s. Collected Poems gathers many individual books.
Alastair Fowler (1930-) published two volumes (in 1978 and 1982) and then fell silent as a poet. Some of the poems in those books are remarkable. His unconventional research on astronomical symbolism in Spenser influenced Allen Fisher in the 'schema' for Place.
Roy Fisher (1930), represents the good conscience of the avant garde as opposed to the 'bad past' of indifference and incoherent protest. City (1960) is often taken as the start of the British Poetry Revival which dominated the territory for the next 30 years.It can be seen as the end of the 1950s.The Dow Low Drop is a very inclusive selected poems. Birmingham River (1994); His volume of Interviews through Time (2000) is a classic of poetic theory by someone who actually likes poetry.
Rosemary Tonks, (1932) produced two brilliant books in the 1960s. according to the folklore, had a religious conversion which led to her withdrawal from the poetry scene (there are rumours of a religious epic which the authorities failed to approve).
Geoffrey Hill (1932) debuted with a pamphlet in 1952, when he was already accepted by other students as someone with command of poetry. Wrote slowly (debut volume 1959) but with results which were accepted as classic. Having seemed almost archaic in the 1950s, profited from the new poetics with the 'montage' effects of Mercian Hymns. Seemed to hit a barrier in the 80s. His temperament changed by 1996, with Canaan, the first great volume of an incomparable series of great volumes: Speech! Speech!, Scenes from Comus, Orchards of Syon, The Triumph of Love, Without Title, A Treatise of Civil Power. Hill's revival has seemed like the revival of English poetry itself. He and Logue, poets of the 1950s, seemed to dominate the early 21st century.
Peter Redgrove (1932-2003) did a degree in Natural Science but has mainly been associated with the cultivation of the imagination on the principle of Jung's theory of symbols that release the unconscious and mythical. Wrote with extraordinary vividness and fertility. Limited perhaps only by too great a belief in individual psychology as opposed to the outside world and the social. Was one of the people who revived English poetry in the 1960s. Saw poetry as an independent cosmos rivalling the real one. Too many books to mention. Was psychoanalysed by JH Layard, whose 1944 book The Lady and the Hare expounds a theory of symbolism cohering at the unconscious level which is behind a large area of the modern aesthetic.
Harry Guest (1932-), enigmatic and advanced Welsh poet. Debut in 1968. Much of his best poetry is collected in Lost and Found: poems 1976-82; with the groups ‘Elegies’ and ‘Metamorphosis’ especially recommended.
Airs of summer wind their way through the empty chamber
for the skulls have gone to stare behind glass at a crude
map on the museum wall. Perhaps the bones
were removed piecemeal when the mound fell in. The sun is low
and slopes of tough grass fleeced with hazel
repeat the fragrance of the day. High stone slabs
freed from burial by five thousand years of rain
stand in the light and frost. You do not like these journeys.
(from 'Fifth Elegy')
George MacBeth, (1932-1992) was one of the most prolific poets of the period, along with Colin Simms and Peter Redgrove. Amazing superficiality and amazing energy went hand in hand in this classic BBC producer, insider, and 'fixer' of the scene. A few poems of high quality demonstrate his talent. He was attenuated by fantasy and unable to leave it. The revival of 'ludic' poetry circa 1983 thus appeared as ‘the era where everyone does their George MacBeth book’. He had done a book of poem-games already in 1965. I found a book by George called 'War Quartet' which includes four long narrative poems of the Second World War, 'surreal' according to the jacket. As modern narrative poems they virtually re-found the genre; unfortunately they are totally without interest, it looks as if he wrote them over a weekend. He was that kind of guy.
Outside the snow falls in a mindless blank
where the downward turn
is all the hand can feel. If she lifts
her face (the girl in the glass cage)
she is old
enough to be tasting
the dipped salt on her tongue. The forgotten sea
drips into the grained skin that is ready
for it. So many crystals
of grey light in the sugar-sifter of
steel sponges! The nose hurts, it is
pressurized by the freezing-point
of anonymous water. Come in, mercy, no
other name in the black roll of
the Norse winter
challenges the moment your head rests in.
(from 'The World of the Oboe')
David Wevill (1935-), the son of Canadian diplomats, spent much of his early life either in Japan or in England, where his early work around 1960 was clearly leading in the revival of the whole scene at that time. Birth of a Shark (1963) and A Christ of the Ice-floes (1966) could be taken as 'existentialist authenticity' in the manner of the time, but yet broke free of the prevailing poetic norms.
This sea has many coasts,
And every inch and brown pool
Is a fingerprint. The gannets come
Plunging, wreck their sight; the sea-salt keeps
The crab-flesh it corrodes; and the grape-
Avenging Dog Star locks
These fiery lives to the pillows we drown on.
Firebreak, 1971 and Where the Arrow Falls (1973) show a radical departure into myth, inspired by non-European anthropology, comparable perhaps to work by Lowenstein and Thom. Departures is a 2003 Selected Poems. He has lived for many years in Austin, Texas, where there is a poetry translation unit.
Christopher Salvesen (1935), author of a few compelling poems about Scottish history. published two books presented as the history of a parish in Nithsdale. (Floodsheaf; Among the Goths).
Gwyn Thomas (1936). A Welsh-language poet of great importance. I can't explain why I like his work so much, but clearly it has to do with his personality, a combination of moral authority, belief in radical causes, and openness to new ideas. Thomas is just more credible than other poets. He began with poems about the slate quarrying community in north Wales and took advantage of the new simplicity of the 1960s. Recently he was National Poet of Wales. To achieve this popularity while rejecting the old-style rigid verse form was something almost impossible to bring off. An early critic said 'Only rarely do we find the first person in his poetry: 'we' and 'our' predominate' (John Gwilym Jones, in the introduction to Chwerwder yn y Ffynhonnau, 1962). Both the Welsh-language community and the old working-class community have been on the way out for much of his life; perhaps Thomas' strength is that he embodies the strength of those communities in his work as an individual, while being a modern person. He embodies the virtues, specifically the ones I admire.
(Thomas does not appear in my 7-volume work ‘Affluence and Fine Words’ and is the only omission I would admit as Crippling rather than merely Stupid.)
J.H. Prynne (1936)
Prynne is, by common consent, both the most important and the most difficult poet of our era. We can loosely divide his creation into three periods: the early stage as a Movement poet, ending about 1963; the phase of clear and philosophical poetry summed up in The White Stones (1969); and the late stage where the language is a breakthrough, or a move into the cryptic, for reasons which are a matter of debate. An entire sector of English poetry can be described in terms of which period of Prynne it is imitating. Prynne identified difficulty with virtue, and with a critical understanding of life in a society where doping and deception are a major industry; this much was already accepted by the English Literature academic world of the 1950s. Like other work emerging from the 1950s, his is ‘a cold bath for the romantic’. While not a domestic poet in the usual sense, Prynne was preoccupied, in the White Stones period, with the mystery of daily life, ‘the structures of everyday life’ as in Henri Lefebvre’s book, and with experiences like shopping and walking through a town centre. It seems that Prynne and Fisher are the only poets who have really incorporated scientific insights into the structure of their poetry, as opposed to anecdotes or postcard images: “These are both obscure poets. There is no point denying this. Also, their works - the Collected Poems, Place, Gravity, Entanglement, Leans, Defamiliarisation - are so large in extent and so complicated in design that they are almost intimidating. This emotional colour was not there in 1980 but has stolen over the scene as a late effect. At the same time, the quality of newness which the poetry possessed at the outset, and still in say 1975, must have shifted as decades roll by: its originality has not diminished but the puzzles which surround it are old puzzles. Of course a community of readers has grown up around both poets, even if the salaried critics do not have a clue what is going on. The perspective shift between regarding them as scrolled up into a tiny space of precision and nuance and seeing them as of monumental scale and magnitude shimmers around them, so that they shimmer rather than staying in clear sight. Because of the complexity involved it is arguable that these two poets together make up most of the informational complexity of modern British poetry.” (AD). Prynne was professionally a ‘knowledge worker’, keeping up with very wide fields of knowledge in order to make purchase decisions for a college library. The preoccupation with the newest thing all the time may come from this need to keep up, or from an existentialist belief that the area of the immediate and the unknown is where consciousness and authenticity are to be found. It seems very likely that Prynne’s late work is spontaneous in nature, written from a borderland where the brain is most alert and least able to rely on secure knowledge assets. The language includes elaborately wrought philosophical argument but also radical montage and a kind of primitivism, a ‘year zero’ of knowledge and lexical structures.
There is a whole book on the experience of reading Prynne (edited by Ian Brinton). The Collected Poems is a desirable object, but contains almost too much; it is easier to reach close understanding of the work in much smaller sections.
John Riley, (1937-78) associated with the Grosseteste/ Ferry school and was one of a group of students in Cambridge interested in Objectivism even in the late 1950s. a convert to the Orthodox Church whose poetry is anti-rational, preoccupied with Byzantium, free of logic. Edited with Tim Longville the Grosseteste Review, perhaps the most influential of all post-war magazines. The Collected Works came out in 1980.
John Powell Ward (1937) main work is From Alphabet to Logos, a set of concrete poems published as a loose-leaf folder in 1973. These are wonderful creations, making the transcendental visible, the pulse of ideas never slowing down. Ward has since published books in a more discursive style, still inventive and free. Matthew Jarvis has drawn attention to a group of Welsh visual poets at around this time; a fragile genre I suppose, and populated by avant garde hacks. Achievements like this should not be lost to memory. Ward is technically an Englishman who lived in Wales for a long time.
Another set of visual poems, perhaps equally important, exists only as a portable exhibition.
Ken Smith (1938-2003) working-class poet from Yorkshire admired for his integrity and humanity. leading figure of the radical simplification of the 1960s, the total parataxis, which was either anti-bourgeois or pro-American. interested in figures on the margins and loss of socialisation, such as the animal metaphor hero in 'Fox Running'. Best work is in 'Fox Running' and 'Tristan Crazy'. Late work did not add to his reputation, as is often the case for the anti-literary writer. There is a volume The Poet Reclining: Poems 1962-80.
R.F. Langley (1938-2011) a friend of Prynne’s when both were students, and one of the poets of that generation who accepted modern poetry rather than nostalgia. A cultured man who had a creative late blossoming from 1990 on. Collected Poems (2000) contains precisely 17 poems, but each one is singular, philosophically open, pristine. More or Less (2002). The Face of it (2007) contains 22 new poems. Was one of the more important poets writing in the last 20 years.
interview in 'DSMT'
We slow out and curve
then the deep lawlike
structures loom and bob
through. We sway up, shut
down and open, coolly, each
small hour. Quiet. Then
quieter still. When thin
rims of rose and powder-blue
start slightly and a marble
runs down a chute.
(from ‘The Ecstasy Inventories’)
Colin Simms (1939-) has worked throughout his life as a naturalist, meaning being out of doors most of the time. Influenced both by Olson and by Bunting. His poems are typically instant grips of something that flashed and disappeared, sometimes painstakingly assembled into larger patterns clasping some part of a greater but elusive organism. In the 70s he wrote a group of long poems about the biogeography and Native Americans in the north-west USA, collected as The American Poems (2005); also Otters and Martens (2004), Gyrfalcon Poems (2007), In Afghanistan (1994), For Basil Bunting. Eyes Own Ideas came out in 1987. The scope of his work was not visible until shearsman's publication programme made it so.
glacial-melt-water valley little into filled land so that it was forgotten by the farmer
a sinuous scar healed over by the machines except its corn grew darker in the shallow
it brought them up from the south, hirundines black arrows skimming the little clouds of midge
even if they were going east to west, here they turned north and the birds of prey already knew it
where it grades to the river there the spread of the bright green was, and the marsh-marigold yellow
in the willowgarth's annual growth so fresh green it bewildered like its birdsong the willow-warblers
leading up to something on the water cyclical yeasty bubbles showed the first sulphur-yellow wagtails
and up to something the draw led, under the skylarks, sparrowhawks had always been, in this
like so many birds of prey in two sizes.
before they had left the land egg-collecting boys knew that, but their continuity was broken
(from 'Spring: arrival' from the Gos Lives cycle)
John James (1939), from Cardiff. a great poet of sociability, affability, the vanishing moment. Essentially an oral poet; related to Apollinaire and O’Hara and like them interested in visual art and its ‘eternal present’. Collected Poems (2002). A new book (In Romsey Town) is out from Equipage.
Tom Raworth (1939), one of the major avant garde poets to emerge from the turmoil of the 1960s. This began with the dandyish poise and razor-sharp wit of sixties insouciance, wiring incompatible but pleasing things together. His collected poems revealed an oeuvre of immense ambition and dedicated purpose, perhaps like corroding away the self to reveal the operation of language and burning through a deceptive surface to reveal the deep structures of a class society, its organs of self-deception and self-reproduction. Collected Poems (2003).
Judith Kazantzis (1940-), records that she began writing poetry (after adolescent production, lost) in 1973 after reading The Colossus. ‘It was painting, psychoanalysis and feminism that set off my poetry in the 1970s[.]‘ She belongs to what now seems a heroic generation, facing at the start the complete opposition and disbelief of a society. She reached insights for the first time which poets have been re-finding ever since. Mine field (1977) is the first product of this, both about infantile states as the basis for a greedy political system and as innocence as always the start of a possible new arrangement of public affairs. In retrospect, this was a classic work, and in fact Kazantzis is one of the most significant feminist poets in Britain, outstanding for political maturity and for sounding natural, persuasive, and light. Selected Poems 1977-92 is a 'selected-collected'.
Peter Riley (1940). a participant de premiere heure in the English Intelligencer project and pupil of Prynne. Has resolved splits in the scene by becoming re-engulfed by the pastoral tradition. Likes to write about long walks, too long for some people's legs. Can be seen as an outlet for Prynnean methods in conservative and weatherproof dressing.
Isobel Thrilling, Christian poet writing lyric poetry of cohesion and sensitivity. The Ultrasonics of Snow; Spectrum Shift; The Chemistry of Angels; The Language Creatures (2007).
Pauline Stainer (1941-) began with Christian mysticism and developed this line through a range of miraculous imagery from other religions, science, and folklore; the impossibilism makes for poetic shock and awe. Books include The Honeycomb (1989); Sighting the Slave-Ship (1992); The Ice-Pilot Speaks (1994); The Wound-dresser’s Dream (1996); The Lady and the Hare (2003) is a selected poems. Crossing the Snowline (2008)
No such thing
as routine death -
in ultima Thule
the shaman stretches
the throat of a walrus
over his drum
It is Ascension week;
the men wear black crêpe veils
the ship's astronomer
is given four ounces
is caught with ordinary cotton,
a number of snowy owls
one thawing its prey
against its breast:
O terra incognita
the tundra is silk-crewel work;
polar bears sweat
through upturned paws,
the ship's figurehead
warm as though from the furnace
the sagas redden -
(from the amazing long poem, 'The Ice-Pilot Speaks')
DM Black (1941-), Scottish poet, brought up in east Africa. Began publishing circa 1965. Has published little (a few Goethe translations) since the 1980s. A Collected Poems 1964-87 came out from Canongate. Trained as a psychoanalyst. Mainly known for extraordinary narrative poems based on Jung, mythology, and science fiction. These are unlike anything else. see http://www.pinko.org/30.html
Barnett, Anthony, (1941-) Writes in a 'phenomenological' way about the mystery of being. One's rating of him depends on whether one values this 'cosmic incomprehension' as profound or as blank and disoriented. Was included in the anthology A Various Art. Has also been active in the free jazz scene as a percussionist. A three-volume retrospective set included a book of interviews which puts his view of things. The Resting Bell, collected poems, 1987. Miscanthus (2005) was a new and selected poems.
of the Northern bird -
black lake, blue-gray lake,
Because of the water-dark,
bleak prayers of ice
breaks, before morning;
where your voice is transmitted
('Drops', from Blood Flow)
Tom Lowenstein (1941-) was definitely at a peak in the 1980s (Filibustering in Samsara, 1987). Part of this work has been re-issued as Ancestors and Species. New & selected Ethnographic Poetry (2005). the most intellectual of all Jungian poets and one of the most intellectual of any poets. Notable for having a professional knowledge of anthropology as well as a scholarly knowledge of Pali and the Buddhist scriptures. Has translated Eskimo poetry related to his fieldwork in Alaska, but his reflections on what it means to be human are more valuable.
In the middle distance, then, the last routines of purely local reminiscence
with horizons uncorrupted and uncluttered:
but now on the skyline
there came cross-hatched structures, masted and then also funneled,
the scaffolding a-bristle, sketched in complicated silhouette
as though each rig were bird bone and sinew dried and lifted,
or disjointed from the meat part
in some planally disorganised arrangement,
a great wing flexing erect its exo-skeleton, and then as the ships closed, they saw marvellous
hypertrophies of skinboat and fantastication,
alive, alone, aloof and curiously peopled,
heavy with stuff indefinably desirable,
but then abruptly gone in atmospheric summer shimmer
('At Jabbertown, 1890')
John Hartley Williams (1942), taught first in Yugoslavia and then at the Free University of Berlin, where he lives. Is securely identified with English postmodernism and with the new 'ludic' poetry of the 1980s, but had already nailed this style in Hidden Identities (1982), which among other things can be defined as the best volume of English Pop poetry (which mutated into postmodernism, it would seem). An incomparable sequence of books followed: Bright River Yonder (1987); Cornerless People (1990); Double (1994); Canada (1997); Spending Time with Walter (2001); Blues (2004). Tumultuous, formally free, inventive; terms like 'magic realism' and 'folk surrealism' have been applied. Was influenced by Rosemary Tonks. The Ship (2007) is a re-issue of published and unpublished poems from the 1970s. Ignoble Sentiments (1995) gathers early poems and a memoir of his life up till 1970 or so.
When we opened the door
the corpse of cigarettes, wild music & brandy fell out.
We reeled back, put our heads down
& went in. 'Bean soup', said Steve.
We breathed pure garlic farts
& smoke from the charcoal grill.
They brought it in a tureen
full of gypsy gold teeth, smiling up at us.
The beans were hopping
to the pizzicato rhythms of a mad orchestra,
to a melody that danced them
deep into the soulful thighs of the ham,
a spice barrel full of paprika, which went
ba-boom! when we dunked kettledrums of bread in it.
We slurped the fiercest bits. It was
the choicest liquid ever tasted, & it had chosen us.
our ears pricked to jagged kolo music,
the wheel dance, so many little feet this way & that
like beans you can't get on yr spoon, so fast they jiggle,
that way & this. 'How many bean languages can you eat?'
asked Steve. 'Serbian? Hungarian? Danubian?'
The white wine sank a shaft of bliss into our smoky heads
(from Bean Soup)
Gwynne Williams (1942) Rhwng gewyn ac asgwrn (1969) was an extraordinary book, building on the ‘experimental cynghanedd’ of Euros Bowen to produce something light, musical, enchanting. Williams did not follow-up energetically, although he produced one other volume which consists of adaptations from other languages, an arrangement which allows the originality of his versification to emerge clearly.
David Barnett (1942-), Jungian poet who has lived in Wales for many years. Writes with a virtuosically quick flurry of monosyllables, describing myths and rituals of integration. Fretwork. All the Year Round. see http://pinko.org/13.html for a review. New books are expected in 2011.
Peter Abbs (1942), Has had a long career but the poetry in For Man and Islands (1978) and Songs of a New Taliesin (1979) was what struck me. See my discussion in The Long 1950s. Abbs trained to be a Catholic priest at one time and has had a parallel career attacking modern art for its lack of spiritual richness and optimism. I always find these essays convincing, but then when it comes to it the art doesn't quite do what the essays say it is going to. 'essays on the present breakdown of culture' and so forth.
Tonight, as we lie in bed, a battered moon drifts
Through the sky - it seeks a glistening eye,
It seeks a low-tide pool, a mountain lake,
In which to dip its wounded face,
Its scarred distended cheeks, its frozen mouth.
Who will return its former life? its lost being?
Its ancestral bearings? Who will lend the slack night
The great curved mirrors of his mind
To house this nomad face? We turn away.
(from 'Estranged' in For Men and Islands)
John Hall, (1942-) member of the early Cambridge school and participated in The English Intelligencer. Included in the anthology A Various Art. Couch Grass, Meaning Insomnia. seemed to stop publishing at some point in the 1970s. Has come back with visually oriented work more recently. There is a selected poems, Else Here (1999) but much of his work is unavailable. Days only came out in a magazine at the time (1973) but is largely in Else Here. Interview in DSMT.
& on the bright face is
all fair? how does the light
shine back from the desert spaces of
the sands & the gleaming ice-caps? I sense the green
darkness of the latitudes of my origin
as I move about now
in the clarity of these northern cities & call it
my fortune to be talking of origins
in the grasslands of my own life
which may have been the grasslands also
of this species
(from 'Lustre' from Between the Cities)
David Harsent (1942-), began as an associate of The New Review, and was a product of the 60s, operating on the borders of the tolerable in sexuality, brutality, delusion, the irrational. His early work is summed up in an important Selected Poems (1989). Mister Punch (1984) was a classic which took the polarisation introduced by radical feminism and brilliantly exploited it. It was also a rewrite of Crow. The Punch theme probably came from Harrison Birtwhistle, who had previously commissioned a Punch work from another librettist. His acceptability to influential patrons in the world of opera and theatre has led to exciting commissions and unusual prominence but also to an inflation of style. It was followed by News from the Front (1993) and A Bird's Idea of Flight (1998). A natural miniaturist, his efforts to write book-length projects (since Mister Punch) have gone badly (Marriage, in 2002, Legion, in 2005). He drew on the 'hare' imagery of the psychoanalyst JH Layard. He remains a gifted poet.
As he bent back to trawl
the page, I heard a rustle like something
stirring a fall of leaves, and a worm
came out of his head, a thin
filament, breaking the skin
of the waxy crescent
just behind his ear, nosing the air
for the hint of burning
back along the stack.
'You have wasted your life.
(from The Archivist)
Andrew Crozier, (1943-2008) wrote poetry about the philosophy of daily life. Interested in visual art and frequently worked with visual artists. Influenced by Objectivism and by conceptual art. publisher of Ferry Press, a legendary outlet for the Cambridge School, also known as the Ferry/ Grosseteste School. Was associated with this group in the key mid-60s period, also founded The English Intelligencer. All Where Each Is was a collected poems. Interview in DSMT.
Iain Sinclair (1943). from Bridgend. Wanted to make B-movies but was forced into poetry by the tricks of fate. It is the one art-form that costs less than a B-movie. Wrote two works in the 70s, Lud Heat and Suicide Bridge, arguably not wholly 'poetry' but at the core of the Underground scene of the time. Like Edgar G Ulmer, his camera remains steady even when his characters disintegrate. Has mainly been a novelist and psychogeographer since 1987 but has also returned to poetry, a frequent relapse. Flesh eggs and scalp metals (1989) collected early poems (1970-87). The Firewall (2006) is a selected poems 1979-2006. There is a volume-length interview with Sinclair. His artistic ideas have been recycled by several hundred people by now. Including me, possibly.
Vicki Feaver (1943) from Nottingham. slow writing poet doing work of striking sensory intensity. concerned with the violence locked up in myth and fairy tale and the feminist message of Judith and Holofernes. The Handless Maiden (1994); The Book of Blood (2006).
Alexander Hutchison (1943), from Buchan in north-east Scotland. Deep-Tap Tree (1978); Epitaph for a Butcher; Carbon Atom (2006); Scales’ Dog (2007). virtuosic, laconic, and erudite poet using basically oral forms. occasionally writes in Buchan dialect. a remarkable speaker of his own work.
interview in DSMT.
Spike Hawkins (1943) published the lost fire brigade in 1969. One can speak of psychedelia, or of an English art school adaptation of Dada, but really this sounds like it comes from another universe. This was the best product of 'Pop poetry' in England, a genre which has been erased from history. A book followed in about 2004 which I saw but didn't have time to read.
Allen Fisher (1944) is a figurehead of the Underground and one of the poets one has to read in order to grasp what has happened over the past 40 years. He began with a kind of ‘year zero’ and built up from this resonant emptiness to work of encyclopaedic completeness. Fisher took Blake as a model, and because he identified Blake as involved in a ‘deviant physics’ he also began with a variant physics and cosmology. He spent much of the Sixties involved with conceptual art, notably in the fluxshoe art movement. Between 1971 and 1980 he composed the sequence 'Place' (complete edition 2005) and between about 1982 and 2005 he composed the sequence 'Gravity as a Consequence of Shape' (published in three volumes called Gravity, Entanglement, and Leans). The preset ‘cells’ are constructivist, creating ‘set-ups’ within which the poet can improvise and invert expected positions, fulfilling an original project of subversion. Although divided into two works, there is a continuous development over the span of ‘Place’ and ‘Gravity’, and the later parts of 'Place’ are very different from the early parts. Overall the mood changes from a highly emotional hippy or Situationist, demanding the rapid redesign of society, to an intellectual wandering through the apparently endless complexity of gene technology and particle physics. The use of characters, such as the Bellman, the Burglar, Watling, Doll, etc., starts with part V of ’Place’. The early parts, such as book I of Place, show a projection of feelings onto the earth seen as an organism with ‘vitality’ and ‘disorders’, the flow of currents of fresh water and heat affecting the emotions of the poet: very subjective and metaphorical. A more abstract approach evolves gradually. It is important not to forget a number of works outside the chief cycles, notably Defamiliarisation, a ‘pure’ conceptual work which is one of his most impressive. Blood Bone Brain may only be available on microfilm.
David Chaloner, (1944-2010) leading exponent of the 'eternal present' style of the 60s. a designer by profession, was influenced by visual art. Reproduced the surface of daily life with hallucinatory vividness and with a poignant sense of unexplored possibilities. A combination of sophistication and immediacy. Was included in A Various Art. Collected Poems (2005) was followed by Beyond These Lines (2007). Interview in DSMT.
The first phrase bereft of promise
sets indifferent channels at odds.
Phantom light supplies the dawn its several hues.
Patterns of emotion trade tragic consequences.
Brightly enclosed and variously constructed
national alarm whimpers a possible variant.
Ancient discontent and forgotten motive
transferred as senseless brooding.
The day enters to close sporadically across
the lettuce patch green in my mind's eye
colour of outrage waste and abuse; theoretically.
(from ‘Art for Others’)
Jeffrey Wainwright (1944), Heart's Desire (1978) was a classic debut. This seemed for a long time to be shaping up as the author's only book. Part of the interest is that it may have defined Carcanet's "secret project", defined by Schmidt as 'neo-conservatism of the Left'; Heart's Desire is very committed left-wing poetry which is also 'critical' and unaffected by the Pop sensibility. This may well be the touchstone by which we measure that 'secret project'. He returned to the fray with The Red-headed Pupil (1994), a set of arguments for secular materialism in a curiously 19th century framework.
Mimi Khalvati, (1944) is British but from an irani family. Has been a frequent teacher at The Poetry School. A sensitive and artistically ambitious writer who became prominent during the 1990s. In White Ink (1991); Selected Poems (2000); Entries on Light.
interview at http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/scribe?showdoc=30;doctype=interview
The white rooms of the house we glimpsed through pine,
quince and pomegranate are derelict.
Calendars of saint-days still cling to plaster,
drawing-pinned. Velvet-weavers, hammam-keepers
have rolled their weekdays in the rags, the closing
craft-bag of centuries. And worker bees
on hillsides, hiding in ceramic jars,
no longer yield the gold of robbers' honey.
(from 'The Bowl')
John Robinson (1945), Yorkshire poet. The Cook's Wedding (2001) is a remarkable example of 'late Pop' work which has great charm and energy and never outstays its welcome. This is apparently his first book. The jacket says "he shovelled much of the concrete in the M62".
Paul Evans (1945-91) Welsh poet noted on the Underground in the late 60s and 70s. student of Eric Mottram. February, published by Fulcrum in 1971, summed up a whole era of breathy, low-effort, 'underground' serenity. He filled a key role overlapping 'Pop' poetry and the 'open field' world of Mottram. A selected poems, The Door of Taldir, came out in 2010. His late work is much less interesting.
I will be reborn
as a bird,
because I love music
from a black disk
ruffled by the wind
I‘ve launched myself on
Peter Didsbury, (1946-) Didsbury lives in Hull and has published three books: The Butchers of Hull (1982), The Classical Farm (1987), and That Old-Time Religion (1994). The first two are brilliant. The basic method is of fixing reality before interpretative frames have classified and categorized it, isolating primary features, and recording these features in a serial way, so that the interpretative framework, invisible and eliminated, paradoxically stands out starkly as if read by infra-red light.
Peter Finch (1947), Can be seen as the equivalent in Wales of Morgan in Scotland: like him he has specialised in concrete poetry, sound poetry, and generative rules. Writes with astonishing energy, abiding at the tier of language before the personality, enjoying the boundless possibilities of the inchoate and the unbound. There is a Selected Poems (1987) but also a Selected later poems (2007). His books include Make, Food, Useful, Poems For Ghosts and Antibodies. The Welsh Poems appeared in 2006, and Zen Cymru was published in 2010.
In the foothills we discussed
the rights of passage with others.
The Americans said do said do you do
you do it. Our educated peers
outran us already tried our methods
and abandoned Eliot
didn't mean this. The bloody echo
of that chiming phrase. We were
outnumbered by stone throwers. We lay down.
Ages protect themselves with grease
in the paper-mills a bloom on the
whiteness which won't take ink they
own the forests they supply the bears
Kill them. For twenty-five years
in the streets we met with
malcontents, revolutionaries, sellers of tracts.
Peace is milk. War is acid.
But the centre always holds.
(from 'Shock of the New')
Michael Haslam, (1947) from Bolton. Romantic and mythographic poet rising to sublime heights. A Whole Bauble: Collected poems 1977-94 states the case. There followed The music laid her songs in language (2001), A sinner saved by grace (2005). Mid Life (2007) is a revised version of A Whole Bauble. Friends with most of the Cambridge School, took his early themes from the Prynnean interest in geography and myth, but is unfailingly impulsive and stricken by beauty where they are philosophical and critical. interview in DSMT.
The Figure I again stand here and sees
the river run uphill and disappear
into bush of blips of light
around a molten mountain sun —
a river budding
out at spindly wells, and mouthing
rushbed issues. I can imagine
what the figure must have felt to find
the one thing that they called the source
abstracted rose in an adulterated landfill.
(from 'The Music Laid Her Songs in Language')
Susan Wicks (1947-) Writes very short poems which achieves intensity through disorientation, like extreme close-ups which plunge you into the middle of an action. Dominated by sensuous detail and urgency. The Clever Daughter (1996)
She is the consummate dancer,
her grey silk shadow on marble
as her scorpion body arches
its fountain of piercing juices.
From the floor she can almost see it,
the grey-faced prophet's sneer
from the pit, the hungry trophy
hauled between them for centuries
across desert, crying its dead message.
(from 'Three Tales' in The Clever Daughter)
Penelope Shuttle, (1947-) author of poems in a 'magical realist', radically mythical style, based on Jung, folklore, and feminism. Arguably an early poet of the New Age movement. Can be seen as writing experiments in consciousness to help the feminist experiment in social arrangements. The Orchard Upstairs (1980); Selected poems 1980-1996 (1998).
Martin Thom, an anthropologist, stopped writing poetry and vanished from the poetic scene in about 1978; his work is contained in a book and two pamphlets (Ceremonial Devices and 19 songs). He is mainly remembered for The Bloodshed the Shaking House (1977), especially its startling first poem. His work, completely free of rational structures, has a dreamlike quality remarkably sustained:
Against the ore and elements
at dead heart of earth
hollowed out in wish, desire
there is a dark stream hieroglyphic
to carry your intention high
from death to some other blazing bed
on earth face, not mine
where black beads, black wood
by the sea rolled
shining, colour of liver
so rich in assimilated forms, the hermaphrodite
is all gift
into a wall of dream bees. To seek you out
wherever you are
frightening above fields
the work of creatures in
exchange, their impish glow
to things unknown It is freely given as ghost
pollen to lunar child
in tidal loops already marked
all starry, to be
come. Human in her pain & blood, a little
(from The Bloodshed, the Shaking House, 1977)
Grace Lake (1948-2010) from Stockport. led a stormy life. on the extreme end of 1968 radicalism, Situationism, King Mob, etc., stayed with the feeling of 1968. lived much in groups for whom the revolution was the main event, full-time and yet not really there. wrote in an irrational way in accordance with libertarian ideals. Her work is hard to interpret and much of it has not been published. Bernache nonnette (1995); Parasol 1 Parasol 2 Parasol Avenue ('96); Tondo aquatique (1997). A long poem, 'Sibyls', either does or does not exist. A project is under way at Birkbeck College to publish the rest of her work.
forlorn the lost, horse chestnut leaves across their mouths
mourn the nights that stop the portuguese
from changing flowers to musak
in other tongues our futures rung
the old uneconomic songs
distinctively white shorelines await
the brave, the nonchalant, the hysteric,
servants retreat into a background
(for the) prophesies of April light
are noticed to be aiming
by slow and sure control
at correct definition
held fast as half strangled elegant cats
hanging a late grape on a battered straw hat,
and a cherry glistening, and a raspberry listening,
to the cream viyella collars of vietnamese sailors
flying their crafts to mexico
where snows melting around tangerines
drift to cool the edges of horse chestnut leaves
oblivious to the forlorn's lack of imperialese.
John Ash, (1948-) cannot be described without mentioning the New York School and the efficiency of his work has something to do with being a second generation. Unfailingly presents his peculiar character of wit, melancholy, and impressionability, which by now we could not bear to be without. The Burnt Pages; Selected Poems (1996); The Anatolikon/To the City (2002).
The assassinated emperor disembarks
under a dome of glass and metal --
Steam! Violins! Majolica roses!
Oiled moustaches! Braided uniforms! Saliva and kisses!
A glistening machine, all cogs and chains
and wheels (and wheels within wheels)
hauls him to the highest balcony
and the concert begins.
Poor Beethoven, poor Mozart
you are left far behind the primitive masters
your symphonies are vegetable patches or postcards
compared to these all-encompassing panoramas
swollen with tubes, bells, organs, anvils and gongs
and lasting for hours, lasting for whole evenings on end.
(from 'Without Being Evening')
Barry MacSweeney (1948-2000) began as a symbol of the new 'youth culture' with a 1966 book, suffered when the High Street publisher was not interested in his main work which was modernist and 'adult'. Joined the Cambridge School, became a friend of Prynne, was a star of the underground. Suffered with the collapse of the 'counter culture' and the rise of Thatcherism. Was overtaken by alcoholism. Returned to the scene around 1995 as part of trying to sober up, which gave him terrible insomnia and caused a rush of poetic productivity. May be the only important confessional poet from England. Wolf Tongue is a partial selected poems (1965-2000).
Ulli Freer (1948), represents the uncompromised spirit of 1968. an anarchist writing anti-rational and intuitive poems, with the lack of logical structures expressing beliefs about politics and emotional truth. had Jeff Nuttall as an English teacher at school, is associated with the London School founded by Nuttall and Cobbing.
Stepping Space (1991); Sand Poles (1993); Speakbright Leap Passwood (2003).
blue shallow breaks vermilion
where it crosses mountain ash
moon obstructed by rocks
and throws a marble passage
light ochre and soot
oil cloth wrenched from river
clogged the mouth
dread river dressed in a shroud
and the ice gets out
of pine and oak
their fete now great claws
iron hearted thaw(from Sand Poles)
Denise Riley (1948) idolised for combining emotional intensity with philosophical lucidity and socialist-feminist political commitment. Dry Air (1985) was published by Virago. has more or less withdrawn from the scene after Mop Mop Georgette (1993). associated with the Cambridge School; the poets who were students in 1968 were already different in attitudes from the poets active in 1965 and 1966. Things were changing incredibly fast in those days.
B. [Brian] Catling (1948-), from London. professor of sculpture. possibly began being interested in poetry as a student of Iain Sinclair's at film school circa 1972. Inhabits the same zone of Gothic horror as Sinclair's early and middle periods. Soundings (accounts of performance acts), The Stumbling Block, Its Index; Written Rooms and Pencilled Crimes was a retrospective. another selected poems is A Court of Miracles (2009). Late Harping. Last century works (2001) collects more installation scripts. Included in the anthology Conductors of Chaos.
I have broken the mirrors of all my manifestations.
Broken them in all of my homes. The frames hanging like wrenched jaws or snapped ribs under my feet.
Glass is treacherous, burnt sand grown sleek, refusing to run, absorbing the dark,
pretending not to be here, sly.
I am concealed in brightness, homing close to its insistence. This is where you will always find me, invisible, shining my voice around
your straining senses. Suckling on the thin metallic skin of reflection,
tarnished on the wet steps of my teeth.
I speak only to remember, to nail the fleeting grey voltage, leaching its colour to fix the wound, written deep in the head. I drink only from my own skull cup, rejecting the acrid inebriation of opinion.
(from 'The Leipzig Cyclops: First Tract')
Paul Brown (1949-)one of the poets active in the 70s Underground. began with the realm of the non-discursive or non-verbal, “visual poetry” to use that term. So right in the thick of the “pure” revolutionary thing, dissociated from the social order and open to planes of experience that haven’t been defined. Was doing this in the early 70s although I can’t be precise about his path. Moved to a more verbal style, still radical and influenced by surrealism and 'process', in books such as Masker and Meetings & Pursuits. Seems to have abandoned the scene since about 1986. A work 'Landscape with Materials', circa 1984, was published in 2012. Included in the anthology Floating Capital.
Almost at once the road
dipped - I lost sight
out of the wind the land
was so deep in
I took off my face and
shrugged my shoulders
something dropped onto me
and into this I fell
as softly as a hawk to
the hard soil of night
indistinct and savage
and infinitely sweet
(untitled, from 'Masker')
Despite appearances, these poems are not realist or autobiographical or naturalised. They are continuations of the purely visual and 'process' work and are about the experience of freedom. They retain their mystery.
Paul Gogarty, distinguished poet on the 70s Underground who is believed to have left the scene. Snap Box collects much of his work. The Accident Adventure (1979) is completely different, a mythological poem about the founding of the universe and society; it sums up the time, as it would be unthinkable at any other time. It came from X Press (which disappeared soon after) and is one of the A4 stapled/ mimeo'd productions which summed up a refusal to write those neat poems which followed the dress code, displayed linguistic status symbols, and made shy references to personal feelings. Yes, those were the days.
Works named 'Drum' and 'Why do toads eat so much' are untraced.
Philip Jenkins (1949) On the Beach with Eugene Boudin (1978); Cairo (1981). Jenkins was one of the Welsh avant-garde poets, a short but exciting list. He was missing from the scene for a while after Cairo, but has returned with a series of pamphlets, such as Baritone Compass (2010). Boudin produced a painting called 'Princess Metternich on the Beach'. Cairo is hard to describe:
In 1964, I dreamt that I was sewn into a carcass of meat hanging in a butcher's shop. Inside, I was conscious of colour moving slowly as a succession of projected slides from rich red through purples and browns into black.
In 1977 at the Vortex, Siouxsie and the Banshees performed a song in which the protagonist mutilates himself before impaling himself on a butcher's hook anticipating new skin.
In the Serapeum at Sakkarah in the third century before Christ, Asar Hapi, the Apis bull of Memphis into whom was sewn the dead Osiris,
Called the life of Osiris
Animated by the soul of Osiris.
(from Cairo, Book 1, 5)
This can be compared with 'The Accident Adventure'.
Gavin Selerie (1949-), a prolific and enigmatic writer who has had almost no critical reception. He has been part of the London avant garde scene for possibly 30 years without being accepted by the chief ideologues as forming a key part of that scene. His poetry is mainly in long forms organised around multiple interlocking themes and drawing on a vast range of research and achieving an extraordinary documentary density. I suppose it is an extension of 'open field' poetry. Azimuth (1984) was a 400 page work of multiple themes sorted around a 'key' of orientation, navigation, and the eternal feminine. (see http://www.pinko.org/22.html ) It showed the influence of Olson and of singer-songwriters. Roxy (1996, 130 pp.) again explores the eternal feminine, apparently the modern thing of theology; Le Fanu’s Ghost (2006, 320 pp.) is about the Le Fanu family, theatre and the history of horror. Days of 49 (1999, with Alan Halsey) is a re-remembering of 1949, the year of their birth, after half a century, a sort of avant-garde documentary. Music's Duel (2009) is a selected poems. Selerie has identified himself as a lover of digressions, someone who knows all the back streets of London. If we think of the antiquary as someone with an insatiable curiosity for the past, who can conjure up entire scenes from stray objects, we can define Selerie as an antiquary of the present. His intake of information is simply wider than that of most writers.
Mummy it as the Opening of the Mouth. To get back speech, sight and hearing. Two girls bend over a bundle of gold leaf wrappings. De Chirico haunts the square opposite. He's leaning into himself as the old master, when before it was What shall I love unless it's the Enigma? This parcel contains Zoser's butcher. Like his master he thinks he's with the Sun. Wrapped up in a crude arrangement of bandages. Or not so crude it it goes for seventy days. The professor in the fez would say Djoser. Three-stepped to a four stage and finally a six stage pyramid. John Soane's Garden Temple 1778. Emery's working in the sand. The French in parallel and without Napoleon after all... it would be one half of this dream of a dream. A third of the cabinetmaker's Egyptian designs are the library furnishings. George Smith: 1808. Just before the Hall in Piccadilly, demolished without the zeppelin or V2. If it wasn't glib I'd say tiredness equals war. Revival calls down enemies. It shan't live a memorial for every beggar's dust. Let all die and mix again. This is the fallout of Personal Landscape. Return to Oasis. On the word EXILE should be added a rather special limitation of meaning. Musing on the suicide—or was it—of Thomas Lovell Beddoes,
(from Days of '49)
Walter Perrie (1949), from the mining community in East Fife. One of few Scottish poets to take advantage of the new formal possibilities of the 1970s. The folklore has it that gay commitment did not suit the Scottish poetry establishment. His career seemed to come to an end. Recently he has emerged in the magazine Fras. Also a philosopher. Lamentation for the Children (1977); By Moon and Sun (1980).
Menna Elfyn pioneer of feminist poetry (and criticism) in Wales. writes in Welsh but English translations are easily available. writes personalised protest poetry in a style close to singer-songwriters. feminist, anti-capitalist, anti-war. edited two key anthologies of women poets in Welsh. Eucalyptus (1995) is her selected poems 1978-94 (this is a bilingual edition).
Brian Marley, (1950?) from Newcastle. active in the 70s Underground scene and one of its leading lights. left the scene, dramatically. This is said to be because of the lack of serious discussion of poetry. believed to be working in a jazz record shop, and writing reviews of saxophone records. His 1978 book Springtime in the Rockies has classic status and stands for the 'forgotten 70s', when amazing things could happen and be virtually ignored. He can be grouped with Martin Thom and Paul Gogarty in this sense.