Monday, 6 September 2021



I attended (2-4 September 2021) the Tears in the Fence poetry weekend at Stourpaine (Dorset) and had conversations with three genuine Seventies poets – Paul Matthews, John Freeman, and Jeremy Hilton. I didn't raise the stakes by asking searching questions, but the conversations were very informative. The bookstall had a copy of Hilton’s book Metronome (copyright 1976 but dated 1974 on the title page), on sale at the original price of 50p. I scarfed it up. Try this:

the amphetamine geometry
(partial eclipse of the moon June 4 1974, 2300 hrs)

in white of daughter
o shrouded belly
o spaced-out membrane
like a child a shy lurker
my gypsy grind my gin
my painter see this sprung sky
moon trapped
I void my whelks’-hut
summer looms
from among stars
a craft
we star-gaze we sail
o microscope ocean
coterminous tangents
herbal welsh-wind, border
-light scatter in creamy-faced
moon the last wake is the
final sleep
clear-air crustacean, clouds
are mauve islands hitch up
slow burner moon to low
antares’ scorpion
sounds of birth thrust thru
reedy notes in full-leaf ash or
poplar back against twilight
cries coral

Pretty good, actually. (I apologise that this compiler will not accept left indents.) The title page credits conversations with Ulli McCarthy and Chris Torrance, and you can see Hilton’s language merging with theirs, in some way, as part of the voice speaking these poems. Metronome has affinities to Ulli, and also to parts of The White Stones – like “Frost and Snow, Falling”, the poems about the influence of sunlight on climate, and of climate on social forms. I asked Jeremy if the title referred to the cosmos, as the source of time, and he confirmed that and said also that it referred to the seasons, part of the rotation of the earth and so of its relationship to the universe. It’s cosmic, man. Metron is “measure” and “nomos” is law (or governance), so the title means “regulation of time” (rather than referring to a sort of timer). The poems record a shift from winter and snow to summer. We don’t see a great deal of change, the emphasis is more on harmony with the cosmos as it changes. The book has a quality of lassitude; it has almost no emphases. Everything is smoothly linked, as if in a trance. It is as if the poems had no outside. This does seem to be a quality of a sector of Seventies poetry. I can’t explain all the meaning, for example I suppose there is a link between “crustacean” and “whelks’-hut” but I can't see what it is. A whelk is protected by a shell but in an ocean which is moved by the tides (and so by the gravity of the moon) – is Hilton comparing this with the situation of humans, protected by their structures but still moved by cosmic tides? I am not sure. (Scorpions are related to spiders rather than to crabs.) Key images are not isolated, emphasised, and explained – the evenness of the text is the quality sought for. The book certainly has as a theme change and connection to the Time of the cosmos, but titling or prominent words referring to this are not present. Possibly, a strategy of repelling the expected attempts of conservatives to reduce the events in the poem to recognisable categories, and so to familiarity, and so to dullness, has led to the specific style of these poems. Reviewers try to force scenes and whole poems into categories – they become describable – but also banal, just a variation on something we have already seen. Recognition means we have not got the thing we were hoping for. Metronome is unlike any other Seventies book and is not just part of a genre.
Antares, a red star, is the brightest star in Scorpio – known also as Alpha Scorpii (or Cor Scorpionis).

I guess my book (Nothing Is Being Suppressed) is getting closer to publication. I have stopped adding to it (at least a year ago) but I am still collecting information about the Seventies. The first draft was there in March 2017, but I have been working slowly on the same themes for the past four years. More Hilton:


winter is kept & broken
squalls break the upturned
red soil, mists return -
in the midnight of cold stars
frosts salt the orchards
duped to bud by
lengthened daylights. ‘the
burst or revival is over the ploughland’
rumble sound of outlaws & armies
who trudge the dull east -
the clocks are shut, the peat
is sacked, seeds of Libra sifted
into a knowledge beyond the stiff reeds
the careless friendship of virgins & children
is there but one future? the rivers
still flow the same direction
through the hawk-inhabited hills

‘in the wide silence
Andromeda westering’

I guess "burst" is the Spring bursting, so like cloudburst but made of heat and light, as days get longer. I was impressed by a CD called “English weather” which went back to around 1970-71 and recovered a group of related music makers, almost a genre – focused around flutes and mellotrons. The CD identifies a style which to my knowledge has never been described before, certainly marginal to the music scene as a whole. It is almost painfully evocative of the time. The editors (Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs from the band St Etienne) do not mention the Moody Blues, but surely they defined the flute/mellotron thing and had a huge hit in 1970 (“The Question”) which everybody in the business knew about. Anyway, I like this approach to the Seventies, of identifying a tiny area with inner coherence, and tracing the artefacts that belong inside it. I don’t have a label for the thing that Metronome belongs to, but it isn’t something completely isolated, the poet had a right to feel that the target audience would recognise the implicit gestures. Sinclair's “Red Eye” probably fits inside the same micro-genre. How many micro-genres there were, is hard to say.

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