Friday, May 03, 2013

After 'Cusp: The Event'

It was a great reading: hearing poets read not their own work mainly but the work of other poets. Geraldine Monk was the hostess with the mostest, and the readers included Jim Burns, Tim Allen, Ian Davidson, Frances Presley, Nicholas Johnson and sundry others. Readings of Roy Fisher, Gael Turnbull, and other luminaries of British Modernism; but one of the highlights for me was hearing part of a poem by Elaine Randell. Cusp the book is a kind of collective biography of regional poetries throughout England, so the whole event sent me down my own set of memory lanes.

Jim Burns talks in the book of how hard it was to find friends who liked the kinds of things you do in the '50's. Not much call for Beat poetry in Preston; and there wasn't much call for poetry of any kind in Accrington in the '70's either. We did have a bookshop, and I got into Ted Hughes because of it; and two libraries: the one in Accrington and the one in Blackburn. I remember going to a day dedicated to Ted Hughes in Padiham Library once, at which Glynn Hughes was the guest reader. There was another event in Blackburn library; I can't recall much about it but there was a Lancashire dialect poet there.

It was when I got to Manchester to do a theology degree that I began to discover other poetries than the standard ones (Larkin and Co.) Frontline Books on Newton Street were a great help: I was introduced to Geraldine Monk, Kelvin Corcoran and the Pig Press edition of Beyond All Other by Elaine Randell. Lee Harwood's work I first began to read extensively via a bookshop in Grassmere of all places, on two successive Quaker Meeting retreats. I'd read a few of these people in the Paladin Book of British poetry and I got a few of the Paladin books via writing reviews for City Life magazine. Unfortunately, in a fit of anti-modernism, I gave some of them away. But I still have Iain Sinclair, Douglas Oliver and Christopher Middleton.

There was nothing much going on regarding readings. Manchester Poets was essentially very conventional. I used to go just to meet other poets. The workshop was quite helpful, but it seems to me that for many years there was a division between what I was writing and what I was reading. It wasn't until I started taking a pair of scissors to my poems that I began to properly explore my experimental side; though there are things in files that are attempted experiments. Sometimes they fail miserably, but I was working in a kind of vacuum. I was aware of all this stuff that didn't get attention and it fascinated me even if I didn't understand it.

There's more to be said; but I'll come back to it in Part 2.

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