Saturday 24 February 2024

beautiful feelings

To my great pleasure, Shearsman have now accepted ‘Beautiful feelings’. I see I said in a blog that I had completed the book in January 2023, so I have spent the last year doing fine rewrites of it. Here is a contents list.

Chapter list
Generalisations about the poetry world
Theories of style time
Language is made of rules
Foundation Texts (Loving Little Orlick; Ffynhonnau Uchel; Englaland; Incendium Amoris; Cloud. A coffee cantata
Their Trajectory Was Just Large (Flatlands; Terrain Seed Scarcity; Implacable Art; Unsung; Birdhouse; a.m.; The President of Earth; The Itchy Sea; Capital; The Hutton Inquiry; Natural Histories; Vacation of a Lifetime; Andraste's Hair; Galatea; The Missing; The Midlands; The Land of Green Ginger)
Cultural Asset Management
Verticegarden (Octet; Nekorb)
Insignificance; or, Structure Engulfed by Surface
Poems On Communal Wellbeing (Songs for Eurydice; Black Sun; Winstanley; Surge)
Local Knowledge (Birds of the Sherborne Missal; A Portland Triptych)
Serial: Lost In Data Labyrinths (The School of Forgery; Winter Journey; Exotica Suite)
Short Strings, Polyrecombinant (Duetcetera)
Splendours And Chagrins (Rendang; Plague Lands and other poems; Amnion; Katabasis; Writing The Camp)
Devolution/ Disassembly:
Anglo-Welsh (Edge of Necessary; stenia cultus handbook; Keinc; King Driftwood)
Scottish poets (Zonda? Khamsin? Sharaav? Camanchaca?; Hand Over Mouth Music; Florilegium; The Sleep Road; makar /unmakar)
British South Asian poets (Brilliant Corners; Small Hands; The Voice Of Sheila Chandra; The Routines)
West-bloc dissidents: alternative poetry (Arrays; Lines on the Surface; INSTANT-fLEX 718)
Triumphs And Panics (Ephemeris; False Flags; Somnia; Makers Of Empty Dreams; Forms of Protest; Self Heal; The Cook's Wedding)
The Human Voice (rabbit; Venusberg; Rookie; Soft Sift; Kim Kardashian's Marriage)
Pistachio Euphoria Sorbet (the arboretum towards the beginning; Leave Bambi Alone)
Sociolinguistics (Tippoo Sultan's Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy‑Machine!!!; Wilia; Knitting drum machines for exiled tongues; Northern Alchemy; Unquiet)
Privatisation and Religion (The Palace of Oblivion; Ascension Notes; Monica’s Overcoat Of Flesh; Stranger In The Mask Of A Deer)
Land And Sea (Disappearance; Green Noise; Continental Drift; Else)

I keep wanting to add new bits to it but really it is complete. Part of the concept is the centrality of personal and individual poems to the scene, which is actually what used to be called “bourgeois individualism”. I never use this phrase because I don’t value the Marxist consequences it comes attached to, but evidently the Marxist theorists identified what it was, possibly back in the 1930s or even the 1920s. So their version is roughly “writers who failed to face up to the consequences of industrialisation and class society wrote about their own feelings and appealed to the narcissism of the reader. Developments of style led to refinements which diminished the basic energy and evaded political issues. Reader and writer floated off in a little boat which was cut off from a wider reality.” My book is about the consequences of this. I call it Genre A. Evidently the individualism thing is bypassed by cultural critical poetry and by poetry about ecology and man-made climate disaster. We could call these genres B and C. They deal with the collective fate even if the matters presented are specific to the poet and written in an original style.
For reasons we need not go into here, I spent a lot of time, sometime in the 20th century, studying Soviet and East German literature. This has affected my frame of reference. The difference between Western literature and that other world of texts is rather striking, and the difference has a lot to do with individualism and narcissism and the small scale. With the artist’s personality, in fact. I think the Marxist analysis of culture is right at about 30 key points. It was developed by very intelligent people who between them had a very wide knowledge of the facts of cultural history. That thought does not extend to wishing to live under a dictatorship. But you have to have a perspective on the West from outside the West. There is so much to gain from that. This politicised analysis did not lead me to reject the West any more than I wished to wake up in East Germany and find myself without a vote or civil rights. If people were put in prison for practising “bourgeois individualism”, a few hundred years have to pass before you can legitimately use the term to discuss real people and real poets.
In a previous post, I discussed a level of poetry underneath genre A, exhibited in “open mike” events, where people did not aspire to a personal style and avoided poems about their personal lives. It looks as if Genre A is an ambitious endeavour, and unambitious poets are writing in a way which is more conventional (or colloquial) and less personal. It is difficult to practise Genre A. So identifying it with “Western style poetry” is not completely accurate.
The obvious reference point for narratives which deal with collective endeavour and objective facts, rather than individual feelings, is Fifties war films. I mention this because I am very happy with individualist poetry and indeed being a poetry critic in this era involves appraising that kind of poetry rather than promoting a Soviet-style civic poetry. That attitude would of course mean rejecting the poetry which is actually being published and talking about something which basically does not exist. Distinguishing between a hundred poets within the “Western“ style is only possible if you take an interest in that style, although of course if you are more interested in the Five Year Plan then variations of style are not really worth noticing. (I like some of those films, which I grew up with. Recently I watched Simon Heffer’s documentary on those films, where he regrets that the genre came to an end at a certain point, to be replaced by films where virtue and achievement played a very small role indeed.) Even at the time, there was no poetry which corresponded to those films: something in the unwritten constitution of poetry made it suitable for describing individual and intimate experiences rather than public and objective ones. We don’t have a body of “Fifties war poetry”.
The line of narcissism applies to the reader as well as to the poets. So we could draw a distinction between “believing in individual artistic experience” and “rejecting individual experience because it is simply an expression of deposited strata of imperialism, patriarchy, class bias, pro-Western bias, etc. etc., and is scheduled to be replaced by pure Theory administered by Experts”. If you reject the contents of individual experience, the fine vibrations of its reactions, then there is no point reading poetry. I am interested in nuances of sensibility, moments of identification, comparison between sensations, details of style. That is, I value the contents of consciousness and do not think it is able to be replaced by anything else (even Marxism).
There is a history of individualism. The arguments about national debt and borrowing in the general crisis following 2007-8 saw interesting gaps open up in Europe between countries where people paid their taxes and countries where people steadily avoided them. This was discussed in terms of a “southern tier” where Greece was the “most southern” and had the worst problems with taxes not being collected. So within Europe there was a southern band of individualism, and it contrasted with another variety where you had a developed bourgeois social structure but people respected the State enough to pay their taxes and to make accurate statements of income. And the ”black economy” was weak and not popular with the public. During these arguments it was possible to reflect, not just on the pervasive nature of an individualist (or “familist”) set of attitudes in Europe, but also that such attitudes did not necessarily bring about economic growth and perhaps only brought growth in special and unusual circumstances.
I scanned the Poetry Book Society pages and found that they have suggested/ listed another 540 titles since I finished the first draft of the book. Yes, I haven't read them.

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