Thursday 30 June 2022

the "Outposts" business


This is a bit more about vanity presses, specifically about Outposts. The background is that someone called Howard Sergeant had begun in the 1940s and established himself as an editor of poetry, suitable to the bodies or individuals who gave patronage even if he was a bit of a hack. He had a (semi) quarterly magazine, Outposts, which ran for a remarkable number of years – 1943 to 1986 according to Bruce Meyer’s doctoral thesis on Sergeant. From about 1958 he also published poetry pamphlets (sometimes with spines). Gardiner records that the arrangement of Outposts was that aspirant authors had to acquire enough pre-orders to cover the cost of publishing the pamphlet or book. Inevitably this would have been the author paying for many copies themselves, in many cases. Most of the issues I have details of are pamphlets, under 30 pages, with no spine and gripped together by staples- they would have been cheap to produce so it seems that Sergeant was making it easy for his poets and that this was genuinely a low threshold to surmount in order to get into print. It also seems that Sergeant exercised quality control over the poetry. To qualify that, let me say that the 1977 edition of Gardiner’s Poet’s Yearbook lists 90 Outposts pamphlets for that year alone. From Aitken to Zinnemann. You can either see this as having poor quality control or as offering a vital open door by which poets could get inside the sacred precincts. As these are generally debuts, most of the poets would have gone on to improve – so you definitely want to see their later work (and not the debut pamphlet). The open door factor is arguably more important than the average quality – the poets needed a break. And quite a large share of these poets were women.
An outpost protects an army at rest and is the equivalent of an avant garde for an army on the move. An outpost may be what blocks anything new from arriving.

Outposts may have been aesthetically up to date in 1945 but it was definitely conservative by the 1960s. Early issues included “Featuring (amongst many others) Muriel Spark, K. Raine, John Wain, Henry Treece, John Heath-Stubbs, Litvinoff, Robin Atthill, Vernon Watkins, Dannie Abse, Neruda, Vernon Scannell, Ronald Blythe, James Kirkup, etc.” - so 40s poets.

The three Outposts which dealers are asking a lot for are the ones by Gustav Davidson and Harry Guest. These are the same ones I wanted to buy! I think the dealers know as much as I do! Embarrassing. Davidson wrote the classic A Dictionary of Angels, I have a download of this but I haven’t read it yet. Anyway, highly recommended by those interested in non-observable phenomena. Someone offers his Ambushed by Angels, 1965, for $125. And someone offers Guest’s debut pamphlet for $62 – well, it is important, but the text is there in A Puzzling Harvest, his collected poems, at pp. 44-54.

An aside. One of the vanity presses I looked at (name withheld) did a lot of books about spiritualism as well as poetry. There seems to be an analogy – mediums bring home truths about the cosmos which official theology does not validate, vanity poets make claims to poetic authority which official taste does not validate. I would guess neither product got any fact checking. So you know The Truth and it doesn't need fact checking.

Monday 27 June 2022

titration 1960-97

Titration of a protected fluid

I have been working (over several years) on analysing total poetry publications by year. I have to say that dealing with poets as individuals tells us more, but I thought at this point to release one set of figures, for the share of female poets in the annual set.

tabulation of gender ratios (in volumes by individual authors)
% female
1960 32.6
1965 38.6
1968 25.8
1970 24.7
1971 22.7
1974 28.1
1974-5 18.8
1975-6 18.8
1976-7 21.8
1977-8 19.8
1979 26
1982 28.4
1983 26.3
1988 30.2
1990 29.5
1992 29.5
1995 32.1
1996 34.6
1997 34.2
1999 37.1
2000 38.2

These figures are drawn mainly from the British Library catalogue. Interpretation is inevitably less accurate than a count. The presence of women poets is rising, on a fairly smooth curve, from 1978 onwards. But, it is worth commenting on the declining figures in the stretch between 1965 and 1974. I looked more closely at the 1965 records. So 1965 has 91 titles to show by female poets but 61 of these were by vanity presses. And 8 more by a firm which asked authors to contribute to costs (while also selecting the manuscripts). And 2 self-published. All told this was not a good moment for female poets. The scene in the 1970s was very different, with “alternative” publishers eager to publish poetry they liked even if it wasn't really a commercial proposition. That is not to say that vanity publishers were losing their livelihood.
I have posted elsewhere on the speculation that as poetry was taken over by the universities (including recent graduates) in the second half of the 1960s, and student bodies then were overwhelmingly male, the period 1965-75 saw a decline in the position of female poets. This reversed, again within the speculation, as a flood of female students began to reach universities – a few years later.
The figures for 1974-8 come from a source, Poet’s Yearbook, which does not list vanity publications. This accounts for a drop in the female percentage in 1974 – on investigation, vanity publications were absolutely dominated by female poets and leaving them out (for quite good reasons) makes the share of male poets rise sharply. In 1974, the rise is roughly from 72% to 81%.
During the work, I have changed my view of vanity poets quite considerably. The description would shift from “egoists uninterested by their fellow poets and ignorant of modern poetry” to “those without cultural capital”. Excluding them from consideration means excluding the vulnerable – the literary process left them as losers but we don’t have to make them losers all over again.
Gardiner records that Outposts only accepted manuscripts when the author had collected enough advance orders to cover their costs. This could actually mean the poet buying half the edition of their own work. Outposts also claimed to have quality control, they only accepted typescripts of good quality. I am cynical about this, but the number of books or at least pamphlets they produced by women poets was outstanding and there is nothing suspicious about that.
From the figures, we seem to have a period of highest male share between about 1968 to 1990. It is open to speculation how this plateau on a graph affected poetic style. If we look at social groups where people learnt and shared culture, where poets met their future audience in fact, it is credible that people who later used vanity presses didn’t understand the literary world specifically because they had never been part of those groups or sites. Wherever you find insiders, those people were on the outside. The predominance of women in the vanity press lists is related to the predominance of young men in universities and in sixth forms. That predominance is incomprehensible to people born since 1970.
I don’t want to go back and reclaim the outsider poets. It is just too apparent that if you want to write modern poetry you have to read modern poetry. If you hang out on the scene at all, people will tell you not to use vanity presses if you want to be read.
To go back to 1965, it saw a book by Kathleen Raine: The Hollow Hill. I liked this and I have written about it. But that is the only woman’s book from 1965 which I recognise or have read. Feminism changed everything for the better.

Friday 17 June 2022

Put your cat clothes on

[ note. I failed to put this out anywhere so it is well suited to a blog release by this time. The plan is for a big Reed selected, edited by Grevel Lindop, to come out next year sometime, so I am preparing for that by looking at old Reed material.]
Put your cat clothes on: Jeremy Reed, The Glamour Poet Versus Francis Bacon - rent and eyeliner pussycat dolls (publ. 2014, composition dated 2008-9 on the cover)

The first thing to say is that Reed’s recovery in this book-length poem is amazing. He has written forty books of poetry (maybe more?) since the early Seventies, is a survivor of the glam rock era, and has produced some notably jaded or affluent work in recent years - the cognoscenti used phrases like ‘gone to Las Vegas’ or ‘glamour magazine’ to describe them. But Glamour Poet completely breaks with his work of say 1982 to 2005, and as completely transcends it. It is like some Seventies rock band coming up with album number 40 and knocking the music world on its side. My feeling was that ‘Stratton Elegy’ is his masterpiece, but ‘White Bear’ certainly runs it close. The only thing it reminds me of is Jerry Lee Lewis releasing a fantastic album (‘Two Worlds Collide’) in 1983 - as the NME review said, ‘a genius on a good day’. GP is the equivalent of changing producer and coming up shining like gold. This awesome return to form means that Reed is one of the hot contenders in 2014. The second thing is that the book is a memoir of being a prostitute - a rent boy:

every time I’ve sold myself
to write and eat (note the order) I’ve attracted someone   
in on the in breath and turned them out on the out breath
I learnt to create my own island on the pavement and to be sovereign to
That disputed constantly disrupted precinct. I was king to a radius on which
I dreamt and had to earn, when it rained the patch darkened […] What I did
Was disinformation except to the ones in on it and
They never learnt my name, only remember the colour
Of my eyes [.]
(p. 26, from ‘Love for Sale‘)

I write in Soho, get my energy
from its cells, I can’t let go
the fact that I used the railings, no one knew,
I had to feed a line [with] vegan protein
and helium uplift, had to have money
to keep from vulnerability, the cool
black painted iron a support
to making out. I’ve no pretend the way
I’ve lived as an inspired subsidiary
to the city, just notching up a word
to transport to its chemistry
without reuptake.
(p. 41)
The move is like the Rolling Stones singing songs about experiences that people really didn’t want in real life but which became outlaw glamour, erotic horror, Magdalene-like transgression, within the overheated confines of the music. ‘I’ll be in my basement room/ with a needle and a spoon’. The whole thing is urgent, brazen, high on a dozen different arousal hormones, sensationalist, outside the law.

The ‘versus’ does not refer to boxing matches but to dub or ‘mixing’ events where two DJs compete with each other, ‘Ariwa Sounds versus the Mad Professor’ or whatever - so you get to hear both of them. The railings were on Piccadilly somewhere (also the site of the all-night chemist celebrated in Reed’s masterpiece, ‘Junky Tango outside Boot’s Piccadilly’, 1978-9, renamed ‘Stratton Elegy’ for publication). It’s a relief when he gets as far away as St Giles’ High Street.

The book-length poem is actually ‘White Bear - Francis Bacon’ at pages 33 to 149 of this volume. (The White Bear seems to be the name of a pub, near the Piccadilly underground station, where Bacon and Reed used to meet.) The impetus of this poem is just extraordinary, not just the sheer weight of material and its dazzlingly integrated quality, but a developed technique for blocking any slowing-down by overrunning the changes of theme, forever cutting to action, forever announcing how much there is to say and how many ideas the poet has hidden in his hat. This is a new technique, it remorselessly gives us derepression as producer and product, and it has the momentum of an express train.

There is a question of whether the story of the book is true. Did Reed ever meet Bacon? It hardly matters. The dialogue given to the painter is all about colours:

A slash
of obsidian against hectic blue
demands a Ferrari red and a pink
you get in cup cakes or glossy car paint
or cherry pits and campari
or a black-eyed pink liquorice all sort
and slapped on with my knuckled fist
(p. 65)

and sounds like Reed, whose accumulated colour adjectives are a callsign, a routine. Maybe the book is a fanzine style re-living of something like the film ‘Love is the Devil’, by John Maybury (Bacon played by Derek Jacobi). It is ‘slash literature’ (like ‘Star trek / gay‘), that line of rewrites of famous stories to suit yourself. The work is closer to George Barker, who certainly was a Soho habitué in the 40s and 50s, than anything else; Bacon and Barker shimmer and merge. I’m just a crimson kid/ that you won’t date at p.66 is a lift from Denise Riley’s poem 'LURE 1963' somehow gulped down and re-captioned. 'Lure' could be the source of the colour orgasms in the poem.

Glamour Poet’ is necessary to telling the Reed story because it re-films the stories of most of his early poems. Those contacts with sordid, paranoid, crazed older men, which fill his early books, came out of being a pick-up, a scene gay. They tap a vein of dark and oppressed and thwarted emotion which is much older than Reed. They reveal a gift of psychological insight which is, literally, the whore’s insight into the clients - naked and defenceless - as well as the knowledge which animates great writing. The tale (older man picks up young boy who learns a lot about bad life and destructive release too soon) was not exactly easy to miss if you read those early books, but to have it spotlighted now - documentary still photographs to back up the semi-hallucinatory moving pictures - rewrites the Seventies. Once again, history mutates as a harsher light is turned on. My feeling is that Reed’s poetry is much more documentary and much more about other people than it is imaginative and about himself. Really we are reading a history of male homosexuals in London and in a particular old-fashioned province of the South, a history of fantasy and desire as much as of sadness and repression. White Bear reminds me of a rerun of ‘The Man With the Golden Arm’ with the characters but without Nelson Algren. It is easier to understand Saints and Psychotics (1975) now that we have The Glamour Poet.
Literature intersects: from clients to weird and messed-up artists, a transition so structural that it is hard to uncover. The flip from despair to admiration. A crack where Reed’s limitless narcissism lets in some compassion. Defining intimacy through sexual services provides an unusual view of art: in the poem, the artists he favours merge with the clients in a dozen ways. He also sees himself as part therapist-social worker.

I’m on my own, so singular,
My education Piccadilly rent,

I’ve spiked poetry like a cobalt vein
Into a sci-fi speed of light energy
Distillation of what’s glam in my time

Is this glamour? The line is that as JR was repeatedly picked up off the famous railings and taken to hotels by clients he was clearly attractive and glamorous and was a beacon beaming out A Good Time. The equation between attracting clients and attracting readers is all too clear. The basic idea, that Reed represents glamour, is basically incredible. Much of the poem consists of Reed explaining what our reactions are going to be. This might save time spent actually having reactions, but generally fails to take on that quite a lot of people don’t identify with gays, don’t much like the idea of prostitution, find the glamour ideology superficial, degrading, and frustrating. I don’t have a gay sensibility. I don’t feel envy of those clothes because that blare of self-advertisement seems like bad taste to me. If men don’t all dress like gays it is because their feelings take them in a completely different direction and a whirlwind of sequins and dyed string vests makes them feel nauseous. You would have to be gay to want to dress like that. But then - art is a temporary identity. This art as the most uninhibited and the most blatant offers the strongest signal and so an unusually powerful temporary identity. It is persuasive for as long as it needs to be. The depiction, of narcissistic apathy being stalked by thwarted and red-eyed compulsion, is as precise as a Dutch interior, sickening and undeniable, even while the voice-over is so unconvincing. That destructive radiance, orgasmic and emptying flare of sound, holds up temporarily.

The Monochrome Set described this life in ‘Oops what a Palaver', a little known song (partly due to El Records’ deliberate seeking of cult status) which contains the great line Ard cash guv - or sling yer ‘ook. The experience of being taken home by someone you’ve never seen before, getting to their gaff, sizing up from the decor and the accoutrements what is going to happen - the street-punk acuity of such moments is the most vivid streak in the book. The background for gay style as overstated, blaring, burning out inhibitions, was oppression: a whole week had to be crammed into Friday night. There was no time for ambiguity. It was like a transmitter broadcasting for five minutes a month. Or also like a three-minute single or even an advertisement.

A feature of this new style is scientific description, which may be derived from the write-ups on the packaging of health foods. There has been a complete shift from late-sixties (with Theosophical influence) style ‘sensitivity to auras’ to chemical (maybe pseudo-chemical) imagery to describe unusual talents. ‘Mitochondria’ at p.60 (‘40 years after terminal OD/ fatty mitochondria of the heart/ - degenerate H damage/ to her arteries’), describing the death of cult heroin novelist Anna Kavan, probably should read ‘myocardia’. He tells us this occupation of scientific imagery is derived from Prynne.

Reed systematically violates, in this work, the space normally owned by personal judgement. The eye’s cells are sensitive to a limited spectrum and there are ‘colours’ in the ultra-violet wavelengths (for example) which we cannot see. An ancient ‘folk metaphor’ describes the homosexual world as ‘sensitive’ to a spectrum reach (and a world of shapes) which the heteros cannot detect. A camera could react to these wavelengths but if its images were printed on paper the paper would appear to our eyes as blank. However other processing can spectrum shift the camera data to produce fake colours (Fehlfarben) which would let us see a new world of shapes and objects. Taking in words, you momentarily see the fake colours and glimpse the emotional peaks, tints, emotional tensions, and relations that Reed sees - like a hallucination - a whole new city. As your eyeball flexes back into its normal volume and curvature the picture slides off into nothing. I can’t share that city - he shows it but I can’t see it except for a second of distortion. It is like seeing a ghost - an older sense of ‘glamour’. He explains what’s not happening-

You can’t access weird if you’re straight
You lack the codifying gene, the kink
That criminalises what you see
Into same-sex perception, straights don’t do
Detail or up colour tempo
Like jumping up and down on strawberries
    (p. 104)
- but not what is. So a straight, orthodox person can’t understand these poems? How could that not mean that they are off the line - in bad taste? How can any of their stylistic decisions be right if almost nobody can identify with them? The attempts to write the rules of the game are radically flawed but he plays it with courage and resilience.

What is distinctive about Reed (or rather one segment of his wonderful output) strongly resembles features of popular culture and so may point the way to finding mass popularity for poetry. The unpopularity of poetry may not be due to its verbal difficulty but to emotional reserve, the caution of the writers reinforced by a sense of cultural superiority which makes them unwilling to make the vital charge available. The line of the book is guided by transgression - you have to leap out of your skin to go inside the poem and contact its evil heats and accursed availability. Classic rock and roll described a scene of people going out at night, dressed in coded and narcissistic and unsubtle clothes, to lose inhibitions, to pick up and have casual sex with someone if possible, to blare out hyperbolic and ‘inauthentic’ declarations, to get drunk, to insult authority. People bought the records without literally, or always, living them out. If a mass audience can ‘get with’ Little Richard, maybe they can get with gay nightlife at least as a momentary swelling on the skin. A comparison - driving cars too fast is stupid but people don’t pay to watch cars being driven at 30 mph, they do pay to watch racing drivers take it much too fast. 

  After wilful self-commodification, a sideslip from demanding expensive gifts as a sign of affection has shifted the whole structure of the poem into a homogeneous landscape of indulgence. The takeover by purchasing and consumption simply overwhelms every aspect of behaviour, something poetry has never said yes to before. It is puzzling to describe the border zone between sensitivity and macho crassness in this oral landscape where aestheticisation is gobbled up and dissolved by a process of sugar breakdown. The clients regard buying a rent boy as an act akin to buying and downing a bottle of cognac. This may be the way poetry goes. They loved the idea of renting a poet and this heaves up a glimpse of early-teen Reed loving the high-glucose idea of a Poet in the same way as the prologue to becoming one. Why be a poet? this is one answer.
While gay style may not need this compressed quality in an era where you can socialise at leisure and at length, art also has to abstract and emphasise. There is a problem with poetry which represents masculine values (and social authority) by being inexpressive. This might be a withdrawal of surface pleasures to offer something deeper, but could also be boring all the way down. It may be that the stance of being disenchanted, sceptical, self-disciplined, in control, is just incompatible with producing anything but porridge-coloured poetry.
Thinking about detail, the title is probably the worst one of all time. If you’re going to go tacky, why not Sleaze God Roams Soho or Street Dish Talks Back or My Brave Life Trolling and Trilling?
PS Grevel was shocked because when this masterpiece book came out it didn't even receive one review. This is a whole scandal. I have written a lot about Reed but I get the impression that people ignore what I say or have said. Grevel's Intro to that Selected is a survey of the whole of Reed's career and probably the first one ever.

Monday 6 June 2022

Chronology of the Alternative

Chronology of the Underground

I have been pondering an anthology of the Underground. I don’t think you could do this in one volume… I am imagining a series of six volumes. I was very taken with Jim Keery’s anthology of the Apocalyptics which included 191 poets… with the Underground, you are looking at maybe 400 poets. Maybe a bit less than 400! So this raises the question of whether there were any genuine breaks in the history of this scene, or whether the volumes have to be separated by arbitrary breaks.
The question is also whether we are dealing with a single entity over a fifty year period, after the initial efforts of Migrant with Gael Turnbull, Roy Fisher, Michael Shayer, etc., giving us a starting point around 1960. One version is that the population of poets shifts by about 3% a year, with new people arriving, and so changes gradually but in the end completely. Another is that critical events have meant that the scene completely changed several times so that there are several different entities and we need several terms to describe them. Actually, no one believes this. This version is not a candidate. Another version is that the scene in 2010 is still recycling procedures developed in the 1960s, in an admiration which is conservative. I am not sure anyone believes this version. Another idea is that the Underground is not focussed on poetry; in any year the new poets are influenced by radical politics, boredom with convention, post-structuralist literary theory, conceptual art, radical cinema, etc., so that their cultural DNA does not derive from poetry (which is hard to access). So, there is a pool of radicalised youth (or survivors, I guess) of whom some portion are also interested in culture; and of that portion some small minority are interested in poetry. But there is a radical scene, or market, or attitude, which precedes any poem getting written. The distinctive feature of the poetry might then be that its semantic structures reflect attitudes of that social group.

I find it very hard to define the overall changes. It is much easier to deal with poets as individuals. The idea of 3% annual change is plucked out of the air, as I don’t have a way of measuring this. Evidently every year has had at least one new poet turn up. The Underground has continuity as a community of readers, but has certainly not remained stable in the cultural preoccupations and ideas of style which animate its projects. The continuity of individual poets, pursuing their personal style over several decades of productivity, only disguises a basic process of change which may be clearer if we just block out the dominant figures. A useful historical approach would be to examine vertical sections, defining moments in the advance of a column. I looked in early 2015 at the website of Knives Forks and Spoons, a modern Underground publisher, and listed the names of authors they published then:
Tim Allen, Meredith Andrea, David Annwn, Joanne Ashcroft, Alan Baker, Richard Barrett, Jeremy Balius, David Berridge, Michael Blackburn, Mark Burnhope, James Byrne, Neil Ambel, Joel Hace, Lucy Harvest Clarke, Adrian Clarke, Wayne Clements, Mark Cobley, Rebecca Cremin, Sarah Crewe, Sophie Mayer, J Crouse, Philip Davenport, Ian Davidson, James Davies, Peter Dent, Ken Edwards, Neil Ellman, Stephen Emmerson, Matt Fallaize, Gareth Farmer, Patricia Farrell, SJ Fowler, Kit Fryatt, Andrew Gallan, Peter Gillies, Rupert Loydell, Jesse Glass, Howie Good, Giles Goodland, Gavin Goodwin, Chris Gutkind, Trevor Simmons, John Hall, Peter Hughes, Dylan Harris, Daniel Y Harris, J/J Hastain, Colin Herd, Lindsey Holland, Simon Howard, Sarah James, Tom Jenks, Joshua Jones, S Kelly, Ira Lightman, Travis MacDonald, Ann Matthews, Anna McKerrow, James Mclaughlin, Nicky Mesch, Geraldine Monk, Frederick Morley, Stephen Nelson, Bruno Neiva, D E Oprava, Ryan Ormonde, Lars Palm, Daniele Pantano, Bobby Parker, RT Parker, Peter Philpott, Stephen Pike, Evelyn Posamentier, Jay Ramsay, Kevin Reid, George Szirtes, Simon Rennie, Antony Rowland, James Russell, Ian Seed, Robert Sheppard, Marcus Slease, Ben Stainton, Paul Sutton, Todd Swift, Andrew Taylor, Nathan Thompson, Scott Thurston, David Toms, Rhys Trimble, Steven Walling, Debbie Walsh, Tom Watts, Michael Wilson, Colin Winborn, Cliff Yates. (99 names by my count)
An attentive reader has used a computer to count the commas in the above and found 95 occurrences. It surely follows that the count of names is 96 and not 99. 96 tears! 96 poets!
I hope this shows some of the fertility of the contemporary scene. KFS have a bit of a trawler approach, they take on a lot of books. Have I read all these poets? certainly not. I have read Eighteens, the KFS anthology. In this list, the only ones who featured already in the 1970s list are John Hall, Peter Philpott, and Robert Sheppard. (After weeks studying the data in Poet’s Yearbook, which came to a halt in June 1978, I can see that 12 of these names were already appearing in publication lists in the 1970s. So 88% replacement over 40 years? is that a meaningful indicator?) This could be seen as a picture of the scene in 2015. There are hundreds and hundreds of other Underground poets writing, but this is a view, something small enough to look at.
(Finding 12% retention in one publisher is not a reliable index, as if we looked at the whole field the rate of retention could be 5% or 30%. More work needed.)

My feeling is that there are no interruptions in the Alternative scene. Divisions between a posible six volumes of anthology would have to be arbitrary.
It is noticeable that there is no anthology collecting the British Poetry Revival. Everyone agrees that Eric’s 1974 essay on the BPR is fundamental to a description of the Alternative scene, that knowing those 36 poets which he listed is basic to grasping modernity in Britain, but there is no anthology putting them together and actually there never has been. This brings up another possibility, namely that becoming an Alternative poet does not imply knowing the history of the Alternative scene, and that in fact people who write unconventionally as part of a generalised dislike of authority (plus idealistic hopes for the future!) may stumble across other poets who are conventional only after key decisions have been taken. The idea that 1000 Alternative poets know what the other 1000 Alternative poets are thinking, or have thought, is untenable and even ridiculous. There is a legacy, I guess, but it is probably fragmentary, selective, and to some extent based on misunderstanding. There are deep infrastructural problems blocking visibility of what happened in the past of an anti-commodified and rather unpopular realm of art.
Proxy. I compared this list of 96 with the poets in the Alternative anthology, Dear World and Everyone in it (2013). The overlap is six names out of 72. In order to cover all 72 names, we would need a comparator of 12 times as many names. This would be (6x96) 576 names. So the small overlap suggests a total set of 576 poets in the Alternative population as at 2015. This is not a Solid Gold Count but a proxy indicator. It gives us a ball-park figure. So, if we wanted a description of the Alternative as at 2015, we could simply wave a hand towards those 576 poets, notionally formed up as a flock or herd, compactly.

Flashback. I thought to look at another yearly volume of Poetry Dimension to get a count of how many poems have that “smug concluding quatrain”. I picked up Poetry Dimension 7 and this time I came up with 25 poems out of fifty featuring a smug generalisation as its coda. Holy shit! Maybe I am being inconsistent. Anyway this time I looked more closely at the crop… variants on “looking back after thirty years”, of pious messages to take away, of pulling back the camera to reveal a Timeless Pattern. Evidently people were collecting these adages to form a collection whose ultimate outcome would be Wisdom. My impression is that the count for an anthology like Lucie-Smith’s would actually be zero. Also, that the smug end quatrain is where the conservative reader defines what they have Gained from the poem, suspicious in case there might be some aspect to it they can’t measure and define. Strange that the coda isn’t always right at the end of the poem. Hill has a stanza “Platonic England, house of solitudes,/ rests in its laurels and its injured stone/ replete with complex fortunes that are gone,/ beset by dynasties of moods and clouds” which rather depressingly extends the subject to Our Beloved Nation As a Whole, but this is actually stanza 2 of a four-stanza poem. Also, it is a generalisation but it isn’t banal, actually it is elevated and has two mood swings within its four lines. By Platonic, does he mean “an elevated Idea of England which you can’t actually touch or live in”? If there is self-deception, is it by other people or by Hill of Hill? Anyway, the Smug Concluding Quatrain was jettisoned by younger mainstream poets, during the 1970s, as well as by Alternative poets.