Friday, September 02, 2005


I've been thinking again about inluence, especially early influence. Everybody's influenced by somebody, nobody exists in a vacuum, but our reading tastes change over the years so the number and range of our influences change. When I started writing, it was what was in the local library and what I could get from bookshops locally. Accrington & Blackburn not being at the time very cultural places, this was of course a very limited range. Larkin was in there, and the Liverpool poets, and Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes. Tony Harrison arrived very early, and Tom Paulin, especially his first two books.

Since coming to Manchester, I've discovered the New American Poets: Black Mountain, Beat, and principally New York School. And they profoundly changed the direction of my poetry. I wonder what would have happened if, instead of the Americans, I'd read some Polish or Czech poetry and that would have altered my writing? Ron Silliman's comments about Christopher Middleton (scroll through - I think it was in July) are interesting. He claims to distrust Modernist traditions that are not NAP in origin; but of course, there are many different streams to Modernism, not all of them culminating in Frank O'Hara or the LANGUAGE poets. If I'd been good at, say, German, maybe I'd be more influenced by Gunter Grass or Hans Magnus Enzsenberger than John Ashbery.

It's funny how much all this relates to your life experience. You set out wanting to write as well as you can, so you look for mentors. You find some poetry in the library, it seems to be what's required, so you try to write like that. Then you find something that really excites you, that is so different and yet so like you that it becomes something you want to do yourself. New York poets enabled me to write about my situation in ways that Larkin never could, because they gave me permission to "write outside the box" to use what is rapidly becoming a damnable cliche.

But I can't quite throw out Larkin and Hughes and the rest and jump head first into the avant-garde pool, because they still have something. Larkin's craft and Hughes' mythification of his own life are still present, deep below somewhere as a kind of buried stream (not unlike the avant garde as a buried stream in British poetry) or as a not-so guilty secret I sometimes like to pretend isn't there. I think it's time to write another sonnet.

1 comment:

Scalljah said...

Hi Steven.

This is the most interesting piece I have read, probably because I, like you, am interested in influences and the writing of these influences is the apologia/poetics strand of our writing, which is "vital to blah blah blah" if you get my drift.

I love exploring this side as it is just another excuse to write about oneself and see what magic occurs on the page, in the frostean notion of not knowing what will be written as you write.

As you know, I started out my career midlife, desperately hoping I wasn't conning myself. Sloughing off the bum image I had self developed through a lack of material success or direction in life. Worst of my imaginings was the moment that would occur when my self deception was revealed when in the company of a "real" poet.

Every one of them I met in the flesh in the early days was a potential WMD to the fragile nascent construction of identity my mind was beginning to assemble.

Remember the what is a "true" poet debate on the defunct poem UK site, and we all tried to answer the question as though there actually was an answer?

It was around the poem uk time that I "self confirmed" after realising I could hold my own with the "real...true" call them what you will, poets, and the immediate danger of being a self hoax passed once I decided, after meeting Brendan Kennelly, that only heaney could make me feel a fake, and later understanding that there is no such thing as a fake really, only degrees of difference and learning one has, and if there's only one person in your mind who is acting as a donal macintyre of the poetry world, then your as good as home and dry, maybe.

And if not, who cares as long as you're laughing and enjoying life. The most miserable and damaging poets I've met are the uber serious ones who make the naieve scribblers with no confidence feel crap in order to feel good about themselves. Taking the poet as priest role as a given and practicing being an archbishop of parnassus.

Rob Sheppard was my entry into the world of verse, and I remember writing a spiel saying that he was the perfect contrasting influence in which my own self could agitate, as he was as far removed as what I had in mind as a poet as you could get, entirely due to a chip on the shoulder ignorance I have since smoothed to a kink, hopefully in the Kavangh sense.

I have just done my first do as an organiser, a "patrick kavanagh celebration 2005" in the palace bar, dublin, where kav used to hold court with the hacks of his day who wouldn't give him a bums rush. It was about established and emerging poets being on the same bill, and I got leanne o'sullivan and maurice scully in. As for Kav, he had some great insults

"A notorious nobody in a world of bores"

"A gas bag of no ability"

"you can form a better opinion of an institution by the people who are excluded than by the ones included"

"bunch of unfortunate nobodies who know it"

The do went well and we all ended up back at god's gaffe (ie mike from meath with the long flowing locks and beard) rejoicing in the word and generally having a poets jam session. God is the only person I have met who can genuinely frestyle extemporaeneously. If you toss him words he can go on and on, but usually he finishes at the right spot. The first time I saw this I was amazed. All the other poets where there and we now have the start of a grouping of about 15 poets, at least 5 of whom are all brilliant live, and are all very different, and seem to be going under the banner of "war on tour". There are loads of things afoot, but I won't bore you with my dreams, as I want to communicate on the poetics levels, which are at the very root of our calling.

Rob Shep reckons that writing about writing is a very useful thing, and I would have to agree. His courses, I am led to believe, are one of the few creative writing ones which make a self assesment/reflection mandotory for each piece of work. We had to write about the writing of the piece and the poetry strand in the third year has a poetics module and was very useful for me and others in the poetry class, as some of us came up with pieces of writing we would never have thought possible, or rather in forms we would not have thought possible.

Go to Robert's blog of Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Anti-Orpheus/Rattling the Bones

and this is where he speaks of his ideas on the subject, basically saying that it is a "speculative discourse not a descriptive one" which is what we got from his sessions, that it is legitimate to experiment and the trick is to buy into this and believe it, then you can never be a wierdo, even though some of your writing may appear close to the bone for many of those reading.

The reason I leave deposits in various places is because I have learned from my time with Robert that he was spot on about poetics writing and my poetics and I suppose my identity is a constant process being worked out and published on the net, which I predicted was the way poetry was going, and your blog supports this prediction.

Todd Swift is another poet up and running, but the real godfather is ron the man and the potential for the future is huge, but the bottom line is s/he who is quickestwith the skill of response, is the one whose writing improves, and the best is that it is a true democracy coz the old days of heavyweight art minds battling out their blather in print is no longer the monopoly where all the sharp voices of the future have to train, as the reality is the best way to train is to treat the net as serious as print, and that way completely circumnavigate any need to self confirm through book publishing.

Kavs whole art philosophy, from what I gather after re reading his brothers biography, was that everyone is a genius and unique, with the trick being to find that real you and then just be yourself.

I am not kavanagh's biggest fan or think he is all great, as the reality is he has a few good pieces and lots of pedestrian uninspring stuff, but he came out with some good ideas well put.

But this is just a long winded intro into where I want to get, which is my current state of unfluence play. I am reviewing a cd of 8 cornish poets and got the texts sent to me, one of which was Derek Hines glgamesh, which has completely blown me away, as for once, the nonsense in the reviews were actually accurate, in my opinion. He has given me a tighter focus and comes after reading Graves's white godesses and trying to get a real understanding of the reality of Irelands poetry past. I found a place on the net where the top scholars of the old fenechas/brehon law manuscripts chatter and they gave me a three year backlog of deposits to ingest, which really brought into focus my earlier, hazier notions.

Graves reminded me of yeats's vision, in that it was really jusyt one mans justification of belief in his own idea of what poetry is and where it comes from. There was so much erudite references that the argument was just too complex and beyond simple to get me truly excited, and when you take into account his own personal circumstances of being the thrid generation anglo irish poet, then my ideas on him firmed up.

Kavangh reckoned that the anglo irish created all the cod irish bollocks in order to try and root themselves in an ancient culture, and he illustrates his point with a horse analogy, saying that when an irsh horse wins the derby and people celebrate its irishness, this is nonsense, as why not celebrate its "horsiness." Further he goes on to say that yeats was the truest anglo irish poet as

"Yeats got there merely by being himself...he dug deep beneath the variegated surface to where the spirit of poetry is one with truth"

In the last few weeks a lot of my own poetics has been clearing the mists, much of it related to my own circumstances as a plastic paddy, the child of irish parents, raised in the uk and never having spent time in Ireland, even though I considered myself Irish.

It was only once I got here and now I've been here a while I can see that the previous notions I held about the Irish poets being the best in the world where more about wanting to paint myself as gifted through an accident of birth as much as any hard work put in, and I am starting to see poetry as ultimately being about faith, and connected to the deeper wells of a basic human need of wanting to belong and be loved. And as kav said

"a man is what he is, and if there is some mystical quality in the nation or race, it will ooze through his skin"

I came here to try and reconnect with thre old oral culture, even thogh at the time I didn't have a clue about the reality of that culture, but now I am picking up the pieces of knowledge and fitting it all together I am getting closer to it and will keep you fully posted on my progress.