Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thoughts After Cusp 2

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.

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.