Beautiful Feelings – another bulletin
am in a tired and decaying state with my book ‘Feelings’. That is, the project is decaying because it is over. My energy is decaying. Preparatory to being abandoned. An email recently had a photo of an audience with the comment that they are all white and middle class. This is a new approach: the history of the audience. If we had a series of 1000 photos of audiences, going back 30 years (or whatever), we could analyse shifts in race and in gender composition. Who knows what. Absent that database, it is all speculative. Close analysis suggested that you could see “ethnic minority” faces in that photo. Discussion revealed that there is no way of identifying middle class people just from appearances. You could do that from their voices, yes.
Another email records a rejection note from a publisher which says that in the “application window” they had received 1000 applications for their chapbook series. My correspondent suggests that there might be another 1000, at the same time, for their (longer) pamphlet series. This contradicts something I say in the book about the gates being open. Pretty obviously the gates aren’t open if someone is receiving 1000 typescripts and accepting 70. There is a world of unpublished books, floating around outside the harbour entrance, just as there is a world of open mike poets who aren't good enough to get a gig as the “name” act.
The messages I am seeing often say that “I am being rejected because I am working class”. There are variants on this. I don’t discuss this in the book and at this stage I am collecting “a thousand stories I don’t tell”. I think editors turn down the poems, not the biography. But the other version deserves examination.
I am rereading Philip Norman’s Beatles biography. I hadn't noticed before, but at one stage (1961, in Hamburg) all five of the musicians on stage had attended grammar schools. Replacing Pete Best with Ringo brought in someone who hadn’t been to such a school- changing their image. No-one analyses their music in terms of this because it is supremely unimportant. A million pages of Beatles commentary and nobody sees it as a reflection of the effects of the 11-plus. Everybody can see that listening to Elvis was the key experience and there is no point analysing it in some other way. Similarly with poetry – people have a primal experience with poems and then try to offer a primal experience inside their own poems.
I read half of Richard Houghton's collection of fans’ memories of the Beatles (The Beatles – I was There). So you get people who were 16 in 1962 and went to the Cavern Club. The most perceptive memoir has a lot of detail and describes the frontmen as, one was a grammar school boy and one wasn't. He was wrong – Lennon did attend a grammar school although he was a tearaway. He was describing the difference between John and Paul, as a million people have. Relating it to schools is a good example of someone drafting in Sociology and getting it wrong.
Editors see poems, not biographies. But suppose you can detect class origins in verbal patterns, in preoccupations, in the cost of objects described in the poems, etc. etc. I really don’t want to start analysing poems in these terms. If someone feels that they are disliked by someone else because they are working class, they may be right. Also, from the audience side, people may want poets with a specific social identity in order to dramatise internal conflicts, longings and humiliations of biographical significance to them.
You rarely see people explaining that they were turned down because they took 20 lines to say what they could have said in 4, because they delivered emotions in preset packages rather than appearing genuine and sincere, because they sounded too much like other people, because they were predictable, etc. It is much more acceptable to return aesthetic preferences to the level of sociological prejudice. But surely poems can be good or bad?
I think this approach is able to make my subject disappear altogether. So you have McCartney being suave and manipulative and he is seen as typically middle class, you have Lennon being sarcastic and disaffected and this is seen as expected for someone who attended a secondary modern. The sociological approach makes personality disappear altogether… I want to describe poems as expression of personality, as the product of momentary states of mind, and finally as the expression of freedom. But sociology wipes that out by saying that being suave, or else being disaffected, are inevitable behaviour patterns expressing what niche someone belongs in. So I can’t really deal with sociology.
I am intrigued by the idea that any male pupil of a secondary modern school (or a technical school, the third model, the one which never took off) is bound to be disaffected. This is quite a deep observation. But poets are very proud of their disaffection; they don’t see it as a predictable response to being in a niche from which most of society is invisible and you are invisible to most people. They want you to be surprised by it and they want it to be temporary, as someone comes along and solves their problems.
I looked up the secondary technical school on Wiki and read “For various reasons few were built, and their main interest is on a theoretical level.” It never was a fully three-tier system, and then comprehensivisation took over.
So, a thousand stories I don’t tell. I am not going to list them. Should I read the thousand scripts which got turned down? At one level, this is information I am missing.