Friday, December 21, 2012

Some Post-Apocalyptic Thoughts

Well, I am disappointed - the Mayan end of the world hasn't happened after all. I was looking forward to the Rapture, or to being taken up in a UFO by the Interstellar Rescue Squad from Sirius or some such place. Maybe it's late. And maybe the company of a bunch of obsessive bibliolatrists or UFO obsessives would make me want to jump out of the rescue vehicle and join the burning masses anyway, so it's perhaps a good thing I'm not one of the chosen.

Anyroad up, as they say in deepest Lancashire, if it's not going to happen, it's not going to happen. I thought I'd bother you all with my thoughts about poetry and what I think is happening.

Over the last few years, I've observed a kind of opening out of the poetry world. This is no bad thing, though it's at least partly to do with the fact that there's now so much of it about. The proliferation of poetry on the whole I take to be a good thing; though it does mean that there is going to be an awful lot more poetry that I and indeed anyone else will never have time to read, or poetry names that I mean to follow up and never quite get round to reading. If you're among that number, I do apologise. But I thought I'd talk of a couple of my discoveries this year.

This year, I discovered the amazing poetry of Andrew Crozier. I guess he would be classified as belonging to "the Cambridge School", a loose association of poets who were captivated by the anthology, The New American Poetry, published in !960; and by the slightly earlier Objectivist poets such as George Oppen, Louis Zukovsky and Lorrinne Neidecker. They tried - with varying degrees of success - to find a British route through this poetic movement. This way of writing produced - for me - some of the best writing of the last 50 years - from Lee Harwood to John James, to Peter Riley, to J H Prynne - and of course, Andrew Crozier. But this stream of British poetry has often seemed hidden and been dismissed as 'difficult', 'obscure'
but the vast majority of the poets of this stream (actually, it's more like a full blown river) are nothing of the sort. They just don't look like the left-justified, neatly-boxed poetry of the officially-sanctioned schools of English poetry, best represented by the so-called English line poets, from Edward Thomas through to Andrew Motion.

Motion (along with Blake Morrison) infamously said that 'nothing much was happening in poetry' in the '60's  and '70's - which is ironic if you actually look at the evidence. There was so much going on, it almost bears comparison with now, when there are so many young poets, it sometimes feels like a glut. I worry about these young poets, that in all the courses in creative writing that there are now, they're still not being given access to the full range of English poetry. I hear rumours of poetry teachers telling their students to avoid the poetry scene in the cities where they study, and I hope that isn't true. I worry that teachers only teach a narrow range of poetry - whether that is only Carol Anne Duffy and friends or only Sean Bonney and friends is immaterial.

Poetry - as Stephen Burt recently said - is a continent. It's not a single stream that you stray from at your peril. I love that image: it avoids that whole idea that there is a 'correct' way of doing things. At the edges are probably the experimental poets, the neo-modernists, the visual poets, and a lot of people who live in the middle. Personally, I'm a fan of the edges; other people prefer living in the middle. That's OK; but I hope we can get over the continual war between the middle and the edge.

I also discovered the work of Tim Allen, a poet I mistakenly called a Language poet, a movement which is really confined to America. His poems have a swing about them, and a real understanding of the riotousness of language. His single-book poem The Voice Thrower was one of my favourite reads of this year. I recommend it to everyone; but it takes a little while to get into its method. You have to read it without unduly looking for those logical narratives that you might find in Simon Armitage, say. That's the thing with negative capability, though: it's actually something you have to learn how to do in order to be able to read a lot of the more experimental, neo-modernist poetry. You have to switch off the need to be 'told' something, to have an 'epiphany', and you have to learn to go with the flow. It is, in fact, often based around autobiography (though obviously not just that): but when you learn to go with the flow, you pick things up as you go, rather than have them thrust upon you by the wise poet.

I could go on; but I'll leave it for now. More later (apocalypse permitting.)

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