Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Poetries Not Poetry

I've come slightly reluctantly to the conclusion that there isn't a single species called poetry. There is instead a whole genus of poetry. The most obvious ' species division' has always been seen to be that between 'non-mainstream' and 'mainstream', or 'avant garde' and 'conservative', or 'linguistically innovative' and... what exactly? Lowell saw it as the 'raw' and the 'cooked' - and he, as a premier 'cooked' poet, coveted something of the 'wildness' he saw in Ginsberg et al, hence the freer rhythms of 'Life Studies' and after.

But that seems these days to be too binary; and I was thinking of this whilst reading the magazine Department, edited by Richard Barret, and the chapbook by Adrian Slatcher, Playing Solitaire for Money, new out from Salt.

Adrian Slatcher's book is, without being too disparaging, fairly mainstream. All the poems are well-written, often with a darkly reflective and apocalyptic edge. I really liked a lot of them, especially The Monster with its vision of urban menace symbolised by the monster seemingly made of detritus and abandoned hopes; and The Death of the Grand Gesture, about how small life seems to have come. It's an excellent pamphlet, well-worth £6.50 of your hard-earned cash.

But then we turn to Department, a magazine of innovative writing edited by one of Manchester's foremost innovative poets. Here we have poems that do not hold to the left-hand margin, but spread across the page; poems which are using language as a medium rather as an artist would, making associative leaps and including a visual element. There are poems in prose by Bill Drennan and Karen Sandhu; and the associative poetry of Stephen Emmerson and Nat Raha. Unlike Adrian's chapbook, it doesn't all make strict logical sense. But again excellent.

So far so binary; but even here we have a couple of different poetries being presented: James Davies' review of David Berridge's Knives Forks & Spoons Press chapbook is an argument for 'minimalist' poetry. There is no strictly visual poetry (though Becky Cremin's work contains an element of that) but there is another poetry.

So we have 'mainstream' poetry, 'innovative' poetry, 'minimalist' poetry, 'visual' poetry: each with their arguments for and against, and I haven't even mentioned 'formalist' poetry, which still continues over at Eratosphere, for instance. Each with their entrenched positions - and traditions. Do they have much to do with one another? And should they?

I do like the idea of poets crossing boundaries, stepping out of their safety zones and trying things; that's why I like visual poetry, where the writer is stepping into the territory of the visual artist; and 'sound poetry' which crosses the border into 'sound art' and even music.

But I doubt that anyone can like everything in poetry; I have to say that, despite being intrigued by it, 'minimalist' poetry does no more for me than most 'minimalist' art; I was always more of a maximalist in my taste. I like colour and noise and mess.

So 'genus' isn't probably the right word, as poets frequently like to cross the species barrier and borders are porous as sieves. So maybe it's more like bacteria: frequently mutating into new species and new shapes. And long may that be the case.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Things I'm Not Too Keen On

...but can't get overly worked up about:

1) Comedy gigs - I really can't see the point in being in the same theatre as one bloke spouting off for two hours with his own 'amusing' take on the world. I might make an exception for Stewart Lee, but even then.

2) Novels that are more than 200-250 pages long. Really, you need to employ an editor. Most mainstream novels are just not that interesting enough that I need to spend that much time with them.

3) Indie music that sounds just like every other indie band that's around at the moment. Pretend indie, in other words, without an ounce of real originality. But I wouldn't turn it off the radio if it was on.

4) The kind of "art" you find in those private galleries in town, full of pictures of 'romantic' ballet dancers and 'cute' creatures. Art for people who don't really like art but have a space above the fireplace that needs filling. Actually, on second thoughts, anyone got a good flamethrower?

5) Poets with 'crazee' nom-de-plumes. Puh-leeze!

6) Most poetry published by Faber, Picador or Cape. File under mostly dull.

7) Lists. (Including this one)

8) Those 'Fifty Best TV Programmes About Grass' that keep getting repeated on More4.

9) Sequels/Prequels/Remakes of films that are never as good as the original. Or weren't even any good the first time around.

10) Rom-coms starring Jennifer Anniston, any other actor from Friends, or Steve Carrell Was Funny Once Carrell.