Sunday, 8 December 2013

Azimuth and Digression: Selerie interview session 1, 19 November 2011

Andrew Duncan interviewed Gavin Selerie for Angel Exhaust between November 2011 and January 2013.

(Gavin has written commentaries on his work of which one is available at , and a very long commentary on 'Roxy' has circulated in a limited edition.)

brief chronology. Azimuth (1984). Puzzle Canon (1986). Strip Signals (1986). Elizabethan Overhang (1989). Southam Street. (1991). Tilting Square (1992). Roxy (1996). Danse Macabre (collaborative work; 1997). Days of '49 (with Alan Halsey; 1999). Le Fanu’s Ghost (2006). The Canting Academy (collaboration; 2008). Music's Duel (2009) is a selected poems. Double Harriott is in progress.

AD: I thought for the very first question I’d ask you to comment on the last poem in Le Fanu’s Ghost. The whole thing may be a riddle or it may be composed of seven separate riddles.

GS: Do you know I think that might have been the first poem I wrote, or one of the first, for this book. It is indeed a series of riddles. Why I’m floundering a bit is that, I haven't read this probably since very early days. Maybe not since the book was published. ‘When you know the answer you still forget’ is not just applicable to Gothic literature, it’s like the experience of watching Macbeth. It’s part of the wonders of revisiting something that a work of art still comes alive. But maybe beyond that, also, There is always more than one answer. These specific images, the secret in the green chamber, the deed in the red box, moving behind stamped leather, maybe the flower, but certainly speaking French from a spire of hair. All of these are motifs, maybe actually specific episodes, from Le Fanu’s works. Now I see the penultimate line, 'is there a devil in deverell', that suggests to me that it all came, in one sense, possibly came out of Le Fanu’s novel Guy Deverell, which I’ve got on the shelves up there, in the Dover edition. Yeah, I think the point of putting this at the end was to keep the book open-ended, but also to remind the reader of the procedures involved in suspense literature. And my whole quest for these patterns which keep recurring in the writings of these mainly Anglo-Irish, but not exclusively, writers, many of whom were linked by family, linked by blood. I think that's probably as specific as I can be. I think I liked the riddle format which I used a fair bit in the book. That may well go back to my, obviously I enjoyed riddles as a child, but I did teach a course of nonsense poetry for Birkbeck, I suspect in the 1990s, and I think some of the procedures in the book come out of that. I’m very fond of Hugh Houghton's anthology of nonsense verse. He arrived at York, I think, the term after I left. That was where I did my post-graduate work. He’s someone I've only met once but whom I respect very much, as audience. And I do recommend that anthology.

AE: ‘Jackety Jiggit‘, it does sound like the title of a nonsense rhyme, perhaps a counting-out rhyme. Is that what it is?

GS: I think perhaps it is. And I’ve got a number of much earlier anthologies of nonsense verse and I may well have picked that phase out of such a text. What did it suggest to you without comment by me? Did it perplex you?

AD: The last time I looked at it I had this functional reaction, which is, Aha, this needs comment and would benefit from comment. I can see these are questions which are in the middle of a Gothic plot, where the plot is driven by the fact that the questions are unanswered and the narrative answers them. As the last poem in a long book, it’s provocative.

GS: I’m quite attracted to the ancient Greek idea of a short comic piece at the end of a tragedy. And indeed this happened a good deal in 18th C and 19th C theatre where usually there were two plays on the bill. It’s an interesting revival of that structure of presenting drama.

AE: So there might be a lack of laughs in Gothic?

GS: I think one of the theses of this book, if I can dare to use that word, is that Le Fanu, rather unusually among Gothic books and stories, does involve a good deal of comedy, but it’s very subtle. Perhaps comedy is too extreme a word, but there's a great deal of irony which I think he inherits from his great-uncle Sheridan. I think he was probably conscious of that.

AD (does sound test)

(file 2)

GS: One thing I forgot to say is that there is an illustration opposite which obviously was created after that poem but looking at it now I think it illuminates it.

AE: So it shows some rather crafty and dubious-looking individuals around a gaming table, probably? Inside a spade from a playing-card. So they’re gambling, and the spade does tend to mean bad luck, actually. One of them has an eye-patch.

GS: Yes, they’re dissolute and reckless characters, as you say, bending over a gaming-table. The images used in the illustrations, they’re obviously collages by Alan Halsey. I supplied him with the images and he selected images to create collages for each section of the book. So it’s another example of our collaboration. I can't remember which book that comes from. It might even be a Harrison Ainsworth book, The Spendthrift, rather than a Le Fanu book. Le Fanu does write a fair bit about gambling, it’s obviously a common motif in the literature of that period or of that genre but I allowed myself to incorporate some more extraneous material. It may be by Cruickshank, which would create a link with Le Fanu. Or it may be by Phiz. I know their styles are very different but sometimes it’s hard to recognize one from the other. I might mention that Harrison Ainsworth was a passion of mine as a boy, for instance Guy Fawkes, a passion which I shared with Eric Mottram. I had a conversation with Eric, he said, no one reads Ainsworth any more, do they, and I said I did.

AE: Windsor Forest. I’ve just been reading scenes from Eric’s poem [The Book of Herne] where he uses that. But we’d better not get into that. I will jump something in here - I was going to ask a question about West House Books because among other things it’s remarkable that you were collaborating with them at the time of Azimuth and still are. It’s rather a long history. I wanted to talk about that. I guess West House books is Alan Halsey?

GS: Yes that’s true. Initially based in Hay-on-Wye and subsequently in Sheffield. I think quite a number of the writers published by West House are in some way friends and acquaintances of Alan. That might be very common in the small press world and perhaps always has been, but in this case I think it’s particularly meaningful in terms of possible connections. For example David Annwn is someone published by that press who I feel things in common with. I think there’s an overlap in terms of mythological themes and also use of Celtic patterns of language. I think the writing comes out of some common matrix there, different though we all are. Martin Corless-Smith is another writer I admire very much. About to make one of his rare re-appearances in this country.

AE: I think one of the reasons why West House is distinctive is the length of the books. It does seem to me that the 70s were the great era of the long poem, that there was a whole political and cultural milieu which called for them. Azimuth is a bit late in that cycle and by that time very few book-length poems were being published. So West House was a good home for this kind of thing.

GS: Azimuth is a Binnacle book, that was before West House was set up. Roxy is my first West House book.

AE: I must have mis-read a credits list!

GS: But what you were saying goes for Roxy, Roxy is a long poem, my second long poem. And is a long poem in a more conventional sense in that it is in numbered sections which I think are entirely left-margin based, so there is an overall coherence, whereas in Azimuth and Le Fanu’s Ghost I was trying to be more eclectic and maybe consciously striving for different moods of writing within an overall text. But what you say about the 1970s is true, I remember being so excited by the long poems I was reading. Obviously Olson's Maximus, I realise that the first volume comes from earlier but I’m talking about my own deep immersion in that work. Also Allen Fisher’s Place, obviously. A work that I witnessed as it were being put together, mainly through hearing him read it. But I was late coming to Allen Fisher really, I only came across him in 1978 when I came back to London, but I very quickly got enthused about what he was doing, obviously. I ought to make just one other factual point. Azimuth although published in 1984 was begin in 1972. At least, I didn’t have the idea of a long poem at that point but the earliest texts go back to 1972. In fact, there are lines incorporated in that text which go back to the 1960s, from notebooks. I stole lines from poems which I would now disown.

AE: Oxford has produced the lion's share of prominent conventional poets, but has been denied a share in the history of the Underground. I understand you have a slightly different view of this. Can you talk about the modernist current in Oxford poetry and what was happening in Oxford poetry at the end of the Sixties?

GS: You're right, I do have a different view of this. Oxford does tend to be written out of this and people do tend to think of it as the base for Craig Raine, now Tom Paulin, and of course people think of that OUP list of poets most of whom other than Roy Fisher and Basil Bunting were not adventurous in the way we desire and approve of. But it’s interesting to compare Oxford with Cambridge. As you imply I did my first degree at Oxford. I went up in the autumn of 1968 after spending almost a year in North America, what would now be called a gap year. And I spent three years studying. It was an extremely heady time when the walls were coming down. Literally there were slogans from Blake’s poems sprayed on these mediaeval walls, which stays on my mind. I was much involved with radical Oxford politics. Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ali used to come back quite a bit, that was part of the mix. Music, too. Poetry, yes. Obviously Sally Purcell was publishing some of the early Carcanet books. I think Carcanet started in Cambridge but didn’t stay there for very long and by 68 it was definitely based in Oxford. In a village outside Oxford, I can't remember which one. So that provided a base of sorts, although of course she was publishing older writers like Smart and quite a number of the Elizabethans. A selection of George Peele’s work [...] But in terms of contemporary work there were quite a few interesting readings at the Oxford Poetry Society. My friend and indeed publisher Glen Storhaug was involved with the Poetry Society. I didn’t actively recognise him at the time although we worked out that we must have been at events together. Certainly we were both involved in the campaign to instate Barry MacSweeney as poetry professor, in that chair. Barry subsequently completely disowned the campaign and the whole impetus of it.

AE: Barry disowned everything at one time or another.

GS: He argued that he was put up for it by the publishing director at Hutchinson. This may be true, that they seized the main chance there. But for undergraduates, students who were interested in more experimental poetry, there was great excitement in having Barry come to read. I think I remember distributing leaflets at a rally, although my memory is rather hazy. The reading that Barry gave would probably have been in the pub up Walton Street in Jericho. As well as live readings, and I can't remember who else I heard in Oxford around that point, Parker's bookshop, which was very close to my college, had all of the Fulcrum books.

AE: Cape Goliard?

GS: Yes. One of which I have pulled out for your perusal.

AE: Subject pulls out Object from pile.

GS: This is Gary Snyder's A Range of Poems in the Fulcrum edition. In brown parcel paper covers, with script that's almost Chinese but it's using our letters. This is something I bought at Parker’s at a time when I could ill afford it. I exchanged my meal tickets for cash. The college food was appalling and my girlfriend and I used to cook on a little stove in my room instead and eat healthier food I thought, but some of that money I saved went on books such as this. 42 shillings, there we are. I already knew a good deal about Gary Snyder and some of the other American poets published by Fulcrum from The New American Poetry, which I picked up during my year in America. It says inside it ‘Chicago 1968’ and I bought it at Oak Street Bookstore in Oldtown, which at that time was full of brownstone buildings, and it was the Bohemian restaurant. I’d love to talk about that if there’s time.

AE: Was it actual Czechs?

GS: I was using it in a loose sense. I did work in this restaurant called Jacques’, a French restaurant, and I had to dodge curfew to get to, which was during the riots.

AE: The Democratic Convention?

GS: No, this was the riots after the shooting of Martin Luther King.

GS: I used to spend a lot of my time when I wasn’t working watching underground films in a cinema in Oldtown and browsing in this bookshop.

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I’m flicking through this anthology, I knew the Beats and various other people from the mid-sixties, but I discovered Charles Olson in this anthology. I think it would have been March 68 when I bought this anthology. ‘The Kingfishers’ hit me particularly. Snyder must be in here somewhere. ‘Riprap’ is in here and ‘Myths and Texts’. ‘A poem for Robin’, I haven't read it for years. It has that staggered line with, it’s almost a caesura, as in Anglo-Saxon poetry. Also while I was at Oxford I acquired Duncan, The Years as Catches. This was the first book of Duncan's that I got heavily into, I didn’t actually acquire those Fulcrum books until later on. I actually got quite a few of my Fulcrum books from Stuart and Deirdre Montgomery, after they’d closed the press. I’d picked up others along the way before that. Catches was a book that strongly aroused my interest, also Ginsberg’s Angkor Wat with Lawrence photos which I now understand are not from Angkor Wat but from some other temple, quite nearby. This was my prize possession, October 1969, Pound’s Cantos, in the marvellous black cloth edition with a black dust jacket. I read this very intensively and I think everything I’ve done since has been greatly influenced by the Cantos. I don’t think I’d heard Pound read at that point. But fairly soon afterwards I acquired a record of him reading from, I think it was the Spoleto Festival. Obviously after that I discovered other recordings. Don't you think that hearing a poet read their work is part of the way in? Are you of the other persuasion in that point? Do you think that gets in the way?

AE: If you’re selling books, and if you’re trying to tell someone in the deep provinces, like where I grew up, that it’s in the book, this will deliver whatever it is that culture has to deliver, then you do believe in books. I think most poets write poems to be printed, as I do. On the other hand, if you hear someone read, and it’s a real poet, you hear their voice inside the poems forever after. Actually it does change an awful lot in ways I can’t define. I’m afraid that’s rather exclusive for people who live, as most people do, away from big cultural centres.

GS: Maybe Pound isn’t a particularly good example of someone whose voice provides a way in. After all he did change his reading style, several times. But Olson would be a very good example. I think hearing tapes of Olson read, which I became absolutely obsessed by during my years in Yorkshire, that provided much more of a way into his work than the 'Projective Verse' essay or any of the essays in Human Universe. The obvious bookmark in the Cantos is Canto 16 which is one of the Hell Cantos. I like the blakean imagery here, and he actually refers to ‘the running form naked Blake shouting whirling his arms’. Glad day, really, but maybe more literal than that. And Canto 80 which I’ve written an essay about, 15 lines from Canto 80. They’re both poems which involve looking back at London and the first two decades of the 20th century. And the other book I wanted to mention from that time, Robert Creeley’s Poems 1950-65. This is still my preferred way of reading Creeley. Bought July 1969, after hearing him read at the International Poetry Festival, 21st July. I knew his work from The New American Poetry, that's only the year before that I acquired that. Hearing him read and almost breaking down and recovering, as he often did, with all those hesitations and that gradual re-finding of a text in performance. That struck me - very much in contrast to Auden who read, at the same Festival, it must have been the same evening. Who was stony in his manner. And I remember particularly offended me by saying that he could no longer rely on an audience knowing the classical references. Which I was a little indignant about since I’d certainly studied the classical texts and learnt Latin in depth.

AE: This is what people think of when they think of Oxford. Arrogance, really, and a creativity which has stopped somewhere in the past, perhaps in the 1950s or perhaps in the 1660s. I want to divert this slightly, you're talking about American poets and not about Oxford as a scene. I'm attempting to rewrite history to say that poetry happened everywhere not just where successful self-confident people decided it belonged to them. You mentioned Sally Purcell. Her poetry isn't very good, really. We can leave out Sally Purcell.

GS: I think all I can say about that is that certainly I heard other visiting poets, besides Barry MacSweeney, who represented a more experimental approach. It wasn't until the 1970s that I became more aware of exactly what was going down. Certainly Cambridge was way in advance of Oxford in its awareness of those alternatives and this obviously goes way back, to the Thirties and before that I suppose. Thirties or Forties, certainly. But it's interesting that you asked me to think of Oxford in relation to Cambridge... did you say that?

AE: No.

GS: Maybe I twisted that. There is something I might put down on record about that which is the different educational experiences. One of the people I heard at Oxford was Northrop Frye, who lectured on Blake, obviously, for two terms and the lectures were absolutely packed out. And he referred to the Oxford literature course as a guided tour of English literature. And that was so in that you were meant to cover each period in a way that I don't think people tended to at Cambridge. I may be wrong. It was expansive and obviously the risk was of a kind of thinned-down access to literature. But if you were of an adventurous disposition you would home in on particulars. I spent a whole term on Blake, with the permission of my tutor. Working my way through the standard Oxford edition of Blake's writings. So the Oxford education actually stood me in good stead. in giving me a broad base from which I could home in on the things I wanted to, and I'm including in that contemporary literature, contemporary poetry. The native British poets I discovered in a more important way in the 1970s. Actually another figure I did see at Oxford was Pete Brown, who of course did lyrics for Cream. He had this group The Battered Ornaments. I was always interested in song, mediaeval or Elizabethan and folk songs later. Quite a bit of my access to poetry would have been through Poetry And Jazz events, or even rock events that involved a degree of poetry.

Incidentally I think Oxford is still a centre of experimental jazz which marks it out as having a tradition that is not in the bracket of Craig Raine. I know I'm sliding from music to poetry there. It's maintained its avant garde pursuit in the medium of jazz.

AE: So in Cambridge in the late 60s and 70s there was a group environment, a whole swarm of people writing very modern poetry and if you didn't write this poetry you were just not tolerated. If I'm looking for that in Oxford it sounds as if it just isn't there. You did have people reading this fabulous American stuff, and it's in the bookshops, but if undergraduates are writing poetry they are more in the 1950s styles, probably even Larkin.

GS: Michael Horovitz’s Poetry of the Underground. Horovitz had already left Oxford by the time I’m speaking of, I think, but some of the people such as Pete Brown featured in Children of Albion, and this again (subject picks it up) has a date in it of ‘October 1969’. So these would have been some of the people I heard either in Oxford or in London. Obviously I was going down to London quite a fair bit. Neil Oram I think I heard in a kind of arts centre, or could it have been Indica. I don't know. Certainly I was aware of all these things but you’re right I didn’t feel myself part of a group within my university which was engaged in [?]. I did in terms of music but not in terms of poetry.

AE: Bang goes another attempt to rewrite history!

GS: I read this thing cover to cover. This is where I first encountered David Chaloner, on the page, and of course Crozier is in here as well. But it’s a shame that Michael Horovitz didn’t include more of that band of writers as opposed to Bernard Kops or Herbert Lomax.

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File 5

[... missing words] Gael Turnbull. So it was just a matter of time before I found a base really to mesh with people in a poetry group. So that didn’t happen until my return to London in 1978 but then it happened in a big way.

AE: Gosh. That’s quite late really. I’m going to load up with a Question which I don't know if you can answer, which is why Oxford having dominated high-quality English poetry then lost it. I think that’s going to remain a mystery really.

GS: Obviously there are writers who are products of Oxford who went about things in a more adventurous way, but I do think there is a residual conservatism in Oxford. My years there were an absolute blip. It may sound extreme of me to say this but I used to visit Cambridge in my years in Oxford and I didn’t see the same kind of radicalism on the streets.

AE: I think that’s really extraordinary. [cut]

GS: I think that was an absolute blip. I went back in about 1974 and it had entirely reverted to a more staid atmosphere. I would willingly concede that there was this extraordinary poetic activity going on in Cambridge at the time which I was largely unaware of and which I have relished ever since. I have enjoyed going to the various Cambridge Poetry Conferences and so on and I have many more poetry links with people who have emerged from Cambridge. I think one needs to acknowledge that maybe a looser way of being emerged in Cambridge maybe in the Thirties. Maybe it’s a more Wordsworthian tradition maybe Oxford is more Coleridgean somehow. Leavis was one of the people I heard at York. He used to come up once a week, run about the huge artificial lake to get fit and give a lecture. Maybe that whole trust in natural patterns of speech which Wordsworth argued for in his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads was more taken up by Cambridge. I would associate Oxford more with Gerard Manley Hopkins and that highly textured verse, experimental though it is, and actually partly going against an oral tradition.

AE: If people have been imitating him they haven’t been very successful. Maybe religion is the problem. He was a sort of classic High Anglican. It’s been a religious vortex rather than a poetic one.

GS: I think it would be a mistake to imitate Hopkins these days, but he remains a marker for what can be done in craft particularly in terms of poetic diction, in terms of vigorous sounds and just reclaiming words that some people would regard as ink-horn terms but become very active and of the moment in Hopkins. I imagine Geraldine Monk has been very influenced by Hopkins in terms of sound patterns,

AE: Good grief!

GS: and maybe Maggie O’Sullivan too.

AE: All I can remember is Peter Levi saying in an interview that it was natural for an English Catholic poet to wrote like Hopkins and then not explaining very clearly why he didn’t. He was very aware of being 100% non-Hopkins. I suppose they were both Jesuits. English Jesuits aren’t really all that numerous, are they?

GS: Unless you go back to the Renaissance. A person that I’d heard about in Cambridge although I didn’t meet her at the time was Elaine Feinstein. She was clearly a key figure on that scene. Being in touch with Charles Olson and organising events, editing that magazine with Prynne and others.

AE: Prospect. Back to Olson. I wanted to ask about azimuth and binnacle and whether the navigation theme had to do with Olson.

GS: I’ve always been a great reader of voyage literature, Hakluyt for example, and always loved going by sea. I went to North America at the beginning of 68 by a cargo ship from Liverpool to Boston, and as a boy I used to go mackerel fishing in Cornwall and all kinds of water expeditions and I am incidentally a water sign. And also I got quite fascinated with aspects of navigation. So it’s the history of moving around from place to place by water and the ways in which people navigate it. Like Olson I suppose I took that as an emblem. In my title I’m more firm about it. I’m sure I did know about the word azimuth, probably from physics, but I may have first come across it in an in-depth way with the Pink Floyd. When I went to a concert of theirs on the South Bank, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, I can’t remember which, they used something called an ‘azimuth projector’, as a way of distributing sound around the hall.

AE: So it wasn’t realistic stereo, it was deliberately altered and directed?

GS: I was never a lover of quadraphonic systems, but I think in a hall there are strong arguments for doing something like that. So I must have read in NME or maybe IT, Frendz, about the Azimuth Co-ordinator. Probably Roger Waters would have been holding forth about it. So I think they were still using it when I went to see them in Dark Side of the Moon at the Rainbow at the beginning of 72. I wanted to make the point that nowadays people regard things like Tommy and Dark Side of the Moon as extremely cliched and programmatic in a dull predictable way, but at the time those pieces came out they were tremendously exciting. If I talk about that Dark concert it was six months before the album came out. I suppose I’m mainly interested in earlier Floyd stuff. The timbre of sound at that Rainbow show, in that setting, was extraordinary, and obviously the light show etcetera. So maybe I absorbed something of a contemporary sound context for Azimuth from the Floyd’s Azimuth Co-ordinator. But also I didn’t decide on the title for that book although by 1978 it had already become a project for a long poem, until I went to visit John Robinson, of Joe Soap’s Canoe, in I think Southgate where he was living, and he played me this LP...

AE: an exhibit here [LP called ‘Azimuth' by Azimuth with a photo of the ocean on its cover]

GS: ... which had just come out. Which initially I thought was just called ’Azimuth’, but it’s truer to say this is a group called Azimuth. I’ll say a little bit about this. It’s chamber jazz music. it’s just a trio. John Taylor on piano and synthesizer, Norma Winstone on voice and Kenny Wheeler the great Canadian trumpeter on trumpet and flugelhorn. It says released in March 1977 but I know I couldn’t have heard this until 78. Has a lighthouse on the cover, and a lot of these pieces seemed to have the sea or direction connotation. "Siren’s Song" opens it and then O, or nought. The Tunnel, Greek Triangle, Naked. When John played me this not only was I mesmerised to find a song already called Azimuth, but also I already knew two of the musicians. I knew them on record and particularly Norma Winstone. Her first album Edge of Time influenced my sense of possible structure a lot because it proceeds from chaos to a sort of lullaby at the end and it showed me how furor could be joined with a more settled melodic quietness. Edge of Time I would think was about 1972. The thing about Norma Winstone and this happens on the Joe Harriot album Hum Dono, which would be something like 69, she sings as an instrument - as the equivalent of a saxophone or whatever. Norma Winstone is one of my great enthusiasms and I’ve stayed with her over the years. She’s also on Labyrinth, the Nucleus album, on which she sings, which I heard many times. I heard them in Oxford among other places. She sings the part of Ariadne in this suite which is based on the Theseus and the Minotaur story. With this striking cover.

AE: Not really in keeping. Were they on Vertigo? They were trying to sell that kind of thing to a pop audience. Interjecting for the new reader, Norma Winstone was I believe a free jazz vocalist, so completely different from vocalists like Billie Holiday. I guess part of this was to do with producing an English jazz style, it had to purge an awful lot to cease being American at one remove. So improvisation was a big part of it. Most modern poetry comes out of music and this is most obvious with rather banal poetry, it’s oriented towards pop song lyrics, people are so used to that. The banality of the lyrics becomes the banality of the poetry. But modern-style poetry hasn’t really escaped from music, as a welcoming warm and liberated environment. But modern-style poetry has a home in very modern-style music, of which English free jazz and chamber jazz are examples.

GS: There is a poem towards the end called ‘Azimuth’ which is dedicated to Norma Winstone. I didn’t reprint this in my Selected because it didn’t seem to work fully now, but I think I still stand by it.

This I know to be my way
plotted first by the wind-rose and the stars
then by arcs of declination intersected

It’s about four, five poems from the end.

AE: Could I interject there, this is a guess, that the interest of navigational terms for free jazz was not to do with getting from a known place to a known place. It was actually about being in the middle of the ocean, and you invent your own geography, and your own course, and the point is not losing confidence in what you’re doing. Could I suggest that in Azimuth the relation with the Pink Floyd sound projection thing is to get away from point and towards an area, Azimuth is a very complicated poem and you could say it has a centre in a dozen different places.

GS: I’m glad you brought things back to the aleatory and the non-predictable, because that is my orientation. I got distracted by the concept and the programmatic. I think dislocation, not knowing where you are and having to find your way by whatever means are available, and plotting a course that goes in a circuitous way, away that includes mishaps and mistakes. That is what I was interested in. Although I learnt so much from Olson, it is true that the long poem traditionally includes digression. The long poem not just the modernist long poem, always has this

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... separate elements that are more fluid, the chance elements. But Olson I think was an inspiration for me in showing how you could utilise diverse materials within a longer text. If you think of the variousness of The Maximus Poems, the use of Algonquin mythology, Jung, along with actual voyage journals and narratives. That combination of historical texts with maybe oral legends. Of course it’s also the combination of text and observations -walking the streets, walking Gloucester, Gravelly Hill. I think indeterminacy is vital. I think I mentioned in my email to you that remark of Keats to Reynolds. “We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us and if we do not agree seems to put its hand in its britches pocket. Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle or amaze it with itself but with its subject.” And then a little bit later on he says ‘I do not mean to deny Wordsworth’s grandeur, [...] but I mean to say we need not be teased with grandeur and merit when we can have them uncontaminated and unobtrusive.” I suppose Keats is out of fashion these days. So that palpable design, I suppose it’s a truism of Romanticism really, that you don’t trust what has come down as a blueprint, you forge your own path, your own meaning. That said obviously all poets do use design, however free they are. You can’t get completely away from design.

AE: So improvisation has its intent. But its outcome may be something that has genuinely shed all genre rules, and a whole tier of consciously known rules, perhaps not all rules of language ever memorised or internalised but a significant part of them. The converse of this is the claim often made that the audience can’t understand modern poetry, which in a sneaky way does prove that poetry has gone beyond. Got away from itself.

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GS: This may not be directly responding to what you just said, but I think you just raised something I’m very interested in was procedure that moves beyond semantics or which contains a pure sound dimension. I’m interested in this because I’m on the one hand fascinated by commentary and critical interpretations of texts and the other hand always wanting to return to the text in a purer way. I remember Peter Riley saying in his essay in Poets on Writing, he says something to the effect that the poem says what it means darkly and the reader is left with that. Anyway he says something that poetry says what it says in stark isolation leaving the reader to make sense of it. What I think getting away from any appendages and insisting that the reader finds their way through it without a crutch, other interpretative props and I think that’s a well made point even though I’m fascinated by commentaries such as you get in Sandys’ 17th century translation of Ovid where you get marginal glosses and annotation at the end of each book. Even though I’m fascinated by that and always have been, I love footnotes and always have done. Ultimately you get back to the fabric of the text and it goes beyond meaning in any detachable sense. The content is in the form as I think Olson said to Creeley, I think Creeley quotes Olson as having said. Form is always a logical extension of content. The intertwining of the two. We have to negotiate the fabric of the language, ah we’re back to Azimuth, in grappling with time and coming to a sense of what it means. More so I think in prose. In fact there is a very interesting passage in Puttenham’s The Art of English Poesie in which he contrasts the art of prose and poetry, and...

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‘The utterance in prose is not of so great efficacy because not only is it daily used and by that occasion the ear is over-glutted with it, but is also not so voluble and slipper upon the tongue, being wide and loose and nothing numerous, not contrived into measures and sounded with so gallant and harmonical an action, nor in fine allowed that figurative conveyance nor so great licence in choice of words and phrases as metre is.”
Metre there suggests a very arranged or stress-based form of poetry but I think he is suggesting there that poetry has the capacity at least to move onto a purer level of language because it’s not so worn. Would you say Andrew this is opposite to Wordsworth’s emphasis on...

AE: It’s not quite symmetrical. He is talking about freedom, and I have to say that modern prose doesn’t have quite the qualities he attributes to it, as 16th C prose did, also not all poetry fits into that scheme although it’s a very beautiful idea. I think the Objectivists were pretty much marching in the opposite direction.

GS: It’s important to bear in mind the historical development of these genres, and Melville’s prose for instance is poetry at some level, isn’t it. Maybe I’ve reverted to talking about arrangement as opposed to spontaneity and regularity. But I do think there is a level at which poetry transcends meaning and I don’t think you get that so much in prose although you could argue that any passage of Joyce and Beckett, and goodness, you could even say Iain Sinclair now, it moves beyond ... Sound poetry. All poetry is sound poetry at some level even though the term tends to be used to apply to an extreme of that.

AE: We seem to have defined freedom there, which is very satisfying. I’d like to say that it’s not just the poet who enjoys the feeling of freedom and lack of constraint, but the reader as well. The reader is either adrift in this sea of language or swimming, buoyed up by it like a fish in water. I think that’s the idea of... I suppose it’s not the rules of prose which are restrictive, it’s the attitude of some readers.

GS: Things go back to how you approach it as a reader, how you approach the text as a reader. And of course this is subject to all the variables of experience. You might read something differently on a train, from in the privacy of your own living room, and you might read something differently performing it for reading, I mean in the silent sense. I sent you my statement on poetry which is part of my famous and notorious entry to the British Electronic Poetry Site which got deleted by mistake. In that I was arguing for a reclaiming of rhetoric, on the assumption that rhetoric in the true sense is not deceptive or artificial but is literally the best words in the best order. OK, Cicero and so on may have been thinking mainly of argument but rhetoric also involves description and patterns of, the shaping of phrases within a sentence or beyond a sentence. My defence of rhetoric is I think relevant to my procedures in Roxy, where I’ve got a kind of dialectic going on between the regular, the formulaic, and the dispersal of intention. In that statement I was saying that sometimes nowadays the experimental becomes a kind of mantra, an obsessive mantra whereby the poet is supposed to shed traditional forms and planned arrangements, and I think rhetoric in the sense of recourse to tried and tested patterns, or useful patterns, is still fundamental to poetry - and people don’t want to admit that.

AE: I’d like to say that the academic line which was predominant in the 1950s and came out of close reading tended to make rhetoric a very dirty word and close reading often seemed to be going through the poem and finding all the devices of rhetoric and sort of red circling them and saying no NoNoNo. It does strike me that one part of the experimental line you mentioned is just taking that two steps further. There seems to be a lack of understanding that this comes out of practical criticism and the academic conventions of the Fifties. It’s just an extension of it. You were talking about the aural and performance, and Cicero as a courtroom lawyer and politician was if nothing else delivering orally and performing, and if you like delivering lies. The impulses of performance naturally give rise to rhetoric, I don’t think you can separate the two.

GS: So the rules which he formulated if you like were in the bloodstream from his daily work practice. I feel that we may be getting [...] [tactfully suggests return to the books] In your essay on Azimuth you expressed considerable reservations if not hostility to Tilting Square which was the second book of sonnets I wrote, and I think this could be germane to the area we were just talking about. In that book I am very sensitive to pattern, and I am walking a tight-rope if you like between, I’m on the one hand trying to construct a series of interlinked units, and on the other hand moving literally in reaction to what is happening around me and not being predetermined. Those two books came out of my life at the time. Elizabethan Overhang comes mainly out of a love affair although I am not dealing with just the subjective. I combine fixity with fluid elements. Those two books came out of my life at the time. There are more general poems here that intersect with the directly personal.

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That’s still to do with one’s experience. The opening poem, well, That’s much to do with language as well as the expression of feeling within a relationship. ‘First Born’ is to do with being first born, the first in a family. ‘Tundale’ is about the danger of AIDS at one level, and from a heterosexual position. Certainly when I went out to America in 1988 it was a threat to heterosexuals as well. “Delayed release’ this concerns what’s happened to the ideals of the 1960s.
I realise that I was just making a qualification there, wasn’t I, it was saying that both books come out of the personal. Let me grab Tilting Square. This juxtaposes an affair I was having with someone who at the time was still married but who subsequently left her husband, with the death of my father which happened during that. In section 4. And indeed some poems about the rest of my family including my mother. And Tilting Square has a structure based literally on the Tilting Square as the images I drew Jeff. It’s the tip of a pyramid, a drawing, gold on the cover. Different configurations. I suppose the point of that was different configurations within a relationship, or a family, and in society. To some degree this is highly organised and thought out. Those images emerged were in a very general way inspired by some thinking by Paul Klee in ‘The Thinking Eye’. I must get to the point to debate this with you because you reacted adversely to what you saw as a stiffness of language. Obviously I’m using the sonnet here. I think I could stick my neck out and say that in the Reality Street Book of Sonnets mine are among the few which are genuine sonnets. I’m not in any way objecting to the material in that anthology. I think it’s a wonderful anthology. What I was trying to do in both these books was to stay close to the Elizabethan and Jacobean, and extended it through the 17th century and even to the Carolean?

AE: Caroline?

GS: I’m getting mixed upon with Irish composers here. One should certainly extend it to the Carolines. That phase of very intense sonnet-writing, although most of the sequences come from the Elizabethan and Jacobean period. I was trying to find an equivalent to that. The fourteen-line form but in a sequence whereby motifs are picked up, recapitulated and you get that whole interpenetration between different texts. I was trying to retain that but to find a way of doing that afresh. I think I can be detached about it, I can see that I am simply putting too many words into a given text of fourteen lines or into the line. I think Andrew Crozier told me off for doing that, or implied that the lines were too stuffed.

AE: I found it very hard to understand but perhaps a re-reading would have taken care of that. All three of the ones you mentioned seem a lot clearer now. Sorry, who is Tundale?
The Vision of Tundale? Visio Tnugdali in mediaeval Latin?

GS: Yes. Is it 'The Garden of Eternal Delights'? is it in the Prado?

AE: It’s related to the Voyage of Brendan but with a different hero. It is the same voyage. AIDS has to do with paradise lost?

GS: I think perhaps a nightmare journey which confronts you with difficulties. But yes, that would link with some of my poems, particularly the one in Elizabethan Overhang about the 1960s and the effects of that, ‘Delayed release’.

AE: It’s on the facing page.

GS: I’m in the wrong book. It’s on the facing page, there is obviously a degree of intentionality there...
These poems, as well as negotiating that fourteen-line thing, and occasionally using rhyme, they’re an attempt to grapple with and resolve paradoxes. It’s the configuration thing again. The poem ‘Numbers’, this is, it concerns the relative advantages and disadvantages of being in a couple and being single, and just deals with the look of numbers, which are I think very suggestive. One being a straight form rising upwards, and two being a curved form which may go down and end flatly, or rise up into a curve.

AE: (blunder)

GS: In the first stanza.

AE: ‘One stands up and two leans back...’

GS: I think I’m wrestling with ethical problems, with physiological problems, with... These poems were driven by a need to make sense of what was happening at a philosophical level. Maybe a part of the piled-up language comes from the fact that I was pressurised but also from this need to think things out in that pressurised situation. The philosophical implications.of emotional business. Poems that concern the act of writing (‘Make-Up’, ‘Business and Origin’) juxtapose two levels of effort or involvement, and those that deal with the position of the poet (‘Parnassus’ and ‘Utility’) contrast or draw parallels between the professional and domestic. Longing, attainment, dislodgement.

AE: I think what caused me problems was wondering whether it was a sonnet sequence about one situation with the same two people in so that there is a carry-over of meaning between the different poems. Or whether they were really separate. I think they are quite separate from each other so the problem was perhaps imaginary.

GS: But they are cumulative in terms of theme and effect. As with my long poems the sequences here involve many connections. Some of them would be chance connections obviously. I went through a long period of listening very intensively to Renaissance airs, particularly, madrigals too, and using Renaissance song-books, the anthologies of sonnets.

AE: So we’re back with music again!

GS: These do come out of a long period of listening to people like Michael East, “You meaner beauties of the night’, and maybe sung by Emma Kirkby. But also the male singers who were current. I listened to a great deal on Radio Three in the 1970s, and taped a lot of it. Unlike most songs the language is almost clotted, it’s very dense. Whereas with true songs you’re getting more of a lyric simplicity.

AE: I think all modern poets were going through something like this in the 1980s. There seemed to be this fetish of titling something ‘song‘, Denise does that, when you couldn't possibly sing it. If it were going to be in a song it would already be there in a song by Campion or Lawes or whoever. The whole point of being a modern poet is that you have been locked out of that paradise and you succeed if you accept that state. So we’ve got that very exciting new music of the 1960s which has ebbed rather decisively. We’ve got free jazz, which is almost not there, it‘s the taste of freedom, out in the ocean. And we’ve got the Renaissance. None of those actually gives you a way of writing poetry. You have to write it as poetry.

GS: I’ve got two reactions to what you’ve just said. But winding back to what we were saying a little earlier, taking forms beyond what they were in their literal context. You mentioned Denise Riley. Coleridge would be a good example here with 'The Ancient Mariner' in terms of his use of the ballad.

AE: You couldn’t possibly sing that. There is that spooky quality with Coleridge. Then there’s 'Christabel' which you could sing. As pastiche it’s impossibly good. Incredible. But he couldn't do it consistently, we’re talking about two poems in the whole of his lifetime.

GS: In terms of utilising the original form in a new way. He is faithful to the sound pattern, the line pattern of the ballad and to its usual subject context. He is faithful to both of those but does a vast expansion. In the second edition with the marginal gloss as well. So that's one example I wanted to flag up and put "the successful expansion of an old form". When I look at Tilting Square now and this piled-up language. Let’s say, dense. It does seem to me that people like Tony Lopez were doing similar things then in terms of density of language, it must have been something to do with the British cultural climate, but maybe also the influence of LANGUAGE poetry. Getting away from the oral in a strict sense, what Charles Bernstein has associated with Olson. What is his phrase, I’ve lost it. I suppose Prynne’s redefinition of the lyric mode was particularly crucial for British poets at this time. Well, you said ‘You have to write it as poetry’. I agree, but isn’t it still a negotiation with aspects of music, even if it’s dissonant and fragmented? I’ve referred to a complexity of interlocking ideas and images that take these sonnets away from what is typical in song. [...] The melodic line offers fluency with a degree of breakage. This stuff is in my bloodstream and, while I don’t wish to repeat what’s been practised to death, I like using a model to bounce off. You can set up contrary impulses and conflicting rhythms within a tightly knit or restricted form. It creates tension between the predictable and the uncertain. Going back to the LANGUAGE poetry quarrel with directly oral discourse, this seems to have been part of a reaction against the assumed subject position—the beak of the ego which Olson tried to get away from, with middle voice and so on. I’m slightly eliding the dogmatic with the subjective here. Anyway, Perelman and Bernstein found many of the Olson generation or tradition still culpable in this respect. So you get a shift away from what is, in some ways, still a lyric voice. There is more emphasis on the construction of personality.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Socialist poetry of the 1950s

Note. I set up a sequence of essays on socialist poetry on my 2003 website ( but by mistake left out the one on the 1950s, which is presented below. There is more up to date information on the theme on this site at . The essays were originally in Angel Exhaust 13.
More info on 1950s here

Socialist poetry of the 1950s

This brief survey of the past of Socialist poetry has found two strands: of the simple and songlike, intimate and down to earth; and of the sublime, dazzling and precipitous, dissolving everyday awareness in abstract ideas. We could compare the first to Tony Harrison and the second to J.H. Prynne. Although the renewal of Left poetry at the end of the fifties came largely from foreign sources, we can identify in Charles Madge a third strand: of investigating the rules of perception, by which the data of the senses are transformed into social meaning; as a way of solving arguments where the sides refused common terms, or of safeguarding the beleaguered and wandering soul against illusion. This was to become central in the seventies and eighties. In the fifties the leaking-out truth about communism, before and after Khrushchev's destalinisation campaign of 1956, discredited radical Leftism in an atmosphere of Cold War. There is a general disgust with propaganda, after 20 years of mobilisation; Christianity makes a big comeback in poetry, often mingled with existentialism. The reception of Brecht in England takes place largely through two poets: Christopher Logue and John Arden, and represented perhaps the conquest of the old sentimental-moral pathos of centuries' standing by a critical view of identification. At the end of the decade, a new wave of protest poetry, apocalyptic and simplistic, is typified by Adrian Mitchell; following the first squeaks of youth culture and anticipating the protest song; the far subtler cognitive criticism of a Roy Fisher is also, bizarrely, heard on the same stages. Christopher Logue (1926- ) debuted with Wand and Quadrant in 1953. Devil, Maggot and Son (three things that pursue the hero), of 1956, is still in a New Romantic idiom which resembles D.S. Savage:

The pigeon's blood delights the peregrine.
Beezled in his scepter to be the faggot
Of a King's word. Colour of lust, mine
Accidentally with sight and range beyond
The Asian river where, gently, I washed
For centuries. The Knave my paramour;
Dyed by my signet all powerful his finger
I match the vellum that he daubs with blood.

Or on the apron of her breasts I crozier.

('A Suite for Jewels'; and scil. bezelled; the speaker is a jewel.) Logue's cynicism is cast as a country dance for characters from playing-cards, or characters from mediaeval tiles; it is sharp, bawdy, theatrical, picaresque, quite uncontemporary. It is not yet political; although the fake mediaevalism of Elizabeth's coronation ('Elizabeth Persephone, envoi and chorus') is not of Logue's couture. Rhyme, as a set of arbitrary rules, fits these characters who are trapped in the roles which their costumes announce. His evolution towards simple, rhythmically bound, forms parallels the evolution from neo-romanticism to the stilted regularity of The Movement. His model was Brecht's songs; of course Brecht's model was Kipling. Songs (1959) still contains interesting neo-romantic gestures:

So twenty weeks went by and by,
My back was straightened out my eye
Dead true as any button shone,
And nine white-bellied porpoise led,
our ship of shillings through the sun.

(...) And three by three through our curfew,
Mother we marched like black and tan,
Singing to match our captain's cheers,
Then I drank my eyes out of my head
And wet Her shilling with my fears.

('The Song of the Dead Soldier') but is also full of committed poems; the playing-card world is by now the whole bourgeois social order, admittedly shaky at that time. In the 1950s, Logue and Barker were the rakehells of English poetry, giving off a hot breath of sexuality which revealed the grey pallor of virtually everything else. Neither faction - left-wing satirists or The Movement - can have realised that the jingling efficiency of rhyme and stanzaic form was about to be exploited by the new English pop song, drowning them both. Logue's recycling of old English folk songs is rather overshadowed by Bob Dylan's. Song, rebellion, lechery, immediacy: this formula was about to be taken up by people whose surnames were Jagger or Morrison. Brechtian populism was outbid and bought up.
Lucie-Smith credits Logue with starting the poetry and jazz series of live events. In this sense, one would say that the popularity of his own idea destroyed him; the association with a live audience and popular music produced a world of bad poetry. Logue watched the pop poetry of the sixties, for which he was the inspiration, knowing it had gone terribly wrong, but not able to redirect it. A link - a kind of waste pipe - connects Songs to the Liverpool Sound. His natural environment was political cabaret; something which probably reached its peak in the twenties: although he wrote the songs for The Establishment, a satirical nightclub flourishing around 1962. Although he has expressed his enthusiasm for the era (not necessarily for its poetry), I am tempted to say that everything from the fifties lost its value in the sixties, including the Berliner Ensemble - and including Logue. Adrian Mitchell's 1964 volume must have looked equally exciting. Logue gave many live readings, published poster-poems and several more books; became a distinguished Bohemian and a popular rebel.
Ode to a Dodo, a very selective collected poems, appeared in 1981. War Music, his heroic translation of books 16-19 of The Iliad, was published in 1981; Kings, an account of books 1 and 2, followed in 1991; and Husbands, treating books 3 and 4, in 1995. Since there is a substantial extract from Book XXI (the combat of Achilles and the Scamander) in Songs (1959), he has been occupied on the project for almost forty years. Although Logue claims not to know Greek, this is not an independent creative work (something publicity agents frequently claim for translators who can scan), but is a splendid book, with a wonderful variety and flow. The logical development into narrative verse, capable of depicting a society rather than just a few images, which was sketched out in a couple of poems in Songs, took this form, of a Bronze Age translation.
Logue dislikes the autobiographical touch; not out of repression, but perhaps out of a dislike for introspection - he prefers action; his irony has a sharp point. The tough and death-touched heroes of War Music are the warrior figures that Thom Gunn never could bring off. Logue hasn't written his life story; it's all there in his style. One has to admire Logue and Barker for writing about sexual immorality in the first person. The reader is left to muse on the similarity between the discretion of the homosexual, in an era of illegality, and the inability of the conventional English academic poet to signal feeling. Both groups edge away from lyric contact towards lessons in civics. The Iliad is built up on androktisiai, the death of heroes in duels: in due form, fulfilling civic obligations, they forfeit biological success. Looking at his ballads about patriotic soldiers dying, such as 'The Song of the Imperial Carrion', one is tempted to link his Iliad to the irony of his modern-day poetry: the bourgeois hero fulfils social obligations, apparently wins, but finds his real wishes flouted. But the connection is strained. It is but a short step from Logue's ironic dialectic around the slip between purpose and outcome to the structurally discrepant montage effect of the 1960s, which also had an anti-bourgeois tendency at its outset. His poems, too, are perhaps closer to Greek anecdotes of the philosophers, as in the well-known book by Diogenes Laertius, than to the knock-down late-night communist cellar cabaret they superficially resemble. If we envisage the sophist as someone who wandered around, gathering audiences at crossroads or in marketplaces by wit and verbal skill, naturally in compressed and salty form, then Logue is a sophist.
The juxtaposition could take three forms: the uncovering of absurd positions (the USA bombs Vietnam to protect it, Wilson's socialist government fights to defend capitalism); the moment of dissociation and drift, letting go of rationality; and the arduous and far-reaching building-up of new poetic associations, replacing collapsed systems with a journey into the unknown. Strangely enough, Logue was closest to the latter in his first published work, the title poem of Wand and Quadrant: a lush narrative poem of constantly shifting levels and times - including the Island of Prospero, characters from the Odyssey, and fortune-telling. He chose instead the sharp lucidity which wins political arguments.

John Arden (1930- ), from Yorkshire, a playwright and recently a novelist, has never quite taken the plunge into fully fledged verse; none the less his plays, apart from passages in formal verse and songs, are written in poetic language - 'the richest in the contemporary theatre', as Martin Seymour-Smith remarks:
'King Johnny of Eskdale indeed! King Curlew of the barren fell. King paddock of the wowsie mosses. Ye squat on your blood-sodden molehill and ye hoot, Johnny; and naebody in Scotland considers ye mair than a wet leaf blawn against the eyeball on a day of September wind.' ('Armstrong's Last Goodnight'.) Immediately, the concept of theatre seems wholly superior to that of personal poetry: as characters are externalised, forced to interact, multiple voices are heard, events are followed through time and forced to rise to crises, the author is forced to create tangible, autonomous agents outside his own personality. Personal, autobiographical poetry could give a convincing and exciting account of existence, but so rarely does it have any drama, so rarely does the poet have the brains to concentrate on a turning-point or create any uncertainty. The convention of the single speaking voice flattens everything, as it is so hard to convey any situation through one person's eyes. Narration is always less interesting than dialogue. Perhaps the escape into truth we are all looking for lies simply in reducing the protagonist from a total environment to a character who has to move through external space and relate to other, autonomous people: entering the condition of drama. It's not hard to explain why Arden wasn't interested in being a poet.
Arden has been clearly more successful than any contemporary poet, perhaps excepting David Jones, at dealing with history; poets in a lyric tradition, which they are deeply inhibited about breaking out of, may wish to talk about history, but they end up presenting dry conclusions rather than narrating a series of events, round and uncertain. Black Torch (by Barry MacSweeney) is the most significant exception, and even that has remained incomplete. The Island of the Mighty, written with Margaretta D'Arcy, is an account of Arthurian Britain (the title is a mediaeval Welsh kenning for 'Britain', Ynys y kedyrdon), suffering from incongruity and a lack of poetic high points, but still a remarkable depiction on a broad canvas of themes (to do with Britain in a stage of primitivism) which have never worked on a small canvas. Recently (1988) D'Arcy and he have written at epic length about the Nicaean Council and the formation of an official Christian creed. Rather than rail about the State, Arden has covered defined steps in its evolution: Island of the Mighty about the arrival of the Saxons and the drawing of the Saxon-Celt frontier, The Workhouse Donkey about local politics, Serjeant Musgrave's Dance about imperialism, Armstrong's Last Goodnight about the struggle of the Crown against militarily expert feudal nobles.
Arden's characters pursue self-interest, checked by the cunning agency of the other characters; this uncertainty and motivation give the plays their interest. So often personal poetry has neither motivation nor uncertainty, hoping by this vacuity to be ingenuous and attractive. How do you write about politics without writing about self-interest? The poetic fondness for delicate, static images, in the Imagist tradition, is perhaps a guarantee of inauthenticity, eliminating any kind of engagement with social processes as the poet turns aside into a moment of unruffled sensitivity.
Arden's plays are not great poetry, partly because the functional members of interaction and plot exegesis are so visible all the time. They don't transcend the best poetry of their time. The faculty which makes language into an adornment is no doubt related to the obstinacy which confines poetry to a single voice, and prevents expansion into a social scene. His awareness of the limitations, in the current climate, of poetic drama, is reflected in his choice of two sixteenth-century poets, Skelton and David Lyndsay, as subjects for plays: poetry at that time was groping around, unfinished, inept, overreaching itself, but full of possibilities; Arden hopes that contemporary poetry can reach its new age by experimenting, in spite of likely failure. He typically chooses eras of change, when the value of people's actions and words is uncertain; this supplies the drama and points up the deadening effect of the lyric poet's need for certainty, assuring us both that he is emotionally pure (and unambivalent) and that he is in undisputed control of the poem, by means of 'technique'. Arden has denounced attachment to technique in favour of emotional commitment and experiment. This is the New Left attack on fixed procedures again; perhaps British actors and directors are sufficiently skilled not to need to start from zero, but I would never say this about British poets.
The point at which I give up abusing poetry for not being drama is the importance of individual expression and introspection within drama. These supply the high points of a play, although they need not be verbal in nature; drama cannot scale the heights without passages of personal inner experience and revelation. The reason why Arden is so much better than other British playwrights has to do with his language, by which his characters externalise themselves:

'Lady. There is in me ane knowledge, potent, secret,
That I can set to rin ane sure concourse
Of bodily and ghaistly strength bet with the blood
Of me and of the starkest man alive. My speed
Hangs twin with yours; and starts ane double flood:
Will you with me initiate the deed
And saturatit consequence thereof - ?
Crack aff with your great club
The barrel-hoops of love
And let it pour
Like the enchantit quern that boils red-herring broo
Until it gars upswim the goodman's table and his door
While all his house and yard and street
Swill reeken, greasy, het, oer-drownit sax-foot fou-
Gilnockie. Red-herring broo -
Lady. In the pot. On the fire. All the warm sliden fishes, Johnny, out of the deep of the sea, guttit and filletit and well-rubbit with sharp onion and the rasp of black pepper...'
(Armstrong's Last Goodnight) and clearly its peculiar virtues could be developed more fully off stage, in a poem. But on stage, we see the necessity of the emotion, we have all the information needed, we have the other people to whom emotion inevitably refers, we have the pressure of events forcing the character to feel and speak: how often does a poem attain this clarity and urgency?

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

List of poets discussed

I was told that this blog was 'confusing', so I guess a map might be of use to those bent on travelling this territory.
This map takes the form of a list of names of British poets with against each one a record of what I have written about them.
Most of the reviews are available in books. Some are on the Internet. I included other ones which are not so available, being buried in magazines. Or widely available in magazines, depending on your view of these things. Usual conditions apply. My interest is in British poetry 1960-97 so the poets listed here were mostly part of that field. This file is just a list of pointers so it is only of any use if you want the information it is pointing towards. You can only get the information if you get hold of the books it is stored in. The core material is generally in the books and the postings on the internet add things round the edges, possibly because new information came to light.
The abbreviations refer to these books: CP: Centre and periphery in modern British Poetry  (Liverpool UP, 2005); FC: The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry (Salt 2003); Silent Rules, Fulfilling the Silent Rules (announced from Waterloo Press); Long 1950s: The Long 1950s (shearsman, 2012); heresy, The Council of Heresy (shearsman, 2009); Scene: The Poetry Scene in the 90s (published on the Internet at; Origins, Origins of the Underground (Salt, 2008); AE Angel Exhaust magazine (some issues are available on-line); Angelexhaust.blogspot is this blog, is another website at . DSMT, Don't Start me Talking, book of interviews conducted by Tim Allen and Andrew Duncan. Poetry Boom, A Poetry Boom 1990-2010 (shearsman, 2015)
Abbs, Peter, Long 1950s
Aldington, Richard, Origins; and see posting on this site for August 2009, 'Death Cult and Dog Star'
Allen, Tim interview in DSMT
Alvi, Moniza, Silent Rules
Anderson, John Redwood, CP; and again in Long1950s. Anderson wrote dreadful poetry so it is hard to excuse writing about him. His trilogy of the 1940s is Outsider Art or can be viewed as such.
Arden, John, more info here
Ash, John, FC, Silent Rules
Atkins, Tim, Scene here
Ayres, Michael, AE 12, Silent Rules, 2nd essay on shearsman website
Barker, George on, and in Silent Rules, AE Supplement, Origins; posting on this blog of March 2010 describes his work in relation to Dunstan Thompson
Barnett, Anthony, Underground, AE Supplement
Barnett, David, Scene here
Bartlett, Elizabeth, Scene here
Beecham, Audrey, discussion of two poems in Long50s; see also my posting  on this blog, and this one: Beecham
Beeching, Jack, posting on this blog
Bendon, Chris, on here
Benveniste, Asa, FC, AE Supplement
Bergvall, Caroline, AE 15
Berry, Francis, Origins, Silent Rules
Berry, James, Silent Rules
Black, DM, here: ; and Silent Rules
Bletsoe, Elisabeth, Scene here; Silent Rules
Bonney, Sean, Silent Rules, terrible work
Bowen, Euros, Silent Rules, and AE 21
Brackenbury, Alison, FC
Brown, George Mackay, FC, Silent Rules, and here
Brown, Andy, scene here
Brown, Paul  posting on this site
Bunting, Basil, Origins
Catling, B., FC, AE 11
Chaloner, David, Origins, Silent Rules, AE 13; interview in DSMT; see special issue of Angel Exhaust (no.22)
cheek, cris, on
Clarke, Adrian, Silent Rules, AE 13
Corcoran, Kelvin, survey in FC; review of Book of Answers in Heresy. review of 'Lyric Lyric' in Scene; interview in DSMT.
Craig, David, in FC
Crawford, Robert, in FC, Silent Rules, review in Poetry Review, Long 50s, and here
Crozier, Andrew, Origins; posting on this blog for August 2012; interview in DSMT
Dabydeen, David, Silent Rules
 Davies, Idris, CP
Didsbury, Peter, Silent Rules
Draycott (Ruth) & Saunders (Lesley), Silent Rules
Duhig, Ian, FC
Elfyn, Menna, Silent Rules
Evans, Paul, in Poetry Wales (magazine)
Feaver, Vicki, Silent Rules
Fenton, James, Scene here
Finch, Peter, Scene here
Finlay, Ian Hamilton, here, and more in Silent Rules
Fisher, Allen, AE 10, Scene. I edited a book called 'Marvels of Lambeth' which collects interviews with Fisher and includes also an essay by me. I never wrote a 'career survey' of Fisher because the material was just too complex. General essay here. Essay on 'Stane' as posting on this blog.  Posting on this blog deals with one point (ley lines) in Fisher's great poem 'Place'. Just a footnote! Another footnote on 'London Stone' in posting for April 2010.
Fisher, Roy, Origins
Fowler, Alistair, FC
Freer, Ulli, FC, Scene, Eonta
Fuller, Roy Long50s
Garry, Flora, FC
Gascoyne, David, Origins
Gibson, Wilfrid, CP
Goodby, John, FC
Graham, WS, Silent Rules
Greenslade, David, Scene here; Silent Rules
Grubb, David, on
Guest, Harry  Silent Rules
Hakim, Khaled, Terrible Work
Hall, John, Origins, Terrible Work
Harsent, David, FC, AE 12
Hartill, Graham interview in AE 21
Haslam, Michael, CP, Scene here; interview in DSMT
Hawkins, Ralph, Origins, Silent Rules, Terrible Work
Hay, George Campbell, CP
Hendry, JF, Origins, Silent Rules
Herbert, WN, FC, AE 13
Hill, Geoffrey, career survey (to 1992) in FC; essay on 'Speech! Speech!' in Silent Rules; essay on 'Canaan' in Scene here; review of 'A Treatise of Civil Power' in Oxford Poetry (magazine), 2008
Hilson, Jeff, Terrible Work, Silent Rules
Holloway, Rob, review in terrible work (now no longer on-line)
Holloway, John, long50s
Holman, Paul, Silent Rules, Jacket (magazine)
Hooker, Jeremy, review in Poetry Review. Mainly,omitted in error - he is an important poet and directly connected to John Cowper Powys and David Jones.
Hughes, Ted, Silent Rules
Humphreys, Emyr, long50s, FC
Hutchison, Alexander, Silent Rules, and here; interview in DSMT
James, John, FC; CP, Silent Rules
Jenkins, Phil remarks in a posting on this site for August 2009, 'Death Cult and Dog Star'
Johnson, Nicholas here
Jones, Brian, in Long50s
Jones, David, here and in Silent Rules
Jones, Glyn, CP
Jope, Norman, Scene here, AE 15
Jordan, Andy  in Poetry Boom
Kazantzis, Judith, Silent Rules, Long 1950s
Khalvati, Mimi, Silent Rules
Kirkup, James see posting on this site
Kuppner, Frank, Silent Rules; and here
Laight, Nic, Scene here
Lake, Grace, AE 15, Silent Rules
Langley, RF, Silent Rules; Scene here
Larkin, Philip, FC
Law, TS, FC
Lawson, Andrew, Scene here
Levi, Peter, Long50s
Llewellyn-Williams, Hilary, Silent Rules
Logue, Christopher, heresy, AE 13 reproduced here, Long50s
Lopez, Tony, posting on this blog on 'Change'; review in Scene; terrible work
Lowenstein, Tom, Silent Rules
MacBeth, George, FC
MacCaig, Norman, here
Macdonald, Helen, Silent Rules, Scene here; Jacket and Chide's Alphabet, Heresy
Macias, Nick, Scene here
Mackie, Alastair, here
MacLean, Sorley, CP
Macleod, Joseph, CP; intro to his Selected Poems; intro to 'The Drinan Trilogy'; notes on certain of his texts as postings on this blog for August 2010
, Barry, (1) career retrospect in Heresy; (2) review of Book of Demons in 'Scene'; (3) essay on Ranter in this blog; (4) remarks in review of Conductors of Chaos in AE 16 pp.113-16; (5) remarks on 'Jury Vet' in posting on this blog for August 2010; (6) essay on Black Torch in a book edited by Paul Batchelor.
Madge, Charles, Origins; an essay on a 1949 poem (published for the first time in 2009), in Cambridge Literary Review, now posted on this site
Manson, Peter, Silent Rules, Terrible Work
Marley, Brian, Silent Rules
Marriott, DS, Heresy, Scene here; and Jacket magazine
Masefield, John, CP
Mathias, Roland, Silent Rules
Middleton, Christopher, FC
Milne, Drew, on
Mitchell, Adrian, here
Morgan, Edwin, long 1950s, also review in 'Poetry review'; in Scene here
Mottram, Eric, piece on 'Peace projects' as posting on this blog for August 2009, Heresy
Nolan, Kevin, review of 'Alar' on, AE 16, Silent Rules
Nott, Kathleen  Silent Rules and see posting  on this site
Nuttall, Jeff, Origins; posting on this blog for August 2012. Nuttall's poetry isn't really any good but he was good value as an 'animateur'.
O'Sullivan, Maggie, AE 12, Heresy, Scene here
Oswald, Alice remarks on 'Dart' in Long50s
Out To Lunch interview in DSMT; AE 12
Paul, Cris, review in Poetry Wales
Perrie, Walter, Origins, FC
Pitter, Ruth, see posting on this blog for August 2010
Prince, FT, Silent Rules
Prynne, JH, FC; Silent Rules; essay in Prynne symposium in Jacket (magazine, on-line)
Quinn, Niall, Scene here
Raine, Kathleen, Silent Rules; early piece on; chapter in Heresy which gets to grips with her cosmological beliefs
Raworth, Tom, AE 16, Scene here; Heresy.
Redgrove, Peter, FC, Silent Rules; review in Poetry Review
Reed, Jeremy, FC; review in Poetry Review; Long50s; introduction to book, 'Black Russian Out-takes'; career review on Shearsman website
Rees-Jones, Deryn, Silent Rules
Riley, Peter, Scene here
Riley, Denise, CP, Silent Rules, AE 12
Riley, John, Origins, AE 14
Roberts, Lynette, CP, and AE 21
Ross, Alan, Silent Rules
Rushmer, David, on, AE 10
Salvesen, Christopher , FC
Seed, John, AE 14; FC
Selerie, Gavin, essay on Azimuth here, Silent Rules, also in Terrible Work
Shapcott, Jo Long50s
Sheppard, Robert, FC, Scene
Shuttle, Penelope, Silent Rules; FC; review in fragmente
Simms, Colin, Silent Rules, AE 14; CP
Sinclair, Iain, Origins; Silent Rules; remarks on use of 'pulp diffusionist' material in a posting on this site for August 2009, 'Death Cult and Dog Star'
Sisson, CH, here
Sitwell, Sacheverell, Silent Rules
Smith, Iain Crichton, CP; also notes in a posting on this blog. The remarks are about one of his Gaelic poems. This wouldn't come out in book form because my Gaelic is so thin. It mattered to me at the time. Donald Meek refers in an essay to the 'coignear cliuiteach', the Famous Five of modern Gaelic poets. They were MacLean, Derick Thomson, Crichton Smith, Donald MacAulay, and George Campbell Hay. I admit I have never read MacAulay. Their status refers to the 1950s (or, maybe, 1940-70?) and at least one new generation of Gaelic poets has followed.
Smith, Ken, posting on this site; FC
Smith, Robert, brief mention in Heresy
Smith, Simon, Scene here; interview in DSMT
Smith, S Goodsir, here
Sneyd, Steve, Scene here
Sowerby, Kerry, Scene here
Spender, Stephen posting on this site for April 2010
Stainer, Pauline, Silent Rules; review in Poetry Review; Long 1950s; essay in a forthcoming issue of Critical Survey (magazine)
Stammers, John in Long50s
Sutherland, Keston, in Terrible Work
Thom, Martin, Silent Rules, Origins; posting on this blog of August 2012 
Thomas, R S, CP
, Dunstan, Origins; posting on this blog
Thomson, Derick, CP
Thrilling, Isobel, FC; Scene here
Thwaite, Anthony, Heresy (and a posting in this blog for June 2012, recording what the poet says in his book about living in Libya, which sheds light on his Libyan poems)
Tiller, Terence, Origins
Tomlinson, Charles, FC
Tonks, Rosemary, FC, Silent Rules
Toynbee, Philip, Silent Rules; remarks in Long50s; more here
Trimble, Rhys, review in Poetry Wales (magazine)
 van den Beukel, Karlien, Silent Rules, remarks in AE 15
Vaughan, Vittoria, Scene here
Wainwright, Jeffrey, FC, another review here
Welch, John, review in memes (magazine) around 1995
Wevill, David, Silent Rules; review of his selected poems as posting on this blog for April 2010
, Nigel, Silent Rules, AE 12
White, Kenneth, FC
Wieners, John, see posting on this blog
Wilkinson, John, on, interview in AE 8 and 9
Williams, John Hartley, Silent Rules; review of 'Blues' in Poetry Review

There are notes on writers I got to too late to include in the work in a posting on this site: Paul Gogarty, Gerard Casey, Giles Goodland, Phil Jenkins.
This is a pretty thorough list of the interesting poets of the period. The coverage gets noticeably thin for poets born after 1965. The perimeter could also be described as 'British poets born 1910-65', although that would raise other questions about omissions.
There is no way that someone who says that 'I spent 20 years including little-known poets and rescuing them from public indifference' will not be accused by someone else in terms like 'you spent 20 years excluding people from sight'.