Never underestimate the value of a good library. Somewhere I came across the poetry of Frank O'Hara. It must have been the poems read in anthologies in the John Rylands University of Manchester Library. I remember I bought the book Lunch Poems from a bookshop no longer there on John Dalton Street. Then I carried it around with me, heaven in my pocket, for ages and ages, even across Europe because I couldn't bare to part with it.
Strange things in little magazines: there was for awhile, a collection of filling cabinets in Withington Library, which included back copies of 2nd Aeon, the Eric Mottram era Poetry Reviews and a whole host of weird and wonderful stuff. I was fascinated and barely understood half of it. It was where I first saw my first visual poetry.
Getting an understanding of what makes someone follow the less well trodden paths of British avant garde and experimental poetry whilst others go down the more mainstream paths isn't easy. I was fascinated, I suppose, rather than put off, by things I didn't understand. At various times, I was involved with working class writing, with wanting to be a performance poet, with wanting to write like Simon Armitage or other mainstream poets (Tony Harrison for awhile) but they never seemed to fit.
I never really knew many people who were experimental. Rupert Loydell of Stride magazine and press was one. I went to visit him at his studio in Crewe once; and an early publication was in Stride magazine, when it was still a paper edition. There I was exposed to another set of adventurous writers.
I never showed my most experimental poems to people, didn't know what to do with them. I went to Manchester Poets group, where everybody was extolling the virtues of mainstream poets I secretly found a bit dull. Craig Raine's reading was memorable only for his snazzy jacket. I used to go to Peter Sansom's workshops in Huddersfield, which at first were great and I learned a lot. There was at least an awareness of the New York School there, and I still like the underrated Geoff Hattersley's work from then, like a slightly later more cynical and funnier Jim Burns.
I borrowed John Ashbery from the library. I increased my book collection because of reviews through City Life.
But the central mystery remains. I like the odd stuff, the outre, the outside the mainstream stuff. In the end, however polite I am sometimes about it (and I'm not always), the poetry that interests me is experimental, strange, outside the obvious. Finding a community hear in Manchester, however small we are, has at least made me comfortable about that.
TOM RAWORTH HAS DIED
1 week ago