Monday, 18 November 2019


Halt at 1997

On Sunday, I spent a morning re-examining some data I collected about ten anthologies of “new poets” published around 2010. The check didn’t come up with errors, viz. there were 250 different poets in the anthologies (and nobody emerged as “leader of a generation”). I was taken back to a moment around 2012 (records missing) where I looked at this data and was sure that I didn’t want to go on and acquire knowledge of all of it. Let me underline this – in about 1999, I read Jim Keery’s essay about ‘Schönheit apocalyptica’ and decided to go back to the 1940s and write about what led from then to modern times. The problem with doing this was that it meant I had no time to track down new poetry. I resisted and then gave in. So, in 2012 I could have cleared the decks for action and decided to start another project, on recent poetry. And this is what I decided not to do.

I have a 2014 anthology of young Scottish poets, named “Be the first to like this”. So, the date is slightly later than the other anthologies. 38 poets are included. And, only three of them appear in the initial ten anthologies. The conclusion is that English editors don’t know where Scotland is – but also, that the figure of 250 is too low, an incomplete dredge from an ocean which holds far more than 250 “serious poets”.

There is a cognitive task, of memorising 250 names and also memorising a summary of their style so that I can think about them. This is what I am declining. Obviously, I have carried out that cognitive task for an undefined number of poets active between 1960 and 1997. If I want to think about the older period, I have the data to support that properly.
It’s so easy thinking about the 1950s. There were so few poets writing and the data organises itself into such clear patterns. Gradually, things get less and less clear – possibly because more and more poets start publishing.
When I began publishing reviews, in the late Eighties, I was animated by a strong sense of injustice. Every page of documentation was going to make things fairer. The unfairness was located inside particular human beings, it lived and teemed in them. Why doesn’t this apply now? I looked at the 1980 Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse, edited by DJ Enright, and worked out that the average age of the poets was, in 1980, sixty. It was a slam-dunk – Enright had bypassed everyone under 40. He just hadn't taken anything in for the previous 20 years. He was a pig who could get work because the whole system was run by pigs. But, when people like that vanished from the stage, I was unemployed. Game over. Today, I can’t see unfairness so clearly. It seems everyone gets published. Many anthologies come out specifically to promote young poets.
 The sheer number of poets is admirable but also, obviously, a problem. If a poet feels blocked, it is because of the sheer throng of other poets, fighting to get on stage. I can’t affect this. Anyway, it’s questionable whether I affected the problems that were so oppressive back in 1988. Also, the people in charge are less arrogant than they were in 1988, or especially than they were in the 1970s. They are more exhausted and have almost no sense of power. The people who made these anthologies around 2010 are tired from reading too much, rather than swollen with an arrogance which means they read almost nothing and make lordly pronouncements. They are genuinely helping the poets they deal with. I don’t have a fight with people like James Byrne or Clare Pollard. They are probably under-paid, actually. They stretch to observe rules rather than trying to give the impression that they are sovereigns of taste. They are providing a service rather than being members of an elite (even an imaginary one). It’s not attractive to subvert them.
My impression about being a "gatekeeper" now is that the pressure of poets etc. trying to guilt-trip you and denouncing any decision you take as unfair is just overwhelming. And, if there are hundreds of books to survey, editors don't get paid for the extra work.Unfortunately, it's worthwhile for poets to spend much energy guilt-tripping. The pressure of competition from x hundred other poets is just too much.






Tuesday, 12 November 2019


Nothing is Being Suppressed
I am finishing (September 2017) a book on the poetry of the 70s. We shall see if this ever reaches publication. At the moment, it is 140,000 words long, so something has to go. This is not my favourite moment, in fact I would rather write a lot more. Getting back into the horizon of 1975 took a lot of effort, but having got there I feel I can understand everything about the moment and can shed light on anything.
The story of the decade is one of disillusion. But, if you don't capture what those illusions were, you haven't got anything. This is the key to the book.
The nucleus was long poems. These seemed to sum up the breakout into new territory, the unique moment of the time. I kept delving into books of the time (at the Poetry Library) and eventually got up to 95 long poems. Shit! That is just too many. I have written detailed analyses of 32 of them but would be happy to write about the other 63. I think the original work on Long Poems of the 1970s was written in 2002 – it was only about six poems at that point. It was a chapter n 'Silent Rules' which I eventually deleted. 
The heading here is 'nothing is being suppressed’ but the title up until 2018 was 'breach and exit’.
‘Nothing is being suppressed” – Doomwatch 2:10, said by Dr Spencer Quist to Dr Fay Chantry. Episode, “The Human Time Bomb”. The team are advising on a new pattern of building high-rises and entire estates. Fay believes there is some hideous problem, but Quist says there is no problem, the paranoia is due to insecurity because people don’t know each other and there is no reassuring social life. Her own observations are invalid because while living on the estate she is suffering from anxiety and hyper-alertness. Her hypothesis of a conspiracy between Council and builders is wrong, nothing is being covered up. This is quite an unusual denouement for a 70s TV drama. As often happened, Doomwatch was too advanced in ideas for satisfying drama. The idea that belief in conspiracy theories might be connected to a loss of communal norms and in general to sociological problems is very interesting. The idea that social problems were due to bad town planning linked to illicit connections between property developers and government officials is part of the mythology of the time and is the sort of narrative people wanted to be told. If it isn’t the buildings which make people behave badly, there must be some other reason. The actress who plays Fay Chantry wrote to the producers saying “listen, you need a female scientist front and centre” and they thought about it and then gave her a leading role. The programme is staggeringly sexist, but the arrival of Dr Chantry provides a breach which says a great deal about the time. People were losing belief in the rules.
For bizarre reasons, the civil service pension fund claims it takes them six months to work out your pension, if you don’t quit at the standard time, aged 66. So being 60 I had to give six months’ notice. I am planning a new project but felt that I couldn’t start something new while also doing a 9 to 5 job. So, I have been writing this book since about September 2016 while waiting for my exit date to come up. Invoking Article 60. Maybe writing an eighth book about the same area I have just written seven books about might be a wrong decision, but it was organic. Anyway, there is just too much material and I have utterly run out of space.

Having finished the thing, I can see that it doesn’t mention the schools of Cambridge and London. Too bad. You can talk about the texts without spending thousands of words on something external to them. It’s not just that those stories have been told. It’s also that there are propaganda visions of the story and these are designed to exclude other people from view. If you want to keep those people on-camera, you would have to unwrap why the propaganda is territorialising and self-centred. This is not interesting enough to give up pages to. I could always analyse 34 long poems rather than 32.
I left out the brouhaha at the Poetry Society, too. It was a struggle over control of one magazine– who cares, really. Only processes which affect the market, the fluctuating population of many thousand people who buy modern poetry, are really history – and this wasn’t such a process. I didn’t want to stage armed encounters either between conservatives and modernists, or London and Lancashire, or Mods and Rockers, or anything else. This is partly due to boredom - I wrote about the 1976-7 ding-dong at the Poetry Society in The Council of Heresy and in a review for shearsman magazine. No need to repeat this material – other stories are more interesting to recite. It is hard to explain how I could come back to this period after writing so many books about the longer period (1960-97), but poetry does not run out easily, and my situation is like a DJ who does a radio programme every week and who is not running out of material after 25 years. If you want to know more about the Seventies poets, there is endless material in my other books. I have made a rule not to repeat anything.
At a certain point into the book (March 2017), I got an alarming system message and reformatted my hard disk. I didn’t understand the message properly and thought it was a roll-back rather than a journey to blank. Several months of work disappeared at that moment. This wasn’t as bad as it sounds, I had printouts to consult and much of the stuff related to books which had already been published, in the interim. I had migrated PC a few months earlier so anything pre-2017 was on the old PC and could be migrated again. This did alter the concept for the 70s book. The older design was too complex to realise and a change to a simpler design was inevitable. The crash just made me think things through rigorously. In fact, I had memories of lost chapters which I didn’t re-create on paper because the design was changing and there was too much to do. After I had finished the reconstruction, I found a print-out of another chapter which I had forgotten writing.
This work had some kind of start in about 2005 (maybe) in conversations with Charles Bainbridge. Charles was very keen on the Seventies being when everything was great, artistically, although things went wrong subsequently as the political transformation project faded away and left poetry as a vehicle with no freight. I think he and Simon Smith also had conversations about the lack of great works after 1980, this kept on coming up. At that point Charles was going to write the book. I thought about a revisionist anthology and listed the poets I would include. So, a long time had to pass in which Charles did not start writing the book. For me it was a symbol of happiness. Maybe I was depressed, anyway I thought of it as a merely pleasurable experience. Writing it was to make me happy. It didn’t wholly do that – the poetry itself was too pessimistic and the need to deal with the people who said no to the new poetry, the staff of the poetry business, was too pressing.  I don’t know what happened to the revisionist anthologies (one for each of about six decades!), I just didn’t think I had the commercial presence, and I still don’t. This is the first book specifically, or narrowly, about the Seventies. I would love to read Charles’ book if it ever happens. Having written 120,000 words I could easily write another 120,000. Really, everything happened in that decade.
Charles was really helpful,and detailed discussions with Harry Gilonis and Kevin Nolan also helped. 
 Around 2012 (?), Luke Roberts told me that he and associates (?) had looked at the 70s and the poet they came up with was Paul Green (‘Glass Cage of Cytheria’, 1977). I was amazed. Obviously I knew who he was (he anthologised me in ‘Ten British poets’, 1993). I got interested, so I contacted Jim Keery and he corresponded with Green and came up with a whole interpretative article of vast scope, which was completed during 2013 and came out in Angel Exhaust in 2015. This followed me reading Paul Brown intensively after Reality Studios came up with a volume covering his work up to 1991 (A Cabin In the Mountains, 2012). This also followed me reviewing Paul Evans, and including him in our special issue on the Welsh Underground. The whole episode convinced me that the ‘70s recovery project had completed. The project really began in the 70s, when I was trying to find out what the hell was going on – I read Nuttall’s communiqués in the Guardian in 1979 and 1980. Their polarised obscurity was just part of a landscape I found unreadable. But gradually I tracked down the lost poets, strongly assisted by other fans like Harry Gilonis. The total number of people involved must run into dozens. In 2016 (?) I attended a Grace Lake day at which Luke gave a talk on Grace. I must admit I am not certain I have any Lake poems from the 70s, although at least one person (Verity Sprott) has seen a fugitive 1976 book. Also, she features in Raban’s Soft City, appearing on TV (in 1974?) after being convicted in a bombs conspiracy trial. Conclusion: photogenic but a few coupons short of a toaster. So she may have written effective poems in the 70s – who knows. So the Seventies book may have followed this moment of conviction and conclusion. Actually the basis for thinking “we’ve completed now!” was pretty weak, it was just a subjective feeling.
Why doesn’t the design support the proposals I made in the ‘Out of Dissent’ review in 1997? Bush’s book was inconsistent because it brought social conclusions on stage in dead form but ignored the wider issues of sociology. I just can’t follow through on this – the central rule is I wanted to describe texts rather than develop deeper yet impersonal patterns. I am not writing structuralist history. I am not enthused by the attribution of everything in history to heroic individuals. However, there is not room in ‘Breach and Exit' to get into the links between sociology and cultural creativity.
A story, possibly fictional, about the band King Crimson circa 1971 has the bassist saying to the drummer “Look Andy, this is the groove and all he’s done is remove the groove. You’ve got to keep the groove in your head and play a load of bollocks instead”. (Mojo, issue 291, February 2018, p.102) Mojo suggests that this may be why bassist Gordon Haskell’s tenure at the band was so short. (He is on some tracks on the album Lizard.) The composer who wanted KC to leave rhythmic swing, dance music, and African-American influences behind was Robert Fripp. The image of the rhythm section recording the framework of the music while being uncertain what the framework was says a great deal about the Seventies. People of that generation (born after 1945, roughly) were actively trying to live a revolutionary life while finding it much more natural to react in a traditional way. Poets too were trying to hear a music of the future while their brains stubbornly fed out lines that could have been published in the Kenyon Review in 1955. Some poems of the period sound as if the composer had failed to explain to the musicians what the idea of the piece was.
In You Again, a book of interviews and fanmail which Bloodaxe put out for Ken Smith, Smith says at p.131 and p.147 that the hero of Fox Running fakes his own death and takes over the civic identity of someone else, his double, whom he sees on a train (and who is killed). This would be the climax of the poem, the solution to Fox’s identity crisis. But this plot development is not there in the text. Smith failed to write it. His command of language did not allow him to get the story down on paper. Smith achieved a certain density of language by omitting explanations or abstractions. This was a big feature of his poetry. But this rule pushed necessary material out of the poems.It is possible that the interview material needs to be included as integral parts of the poems, where his intention was not realised.
There may be a wider problem in the Seventies, that poets were creating much larger compositions with complex set-ups of characters and rules. The discord of the time meant that these were strikingly original, and traditional stories and characters were not useful any more. But poets wanted to cling on to the ideal of “poetic language” and so found it hard to write explanatory passages. Quite a few of the long poems of the time need extra information to make them clear. This is a sign of how ambitious they were, but also of inhibitions about the boundaries of poetry. You go beyond the boundaries but the language doesn’t go with you. Peter Porter points out, several times, where he doesn’t understand the poems he is reviewing – information “wantonly” left out.
I wrote about "Long Black Veil" and "Local Movement" but struck those passages from the book because, after lots of work, I just didn't find the poetry was important enough.
It is June 2019 and I still haven’t sent the script off for submission to a publisher. I am tinkering with individual sentences. I did discover things during the research for the book, but, with slight exceptions, there wasn’t enough room to write about them. There were some good poems in a 1975 magazine issue of “women’s poetry” edited by Valerie Sinason, and I am wondering if any of those poets went on to produce significant books or if the arrival of an uncritical audience and of preset rules for feminist poems just caused their work to flatten out. In 1975 that was a whole new world and the first poems from it were very exciting. Other work I encountered was by BC Leale, Philip Pacey, Jeremy Hooker, and, notably, Lusus by George MacBeth, an extraordinary long poem not included in his Collected and liable to slip out of memory. I did manage to put some notes on these writers on this blog. (Other work I developed an understanding of was by Ian Patterson, Keith Jafrate, and George Szirtes – really, very good. I am just embarrassed I didn't get with it before.) I plan to release on the Internet some of the material I deleted from the book. If you look at the posts here during 2019, and part of 2018, you will find notes on Leale, Mottram, Pacey, Jack Beeching, Hooker, John Smith, John Heath-Stubbs, Szirtes. For the essay on ‘Local Movement’, see post for April 2018. This was a lot of work but I took it out because in the end I didn’t think the poetry was good enough. I did the homework to get from incomprehension to the ability to write a commentary, but some work doesn’t yield returns. LM is just too obscure, it is like an index to a poem rather than a poem. I didn’t even read ‘Elegies’, which was written in the Seventies although collected in 1981. The point of travelling back to the Seventies is to find the good poetry. ‘Elegies’ is something like 100 A4 pages of high-powered poetry. Everything is in there. But while Eric knew all the source texts, he couldn’t capture and sequence the images effectively. Last week, someone was talking to me about Eric disliking women – I can't even remember who it was. Anyway, if he only included 1 female poet out of 46 in two different statements on the "British Poetry Revival", this may not be simply because "women disliked innovation as possibly exposing them to ridicule and wanted to write plain propaganda poems which won the fight", but also because he didn't react, emotionally/aesthetically, to women poets. There is a note by John Matthias on his "23 British Poets" anthology (1970), which Eric got his start from, that they were all male (sic), but he wishes he had included Elaine Feinstein (Eric did include her, actually) but he couldn't find anyone else. (essay in Reading Old Friends, 1992). Clearly, good women poets VISIBLE in 1974 were very few in number. As I have described the rise of feminist poetry, in the Seventies, in two other books, I am not having yet another go in this volume. Matthias also says The most significant development in the 1970s, however, was probably the emergence of PN Review and Carcanet, both edited from Manchester by Michael Schmidt.”

In issues of PN Review in the late Seventies, there is a series of essays on writers associated with Fascism. This is bizarre, because the intention is not to promote fascism. It is more an attempt to deal with guilt about being on the Right in an era when the cultural climate is Left, to soothe the humiliation, but in doing that acknowledging that the feelings of humiliation exist. While there is some value in discussing Gottfried Benn, for example, who did write some great poetry, the choice to take this passage through humiliation is strange and significant. There is an unacknowledged “cluster of feeling” which belongs to not very intellectual, not very innovative English poets or critics, where they look at the literary paths blazed by risk-takers and know that their talent wasn’t enough and that they were the less attractive group. This is quite different from being self-confidently against modernity. It is worth a chapter, but it involves feelings which were never voiced, so the chapter can’t really be written.There is some truth in the idea that everyone over thirty was being left behind. The centrality of arguments that "you are ignoring me!" goes back to the 70s, was tedious even then.


 The most interesting reviewing of the time involved dividing up the whole poetic realm into a few districts, ascribing each of these to an American poet (mostly from Donald Allen’s 1960 anthology) as Owner, and defining success as posting every British poet to one of these owned allotments. This was especially the method of Eric Mottram and the magazine Poetry Information. I have avoided doing this. Partly, I feel that its potential was used up by the time British poets achieved autonomy, maybe in 1973. Partly, I feel that it is a weak form of description – mentioning Olson doesn't tell you very much about Prynne's poetry, even if contact with Olson changed his attitude completely, around 1962. Something more painstaking and derived from observation and pattern seeking is required. Also, if people haven’t read all those American poets, their names are useless as descriptors – and gives us an extra chore, of spending 50-100 pages explaining what American poetry of 1955-65 was like. However – I certainly don't want to argue with the results of that self-confident endeavour of the time. The Prynne interview says, for around 1960, I was seeing all this strong possibility in the Don Allen anthology, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to tune into that in a very convincing way because the English nature of the English language and its English resources inhibited that transfer. It was not a transfer that could be made just like that.” The changes are the material of interest. At some point you have to describe Andrew Crozier in terms of his resemblance to A Crozier and not in terms of his resemblance to side-line Objectivists like Carl Rakosi.
In 1971, to reiterate, you had cultural critics who were willing to read new poetry from all parts of the spectrum. By 1980, you seem to have a vow by the “alternatives” that they will never read any mainstream poetry, and a vow by anyone who wants employment in the mainstream never to read any alternative poetry, and to claim insistently that it does not exist. There is no fact which is accepted as true by both sides. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this shows hostility and insecurity, and that people are afraid to read kinds of poetry that are culturally hostile to someone like them. This behaviour is deeply unappealing and need not be part of the cultural lexicon. Part of the motive for writing about the Seventies now is to get back to 1971 and give a wide-spectrum view of the decade which no-one was willing to give in 1980.<<
Why would I think that such a book can now be read? I am thinking that we can claim that the oppositions which drove Seventies poetry came to an end during the Nineties. This is convenient but there is something to it – a flood of new poets arrived during a few years of “boom” then, and the old “front lines” seemed old and incomprehensible to them. This is responding to an email from Jamie MacKendrick saying that the drama of the Seventies seemed like old hat now (and had done for twenty years). The picture is clearer if you treat the set-up of 1995 as being new and undamaged by old grievances. However, I don’t see 1979 as a break-point – national politics changed, but I think everyone involved in Alternative poetry saw the election of Thatcher as an error, and thought their role was to go right on pursuing their long-term cultural goals, and not to throw in their hands. But depolarisation happened gradually, a little every day, as probably it must. Young rebels became middle-aged. Old reactionaries died or mutated into hideous plants. A new story began.







A Rewrite in October 2019.
This is about a newly finished book, ‘Nothing is being suppressed’.
I was giving a last re-read to the finished text and saw a wordcount which said “129000 words”. I panicked at this, so I checked out the text and spotted two chapters I could take out. Felt very satisfied. Another check showed that this was an old count, and I only had 114,000 words now. Aha! This gave me the opportunity to add new material. Sad to say, this was my greatest wish, even if the text had been closed off 2 ½ years earlier. This piece is a description of the process by which I discarded various promising possibilities and chose two themes to write the last 3000 words about.
Possibilities. There was no section on Scottish and Welsh poetry. I could add new texts, for example by Jeremy Hooker or Anthony Thwaite. I could add an essay on MacBeth’s ‘Lusus’, an amazing long poem which the world has forgotten about.
I looked at ‘Deuoliaethau’, a 1976 volume by Bryan Martin Davies. The name means ‘dualities’ and I was taken with the idea of a Welsh poet exploring ambiguity and uncertainty, when most Welsh poets are saying “more tautology! Now!!”. But in investigation (I had a copy of his collected which I had bought very cheap, stranded in a shop in England), I couldn’t see what the qualities were. An essay in a book I had suggested that the two possibilities were two different regions of Wales, both of which featured in the poems. This wasn’t very convincing as a departure from topography and local patriotism. The poems did not seem strong to me, he had jettisoned the traditional verse structure but what he then developed wasn’t intense or dynamic. So I gave up. In the foreword to his Collected, Davies mentions that he was working in a school literally on Offa’s Dike, the traditional dividing line between Wales and England (originally, Mercia) when he was writing the poems. There is a long sequence called ’Y Clawdd’, the Dike, in the book. So maybe the duality is just between Wales and England – without oscillation or effects of transition. The presupposition of poetry in Welsh is that ‘Welsh’ and ’English’ are irrevocably separate categories, and that if you shift to speaking English it is an irreversible degradation. Softening of that border is not what they wish for at all. Davies doesn’t stand on the Dike and think “I could go in either direction”. The sequence accepts nationalist presuppositions and lyrically expands on them, without questioning them. It doesn’t involve political thinking, or what I would call that.

I wanted to write about Anthony Barnett, since I had recently (well, five years ago) grasped what his poetry was really about and my first attempt on it wasn’t very perceptive. On reflection, the key is egocentricity, the poems are just about Anthony and his love life. He is a musician, the idea of performance, of being the focus of attention, is key to his idea of lyric poetry. He has no interest in philosophy, or in abstract ideas generally. The poems show you what he felt and the landscapes etc. he perceived. I like the poems a lot but I didn’t have anything compelling to say about them. Once you identify with the character who is speaking them, they are easy to understand.
The edge of a book about a whole era can’t be tidy, things are bound to flow over the edge and if you pursue them you will just find more and more things that demand to be described. I am not going to resist anyone who wants to argue about the things I didn’t include, but I also don’t feel inspired to expand the book by another 20,000 words. This sounds banal, but the cover price is something you always have to bear in mind, the book sells itself more easily if it is cheaper.
I thought about a chapter about ‘Soliloquies of a chalk giant’ (Jeremy Hooker) and a line of topographical poetry which is related to it, perhaps in contrast to other series of topographical poems which are quite distinct from it, a fertile and confusing area. I hadn't read Chalk Giant -

 A reindeer’s bone carved
In the reindeer’s likeness.

Saddle-quern
Loom-weight
Spindle whorl
A chalk phallus
A lump of chalk
With heavy curves bearing
The image of woman.

A necklace with blue beads of Egyptian faience,
black ones of Kimmeridge shale.
Slingstone
Cannon ball
Cartridge
A phallus carved in the church wall
A statuette of the Virgin.
(‘Found Objects’)

The syntax is retarded but the poetry is powerful nonetheless.
 I never worked out a reason for not writing this chapter– it just didn’t seize my attention enough until after I had finished the pieces I actually used. So, really important but I hadn't detected a way of writing about it. I think the problem was how to express the matrix where a dozen poets had drawn on the same generative ideas. This attenuates the focus on the individual poet, but really that focus is the exciting thing.
I have a photocopy of ‘Lusus’ but when I searched I couldn’t find it. This is why I didn’t write a short essay about ‘Lusus’.
Writing more about the mainstream seemed like a good idea, but somehow I couldn’t field the right texts, or ones which I hadn’t written about. A chapter on Peter Porter would have been beneficial, after all he published four volumes during the decade, but that asked for more space or energy than I had actually got. An idea didn’t stalk me. It’s just an outstanding obligation. Similarly with The New Divan, I had looked at this but realised it was impossible to paraphrase. I would certainly have liked to write about it at length, and thought about this when Ira mentioned it in an email, but again it is too complex and not to be taken on as an after-thought. There is a single Thwaite poem about two flint artefacts which I had an idea for writing about, somehow this didn’t get into the mix either. (‘Points’, 1973; one Japanese arrow-head, one obsidian and from Libya. Not flints, OK, I admit that.) Thwaite published three absolutely brilliant books during the Seventies, he is certainly a candidate for representing mainstream poetry as a mature art-form. The problem as having written about Thwaite in two other books – you have to accept success, move on, and not just go on making the same attractive point.
I thought of writing a chapter on being Left. This wasn’t worked out in detail, but it would have answered questions like, why does someone think that writing poetry which is obscure and puzzling and uncooperative is going to weaken the political system, by withholding consent. A couple of dozen things like that. I didn’t start on this, because it would have demanded space which I no longer had available.
I thought about writing about Jackowska at greater length. She is such a fascinating poet, but I had written 1000 words about Manda, and my guess was that that was enough, the vital point had been made and any further extension would weaken the forward momentum.
I wanted to write about From Alphabet to Logos (by John Powell Ward) but I didn’t have a concept of how to write about it and the opportunity just slipped by. This is probably the most important poetry, for the whole 40-year period, which I didn’t write about.
In the course of research for the book I met Paul Matthews, in Dorset. Paul promised to send me a copy of his 1979 pamphlet on poetics, but I knew he wouldn’t. This wasn’t fruitful – you have someone who was there in the Seventies, but everything that has happened since has piled on top of it and the life of 1972 just isn’t there for him, not without a huge de-compilation process. That sums up what I had to do with the project, really. The idea that in 2019 you can get back to 1972 is almost crazy, but I didn’t find it all that hard, it comes from being a historian and always being preoccupied with side-slipping into the past. And this is the most recoverable past. The prints are there even if the people have changed. (I quote the pamphlet in my book.)
I kept finding new texts in the research but the only ones I found room for were ones I knew about before even starting. A frustrating situation and the only exception I can think of is The House That Manda Built, which just swept me away.
The new themes I actually wrote about were the world of little magazines, since that had got pushed aside somehow while I was talking about books the entire time, and about the relationship between radical politics, lifestyle, and poetry. The later was a condensed version of a scrapped chapter which was originally based on Jonathan Raban’s Soft City. I wanted to answer the question of why so much poetry written by left-wing individuals did not seem to be at all political, and how social or psychological ideals could be expressed in the fabric of poetry, rather than stuck out on the side of it as explicit and rational statements. I had rather ducked that question. A short comment on it is helpful even if it leaves lots of room for people to attack it. So I salvaged some sections of the two chapters I had just deleted, and with the two new passages that got me back to 120,000 words, and I could call it a day.
Two comments. First, this set does not describe ideas which I had had during the course of composition, but not exploited. It just describes ideas I toyed with during the last week. Secondly, the selection seems to have been a kind of “neural Darwinism” – I used the ideas which involved the least effort, or which completed first. My unconscious worked on the ideas and spat out semi-finished lengths of prose, which I wrote down as finished products. I don’t know why the unconscious found patterns more quickly in some areas than others. I always seem to be catching up.











Bibliographical essay on sources for ‘Nothing is Being Suppressed’ and the 1970s


Nothing is Being Suppressed is a book on British poetry in the 1970s. I hope to publish it soon, but in the meantime this is about sources which I found exciting. I minimised the bibliography in the book but this is some back-up for those interested in the 1970s as a period. It is striking that the most satisfying prose narratives date from the beginning of the decade – what followed was a breaking-up of the poetic scene, and perhaps the velocity of innovation was partly responsible for this.

The number of volumes coming out rose very steeply, and the capacity of magazines to review did not keep pace. There was a capacity problem, as opposed to a cultural cold war. Poetry changed in the 60s and 70s, but there was no effective public debate about the merits of the changes and very little record of the stylistic doubts of poets and decisions that poets took. Poetry was not in the “rational-public” sphere of language but the “private-intuitive” sphere. Poetry got to where it was going without the help of intelligent reviewers. Having said that, we can be grateful for how good Jonathan Raban’s book The Society of the Poem is, and for the reviews that can be recovered from Poetry Information

There is a lack of an overview of the decade. I can’t really debate with people, because basic ideas about chronology, style development, and so on, are not out there. I believe that things changed very rapidly during the decade and you could probably split it into five separate phases. This is complicated and I think more debate is needed before clear statements can be made. If you accept that idealism was replaced by disillusion, during 1974 or soon after, most of the story is a narrative of disillusion. That narrative is meaningless unless you establish what the illusions were. 

Janet and Colin Bord, Mysterious Britain. I believe Janet did the text and Colin did the photographs. This is a timeless evocation of hippy sensitivity to the vibrations of special places, more valuable than most because the photographs are genuinely beautiful. This is an example of new knowledge as it stood in 1972, dissolving objectivity to become completely aestheticized and part of a personal trip. Objectivity couldn’t really compete, and the younger poets learnt the lesson of this.
Ed. Pattison, Pattison, and Roberts. Certain Prose of The English Intelligencer. Technically this ends before 1970, but it gives compelling insight into the attitudes of people who would write most of the really good poetry of the Seventies. TEI was a magazine, based on the idea of people sending out poems and other people critiquing them. It had the idea that you could learn how to write modern poetry.
David Chaloner-John Hall letters, printed in Angel Exhaust 22. These letters follow on from the Intelligencer– part of a huge correspondence between the most conscious poets, of which most is unpublished. Certainly a key source for the ideas behind the poems. The letters selected cover a period of a few months (in 1969 and 1970) and offer detailed commentaries on poems the two correspondents were writing (and which I have not been able to track in print). Arguably, TEI was too public and the real work of collaborative reading and criticising took part in much smaller groups, through letters.
Poetry Information. (1970-80) This stapled magazine was sympathetic to Mottram’s line, and at a certain point was designed to put out information about the new poetry, while Mottram banned reviews from Poetry Review itself. PI contains a great deal of useful material, interviews carried out by Mottram (at the Poetry Centre) in the first place. The unstated ideology is that the future which British poetry is hurtling into has already been mapped out by American poets, and is therefore a known landscape. Poets simply have to imitate the relevant US poets (and this definitely excludes Lowell, Berryman, and Yvor Winters) to succeed. It follows that the magazine was more interested in mapping the American avant garde of the Fifties than in explaining new British poetry – it didn’t field experts in the latter, I am afraid. It was as if all you had to do was imitate Olson and Zukofsky in the right way. No credible reviewer emerged, and no language for discussing the new British poetry was developed. Unfortunately, the 1980s were reached without any substantial reviewing of the new British poetry, and a way of describing it had to be developed much later. PI devotes much space just to listing new publications, leaving out, of course, anything that wasn’t hip and with-it. The task of explaining why British poetry only succeeded by completely altering the gleaming US model, and what these adaptations consisted of, had to wait for a future decade.
2nd Aeon .– Some issues of this Cardiff magazine (1966-74) are available on-line. It was a classic of its time – and sums up the new thing in British poetry. Peter Finch reviews publications in a few words, maybe 30. In this way he goes through hundreds of them. I suppose this isn’t ideal but it does put you on top of a huge wave of information, it gives you a feeling of all the stuff that was unpreventably happening in the first half of 1974, for example. Because Finch says so much, you get the feeling of his life being lived through poetry, so in fact of what it meant to be committed to poetry at that time. This drags the poetry down to earth, to being part of someone’s life. He is certainly close to the poetry, his reactions are close to summing up what it is for. Of course there were experts who read very little modern poetry, being stuck in 17th C plays or whatever; people who read huge amounts of new poetry are few in number, and they rightly come to have an authority when they speak.
Peter Barry, Poetry Wars. I reviewed this for Shearsman magazine in 2006 (I think). It is a description of the brouhaha around the Poetry Society in 1975-7, when segments (large or not, unclear) of the Society membership disagreed with the editorial policy of the Society’s magazine and the use of rooms at the Poetry Centre in Earls Court in London, and the Arts Council, as principal funder, began to investigate. The events aren’t very interesting but the confrontation of competing views of poetry is. The problem is that Barry does not recover the views of the people who weren’t total Mottram fans, so that we don’t find out what it was they objected to – evidently the split in the scene is basic to modern poetic history, so a discussion of it would have been useful. However, this is a wonderfully evocative book about life as one of the Mottram crew in the 70s and Eighties, melancholically wandering through a dismal exile. Is this a classic? I have certainly read it four or five times. “The lot of the BPR poets , then, was ‘The Scene’ – a sequence of deja-vu poetry readings that stretched to the crack of doom – with their steady-state audiences of belated Dadaists, proto-modernists, hopelessly addicted word-junkies – always the same faces, just a little bit older each time. If nothing else, those audiences were faithful – the trouble was, they never reached double figures.” Booth’s book says that readings attendance in general declined after 1974, so this state of affairs should not be seen as a consequence of the “poetry wars”.
I suppose the appeal of the subject is because different poetic factions usually ignore each other and debate about poetics is rare. I think people probably did think about and express their ideals, during this row, but the record of what was said is disappointingly thin. It would be so good if you had people from five factions doing a close reading of poetry from other factions and explaining why they don’t like it very much. Sadly, the institutionalised set-up is that people just don’t read poetry emanating from other factions.
Roy Fisher, interviews now in Interviews through Time. These are the most interesting reflections by a modern poet on the poetic art.

Geoffrey Grigson, Blessings, Kicks, and Curses (1982). Grigson was an astute observer with an impressive prose style, unusually clear, pointed, and pungent. However, he had not taken in anything new about poetry since 1943. His value as a critic of the 1970s is exclusively as an example of crusted and authoritarian conservatism. This kind of attitude was part of the scene – it was people born after 1945 who were open to the new sound.
I think the most influential enemy of the modern was Geoffrey Grigson. He published three books during or just before our period, and he wrote authoritative anti-modern essays in the TLS. But he doesn’t bother to take on modern poetry (since Dylan Thomas, roughly), he just says it is unimportant. There is an essay (“From Imagists to the Black Mountain”), which looks promising as a statement of reactionary or conservative defence mechanisms. But the title is a hoax, it is a review of an anthology of Imagism, up to 1930 or so, and it has nothing at all about Black Mountain or even about Objectivism. I think people already knew they wanted to be told that the Black Mountain poets were evil and misguided and could be ignored. Otherwise, the title is puzzling. It is striking that “empiricism” was thrown out when it came to modern-style poets: for them, a disproof at theoretical level was enough, you didn’t have to actually read the stuff when you could crush it just by labelling it as non-empirical, modern, or American-influenced. I don’t think you can crush poetry at the theoretical level. You actually have to read it, I think. When you see one of the conservative reviewers describe something as “Black Mountain”, that is shorthand for “modern poetry by crazy people”, and it does not refer back to any descriptive review or to any debate that actually happened. I think Grigson’s activity consisted of a kind of “territorial cleansing”, and that there was probably a segment of opinion which wanted to watch this cleansing happening, wanted a much less ambiguous and diverse poetic scene, and which bought his books. But that isn’t certain. You have to read between the lines. I think it is disappointing that the gatekeepers were fighting back against a modernity represented by Allen Ginsberg or Michael Horovitz, as opposed to the significant new British poets. But at least that defines the need for a book which would list those significant new poets, even if so many years later. Actually, Grigson is animated by rage against Dylan Thomas, and there is not much trace of him actually reading anyone younger. Grigson had been a very effective magazine editor in the Thirties, and maybe he read so much new poetry, good and bad, then, that he felt no need to read any more after about 1939.

Don’t Start me Talking. Interviews with 22 poets. Edited Tim Allen and Andrew Duncan. This is not specifically about the Seventies but quite a few of the poets were active then. Of course interviews with real poets are the richest of sources.

Martin Booth, Driving through the barricades. British poetry 1964-84. Booth is unusual for bypassing textual analysis and giving an account of face to face poetic life, as he travels around the country to numerous readings venues and meeting the people who like to attend them. This resembles The Society of the Poem but gives a different point of view.
Eric Mottram, PCL catalogues. From weekend events held in 1974 and 1977, at the Polytechnic of Central London (in Euston Square I presume) for which Mottram wrote extraordinary “catalogues”, documentation of the innovations since 1960. The 1974 one was “The British Poetry Revival 1960-74” and the 1977 one was ”Inheritance Landscape Location”. These have never been reprinted but they are key to understanding what the scene was and what people then understood it to be. Again, the poets concerned had begun publishing in the Sixties or earlier, and little coverage of new Seventies poets was possible. This is not a survey of the Seventies. The “Place” catalogue is more about what a human urban space is and less about poets. Eric wrote about a wave front where the high velocity parts of the present are breaking into and turning into the future. His most valuable pictures are of the future that hasn’t happened yet. Of course this isn’t objectively verifiable, but a critic who can do this will actually influence the course of events. Although he piles up much information, this is hardly an exact description of the history of innovative poetry from 1960 to 1974. (I know efforts are being made to give these proper publication, but publishers seem recalcitrant and I suppose it is a bit late now.)

Allen Fisher, Marvels of Lambeth. Interviews and talks. This deals mainly with the 1970s, because otherwise the material would have overwhelmed the limits of the book. It recovers a great deal of information about Fisher’s classic Place work (1974-80).

Jonathan Raban, The society of the poem (1972). I discuss this in the book but here it is again because it is just such a perfect evocation of the people who read poems and the conversation on the scene in around 1971.

Edward Lucie-Smith, Introduction and notes on poets in British poetry since 1945 (1971).
Technically, none of the poems in this great anthology was written in the 1970s, but all the same Lucie-Smith’s evocation of the success and failure of poets is second to none. He is especially good on the backers and supporters of poets, so that he described a scene made up of small coherent groups defined by sympathy –or shared fantasy. Poets don’t write in a vacuum, and the poem may have been preceded by conversations in which the need for such a poem was at least sketched. Yes, poets try to give people what they want. Lucie-Smith travels through the poetic landscape vineyard by vineyard. He doesn’t favour any group but recovers more information than other critics because he never depersonalises a faction (thus throwing the valuable information away). He includes many of the “British Poetry Revival” poets – effectively, Mottram threw away all the poets who were travelling more slowly and created a category of poets who were then visibly travelling at super speed. This was incredibly exciting but perhaps Lucie-Smith’s version has more substance and covers more ground.

Lee Harwood, Not the full story. Interviews with Kelvin Corcoran. This tells you a lot about Lee Harwood (not specifically in the 1970s). Collecting 100 pages of information about one author certainly gets you further than collecting 2 or 3 pages, which is what I do in Nothing is Being Suppressed.

Jeremy Reed, I heard it through the Grapevine. Asa Benveniste and Trigram Press (2016). Again, a whole volume about one poet. This is less satisfactory than a book of interviews, i.e. the poet in his own words, but is still essential, also because Asa was an essential poet, a part of the scene which people seem quite happy to forget.

Iain Sinclair. So much of Sinclair’s prose work is a vast, delta-like, evocation of the alternative arts scene of the Seventies. This involves (almost) all his books and can’t be listed straightforwardly. But for example Hackney, that Rose-red Empire includes an oral history of a single shared house (originally a squat I think?) in east London which is crucial for understanding the alternative lifestyle, as pioneered after 1968, and the “social space” in which the most important poetry was projected. The story flows on through Ghost Milk, Suicide Bridge, Red Eye, Radon Daughters, and others.
It’s probably as much a cliché to say that Sinclair’s work evokes the London of the time (say 1965 to 2018?) as to say that Balzac evokes Paris in the 1830s, but it’s true, so there we are. Is there a check on what he says? No, but his work is so evocative on so many sensory and emotional levels that you don’t miss what is not there. London is the base but there is a great deal about Cambridge and Wales too.
It’s pointless to try and remain detached. It can’t be true that everything is here, but his work is immersive and will saturate you with knowledge.
Sinclair never forgets that poetry is made of information and the information starts in a great social stew where the poets may be the ones who write it down but the feelings and ideas, the dream quests, may come from quite other people, and the scene belongs to everyone energetic enough to drive their way into it. Actually, maybe we could combine this with Lucie-Smith’s vision of many groups each sustaining a wish for poetry and a design for it. The terms “Cambridge” and “London”, like “alternative” perhaps, are not very accurate and may relate more to political struggles than to precise aesthetic intentions.

Clasp. Late modernist poetry in London in the 1970s. edited Robert Hampson and Ken Edwards. Memories of the ‘alternative‘ scene in London in the 1970s. This partly inspired me to write Nothing is Being Suppressed because it is so bad. The poets involved couldn’t remember anything about the 70s, the description is just like 2017 and no recognition is offered that things were different in 1973. The exceptions are David Miller and Sinclair. It is likely that they can remember the time because they are autobiographical writers and they have spent their writing lives remembering and are good at it. This presents a divergent theme, namely that process-based writers who do not use introspection as part of the compositional process don’t fix past states of mind and can’t recall them, so can’t write about the past. They really can’t remember it! This raises further questions about how you can write without evoking states of mind, and whether you can say anything about other people’s states of mind while discarding your own as bourgeois illusions or whatever.
Part of the bad recollections is that the poets list names of writers they hung out with but then don’t have anything to say about what impression these other people made on the first-person subject, what experiences they were going through, or how they interacted with the ‘subject’. This kind of material is just not on offer. So what comes over is a profound lack of interest in other people. If you wanted to know how real-life interactions influenced the choice of aesthetic processes, you are going to be disappointed. I don’t find that this kind of writing evokes the past in a meaningful way, and meanwhile the lists read like lists of certified qualifications in an application form, for a grant or a job. Each name serves to legitimise the writer, but the overall product serves no aesthetic function, it is more a claim to property and status. The wish to be included in lists is reflected in a belief that you can record cultural history by making lists. No real description process has taken place.

There is a volume of memoirs, mainly in the 70s, by people who supposedly pioneered modern-style poetry in places outside the South. They thought they were modern because they hadn’t ever met anyone who really was modern. It is called CUSP and isn’t very convincing. It did reveal that talking about the Cambridge and London schools pissed off people with plenty of self-esteem who lived somewhere else. I am quite happy to avoid this by not describing local scenes. Was there a geographical component to taste? It is hard to say. Maybe I was influenced by editing letters between John Hall and David Chaloner (1969-70). Hall was in Devon and Chaloner was in Manchester. These were terrific letters, you can see poetry happening before your eyes. Conclusion – if you couldn’t read the poems, you couldn’t take part in the new scene. But if you could – you were part of it. So much of the cultural process was based on the postal service, as a way of getting hold of books. This means that geography fades into a secondary place.

It is quite plausible that the audience precedes the poem. That is, a micro-audience, maybe as small as one person. The group is the source of style. The history of these little groups is the history we have to recover.

Below is a passage that was cut from the book –
>>British Poetry since 1970 (1982, ed. Peter Jones & Michael Schmidt) is an account of the period which reflects the limitations of the “quality reviewers”. This essay volume shows a very significant narrowing of vision since its predecessor of 1972. It’s hard to see it as anything except a symbol of cultural conservatism, grinding the void because its subject is new poetry and simultaneously denies the existence of anything new. The poets treated are R.S. Thomas, Sisson, W.S. Graham, Davie, Larkin, Tomlinson, Gunn, Hughes, Hill, Heaney, I.H. Finlay, Edwin Morgan, Christopher Middleton, Roy Fisher, Elaine Feinstein, Peter Scupham, Andrew Waterman. Most of these began publishing in the 1940s. The book does not treat any of the poets who began publishing in the 1960s, except Heaney. There is a chapter on three neo-modernist poets, bravo, but all of them were born before 1927. As for the 1970s, it gives them a chapter, but only chooses colourless and insignificant poets. The essays don't give any composite picture, dropping down to a level of detail at which only about 5 poets reach the point of being discussed. So, the thesis is effectively “the continuing story of poets who began publishing in the 1940s and 1950s”. This identifies a cut-off around 1960: at the moment when Mottram identified the Revival as starting, the view of this volume abruptly shuts off, so that no new innovative poets are allowed in. There is a section attributed to “younger poets” but this is really a police operation, locking out the innovative ones while failing to present their ideas or even mention them by name. There is a special young poetry which no-one likes but which does not offend conservatives and can be used to keep exciting poetry out of sight. Both that poetry, and the essay on younger poets, are of a very low standard. An anthology of poems by 19 poets also, strikingly, leaves out anything in the modern style – so that the overlap with Mottram’s list of 46 names is nil. There is a list of works published during the time, running to 450 titles – excellent, good work. It leaves out small presses – not consistently, because titles by J.H. Prynne are included, but generally – so that Allen Fisher and Barry MacSweeney do not feature at all. Consulting the political changes of the time suggests that this “programme statement” is the cultural equivalent of rollback, the reversal of the social and ethical changes of the 60s and 70s. The process involved the radical poetry of the decade being thoroughly cut out of the mainstream world-view. With the exception of one essay, this volume reflects that process rather than leading the charge against modernity.
So, no generalisations are offered. Either nothing happened, or the contributors are not attuned to what was new during the decade. Perhaps they had a resistance to it. It is very difficult to find someone from the conservative school of critics who writes about modern-style poetry. 
D.J. Enright edited the Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse 1945-80, in 1980. My calculation is that the average age of Enright’s contributors in 1980 was 60. One has to ask, contemporary to what. The impression the book gives is of being a rollback analogous to Thatcher and Reagan trying to roll back all the social changes which had happened since the end of the 1950s. Enright supplies an introduction of about 5000 words which explains why he has left out any poetry in the modern style, and so which could be presenting the case against modern poetry. But he does not name any poets, poems, anthologies, or magazines, or any artistic statements, which he might have in mind. He beats up an imaginary opponent. Rational debate is therefore not possible. The received view of the 70s is splintered – basically, you have people who side with Mottram and make modern-style poetry central, and people who silently omit it. The poems in Enright’s anthology are good.<<


I have been dredging through back numbers of magazines to try and find useable reviews of 70s poetry. The conclusion is that most of the important books didn’t get reviewed. But strangely, this tends to diminish guilt. The conservatives weren’t perversely blanking out the good stuff, simply because the reviews (and talk) that would have identified the interesting new stuff were not happening. The pattern is clearly more of the channels being blocked by a high rate of publications and less of conservatives knowingly pushing brilliant new poetry into the darkness. I can’t summarise the debate because there actually was none. It is credible that there was denigration of the other side, as opposed to debate. Disparaging comments based on depersonalising the other faction and reducing them to the butt of jokes are not interesting to dig up, and anyway it’s hard to be sure which texts they are disparaging, even. So, this material is not in my book.

During the decade, Peter Porter reviewed poetry for the Guardian and, from 1973, The Observer, and Jeff Nuttall reviewed poetry for The Guardian (in 1979-81). I have dug these up via the digitised images at newspapers.com. Porter never reprinted his reviews but they contain a lot of information. He reviewed about 100 books during the decade – not really enough. The reviews are short but he had complete mastery of the subject matter. I found these perfectly evocative of the era. I didn’t actually change my text after reading them, to my surprise; their quality is to evoke lines of thought which weren’t commonplace, and which got buried when the industry moved on. He consistently reviewed poets of no eminence, and quite a few of these are largely forgotten. He remarks in 1974 that the new RS Thomas volume is too much influenced by reading ‘Crow’ – again, Thomas is not an important poet, but this is a moment of truth. It is also a moment of truth when he says about a book that he can’t understand it. He says this about three underground writers whom nobody would read now – even that is indicative, he tried very hard to get into the underworld of fugitive publishing, but it was an unmapped landscape. So he read poets we have forgotten and missed all the ones we regard as classic. It’s difficult reviewing new books. I am wondering if anyone grasped the pattern as it was actually happening.
What he actually said (August 1980) was “Birtwhistle and Shepherd are poets whose work I admire and do not understand. Admiration without understanding may be no more than faith, but I can find passages in Tidal Modes and Evidences which appeal with their use of language, a radical shift of sensibility which rules out traditional connections. But so much of their most effective work uses time-hallowed techniques that I wonder whether the broken-backed effect of some of their poetry is not due to impatience and an inability to imagine an audience. In both poets, there is a mixture of the loquacious and the gnomic. Birtwhistle’s ‘Haysaving’ is the most extended piece of writing in either book, but I recommend all readers who are interested in new British poetry to read both carefully. This is native experiment by erudite and restless minds.” The other poet he claimed not to understand was Peter Ackroyd (in 1974). This citation illuminates how there were really two ways of thinking about poetry at work, and how hard it was for older readers to find themselves with the contemporary.  
Porter reviewed BC Leale, and is possibly the only person who noticed what he was doing.

I dug up the reviews which Jeff Nuttall wrote for the Guardian, between 1979 and 1981. Nuttall was writing (exclusively) about small press publications, every month, in a mass-circulation newspaper – this was an interesting breach in the monopoly of the High Street publishing firms.  As a teacher at an art school (Leeds), he was facing classes of students who probably wanted to design clothes and graphics for punk rock groups, and didn't want to read books. They believed in overall styling concepts linked to statements about lifestyle. Nuttall was sucked in by this. But the poets were not doing that and his descriptions of them are projective. His repeated references to the avant garde of about 1910 to 1920 are there because he was teaching that every day, it was his academic stock in trade. Nuttall wanted to view the poetry as an expression of a lifestyle (kinky, singular, anarchistic, on display). I understand that the Guardian hired Nuttall to write about underground poets as a youth cult – so they found it really sexy when Nuttall was writing about Teds, rockers, or Beats, hooligans with distinctive fashion choices. They had no interest at all in underground poets as poets and were irritated by Nuttall trying to take that approach. He was sensitised to style as gesture, like a studded jacket defining rockers, but it may be that the poets weren’t a youth cult. Nuttall worked in the theatre (sorry “performance art”) and did tend to dramatize everything right out of the window. He was reckless and dogmatic about his own position or brand so that he wasn’t really interested in the details of the texts crossing his desk. He was part of a gang and could have been a mouthpiece, but looking back, I’m not sure that anything of what he says is accurate as a representation of what the poets had in mind. 

Sample: “Art is misunderstood in this century because what is its main aspect, cultural sabotage, is treated as entertainment. The fireworks are Molotov cocktails. Uneasy applause follows the burst of machine gun fire from the podium. […] Delirium, real, emulated, or contrived, is a main tool of the poet. Syntax is dismantled either as a result of, or as a means to, delirium. Paul Matthews' essay, The Grammar of Darkness, ranks with […] as a statement of the reason for this. “If I define the universe as meaning we must realise the paradox in this: a poetry of hints and riddles, no longer just in the sounding. The silence too is recognised. 'A frog jumps in', and we listen to the ripple of it long after the words have died away. A poetry with hollows in it, pause and hiatus, to admit the universe. Form always merging, never fixed, formed and chaotic at the same time, allowing for interventions. A language turning into music, playing between sense and nonsense, (they both limit the language). A poetry which has come to the end of itself (and so come close to its beginnings). Thrown back into the crucible." (November 1979) Compare this with what Nuttall says. Is there any resemblance? I don’t think so.  Peter Porter’s Observer reviews are always perceptive but Nuttall wasn’t willing to listen to the poets he was reviewing. I have yet to meet an Underground poet who thought that Nuttall’s explanations connected to their own work. As for Matthews, I have not found this pamphlet of poetics, but the quote is really interesting. I asked him about it when I met him.

2nd Aeon stopped in 1974 but while operating was covering hundreds of publications in each issue, in Peter Finch’s inimitable style of about 20 words each. It would not be possible to recover the era so accurately if we didn’t have 2nd Aeon, and spending hours steeped in it is surely the way to knowledge. I am looking at issue 16/17 (1972?). The magazine lists small press publications only. 22 items from Wales, 11 from Scotland and Ireland, 228 from England. Count unreliable. This includes items which I still want to acquire but which are by now probably quite unobtainable. The list includes “chinese sequence” by John Lucas; I was looking at a book published for John’s 80th birthday this afternoon. JL lives in Nottingham, significantly. Four separate publications by Paul Brown. Four? Have I got this right? Also “these are also wings”, his anthology of surrealist/Dada poetry. Also there are several pages of his poetry in the magazine.
Catalog for eddie warings hydrostatic douche primer
Described as “wardrobe format”, which means that there is a full size coat hanger built into the spine. I would describe this as unusual, but no doubt some Hanging Bishop of small press knowledge will tell me that it was all the rage in ’72.
Le donne di colore
Some wonders that electricity performs
OK, only 3.
I recovered this blip-review from Peter Finch, in 2nd Aeon 15, circa 1973:
>>Death is a Pulpit & Life is a Platform two new hardbacks issued simultaneously, by peter levi. £1.20 & £1.50 respectively. anvil press poetry. 69 king george st, london se10 in death is a pulpit lie five solidly rhetorical live-reading poems, in life is a platform lie the personal, the to-be-read, the poem poems. so the introductions say. levi is a great lyric poet, he is jesuit and his religion naturally hangs often in the body of his poetry. the death is pulpit selection i found the most significant, to me anyway, his long poem "Christmas sermon", dull though its title sounds, is one of the best soul-searching, personal, relevant long poems i've read in ages. its worth buying the book for that alone. not to say that life is a platform doesnt contain a bunch of gems. it does. well turned poems of god, of man, of life in fact. its very difficult to say much more about such an involved & simple poet as levi in a piece like this without taking up 6 or 7 pages. best to say just that i found in both books a poetry rare in the english language. something we need much more of. something that needs to be read.<<
– brilliant and a shining example of someone in the underground reading mainstream poetry and reacting sensitively to it. Over 45 years, Finch has never lost credibility  he always was quick on the uptake and sharp in perceiving artistic processes. The Seventies were a bad time for the Mainstream, but even if you cut it down to fabulous books by Thwaite, Porter, Hooker, and Levi, you still have a significant sector of the whole scene. 

One more thing. Ken Smith, You Again. Last Poems & Other words (2004). This doesn’t answer the questions you would want to pose, but it does contain a good deal of information about Smith. It is useful for dates, and it does reveal what Smith thought about his own poems. Several times there is discussion of a review by Peter Porter which is evidently vital – so why not reprint it? The answer is that You Again is only there to sell more books– and I can’t list it in my nice bibliography for that reason. Smith rejects Porter’s description of him by defining Porter (as a “classicist”) and claiming effectively that everything which doesn’t belong to Porter (thus limited to a repeat of Latin poetry!) is Smith’s rolling domain. This is how most poets respond to criticism, but it’s still really adolescent. None of what Smith says about himself connects to the flaws in his work, it’s reflexive only in a serenely uncritical way.