Monday, February 27, 2006

Becoming the Poet I Am

Kelvin Corcoran's recent book did bring up some interesting questions for me. How does one become the poet one becomes?

Some of it is down to personality. TS Eliot could never have written something as "wild" as "Howl" because he just wasn't Allen Ginsberg. But if I'd stayed in Accrington, or if I'd done an English degree rather than a Theology degree, I would be a very different writer than the one I am now. If I hadn't discovered old copies of the Poetry Review full of terribly avant garde poetry I didn't understand, if I hadn't discovered the poetry of John Ashbery and Frank O'Hara...

...I might have stayed with Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes, with the poets in my local library or available at the local bookshop. Of course, you might need an investigative spirit even to crack open the spine of a writer you're not familiar with, but they have to available to you in the first place. If you never go into a second hand bookshop, you're never going to find that copy of George Macbeth's The Cleaver Garden. But there has to be a second-hand bookshop for you to go in.

The problem with a lot of the non-mainstream poetries in this country is not its incomprehensibility; but its unavailability. If there's a large Waterstones, and it's got a good stock, you might nowadays find the odd Shearman or Salt book in there; but West House? Equipage? Barque? Highly unlikely. I guess the same could be said for presses like Enitharmon, Peterloo or Smith/Doorstop. It's harder and harder these days to discover the outre, the out of the way, the not very popular.

There is the Internet, of course, and there's a lot of it out there. But the Internet is largely unregulated, and again you only come across the good stuff by accident or recommendation. You can't get a recommendation unless you know someone, who knows someone who knows someone... If you live in the city, there are groups you can go to, you can make friends. But how do you do that if you live in the boondocks?

Becoming the poet I became has been a long and twisted path, involving a lot of discovery, a fair amount of incomprehensability and a fair amount of amazement. But at times, it's been frustrating, trying to track down writers and books. There's lots more out there, I'm sure. As Captain Picard might put it, "Let's see what's out there."

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