Chronology 1980-94

This is offered for comments; please bear in mind that the idea is only to show indicative moments, not to list n hundred small press publications. This is a version incorporating changes suggested to the original.


Debuts of poets in the anthology are listed. (Or, designated debuts.)

1977 Rod Mengham, Beds and Scrapings. Geoff Ward, Tales from the Snowline. 1978-9 so-called “winter of discontent”, as low-paid workers try to defend themselves against inflation running at 20%.
April 1979 election of Thatcher starting a Conservative administration destined to last until 1997. This is accompanied by an abundant output of New Right ideological polemics designed to attack and discredit every utterance of the Left. The goal is never clearly stated but may be something like the closure of every part of government and the removal of every constraint on the influence of capital. In line with the change of government, the media begin an intense attempt to “roll back” the cultural changes of the previous 20 years. A new breed of “neo-con intellectual” tries to make a career out of this. Out of many elements, we can point to depatterning. Where Marxism sees the maximum of pattern in history, the new thing is to deny any pattern at all. Writing history ignores the state of the poor to drown in fascinating antiquarian details. It is all petty narratives. Then, loss of purpose. Social abuses are identified, but the neo-con does not wish to correct them. Striving for social change is now seen as infantile and wishful thinking. Where the 70s spoke of community, the 80s speak of deregulation. The display of wealth becomes the central function of culture, which is now an extension of personal adornment. Where Berger had attacked art which displayed wealth and leisure, the neo-con regarded any other kind of art as suspect. The endlessly re-used word designer is symptom of a loss of interest in the site of production in favor of a retail-side economics in which the designer, rich and autonomous, is far more important than the factory which builds the objects.

From 1980 to 1986, Reagan’s foreign policy saw “the end of détente” and a conscious ratcheting up of nuclear tension, as if the gospel of co-existence had been simply weakness and compromise. The deployment of new, more threatening, multiple re-entry warhead missiles (MIRVs) saw an atmosphere of End Time tension among the aware public. This atmosphere also produced a new peace movement, summed up by the Greenham Common peace camp.

1979 Geraldine Monk, Long Wake; Geoff Ward, Comeuppance
1978-9 so-called “winter of discontent”, as low-paid workers try to defend themselves against inflation running at 20%.

1980-81 recession, including a “rationalisation” which leads to a prolonged phase of high unemployment. Loss of output was largely caused by Thatcherite policies on industry.

1980 Ian McMillan, The Changing Problem
1981 Nicki Jackowska, The House That Manda Built (Menard Press)
1982 first issue of Equofinality, edited by Rod Mengham and John Wilkinson. This is the first magazine to represent a younger generation of Cambridge poets. Includes Mengham, Wilkinson, Geoff Ward, Andrew Duncan, Barry MacSweeney, Out To Lunch. Issues follow in 1984, 1987, 1991 (?).
1982 Jeremy Reed, Bleecker Street. Although regarded as a classic, this also represents an Underground poet migrating into the “official” world, along with John Ash’s The Goodbyes. The project of bringing the Establishment to its knees by a “culture strike” was evaporating. The constitution of the “alternative world” was being reformed.

1982 Start of the Allardyce, Barnett republication programme with Prynne’s (collected) Poems.
Early 1980s, development of the Informationist group. Dundee Doldrums published (in a magazine). in December 1982, Militant Tendency became a “proscribed” organisation, not compatible with being a member of the Labour Party. It is easy to exaggerate the 5% swing to Thatcher in the 1979 election, after all there was a symmetrical swing to the Left among people horrified or disgusted by Thatcherism. Militant, named after a newspaper, was a Trotskyite group which had practised “entryism” in the Labour Party. The spectre was of “deselection” of right-wing Labour MPs by left-dominated party membership associations. Militant became larger after becoming a public and separate movement. Did any poets sympathise with Militant? probably not, but most Alternative poets wanted to redirect the Labour movement towards the Left. The militant (military?) atmosphere prevented a liberated lifestyle and tended to squeeze ambiguity and aesthetic appeal out of poetry.
1982 Paul Brown, Masker; John Hartley Williams, Hidden Identities; Keith Jafrate, Finding Space.

1983 Hartley Williams’ victory in the 1983 Arvon-Sotheby prize, with a long poem called “Ephraim Destiny’s Perfectly Utter Darkness”, was a straw in the wind: the establishment was willing to accept something new, something not totally rooted in the 1950s, as long as it wasn’t left-wing in any way. Ludic becomes the new wave of innovation. The word post-modern is heard in the land.
In Cardiff, the poetry performance group Cabaret 246 is named / formed at the Writing Workshop, an extension of Torrance’s class (in room 246). The idea of writing about landscape and history derives from the moment of The English Intelligencer in 1966 (which Torrance had taken part in) and becomes significant for Graham Hartill and Elisabeth Bletsoe.
1984 Gavin Selerie, Azimuth; (Olsonian long poem in progress since 1975)
1985 Kelvin Corcoran, Robin Hood in the Dark Ages; Maggie O’Sullivan, A Natural History in 3 Incomplete Parts; Denise Riley, Dry Air; Pete Hoida, Literary breakfast; Stephen Oldfield,Confusion poems; Andrew Jordan, Ancestral deaths
1986 first and only issue of constant red/ mingled damask (Cambridge, ed. Nigel Wheale). Includes Peter Riley, Grace Lake, Kelvin Corcoran, John Wilkinson, Peter Middleton, Wendy Mulford, John Welch, Ian Patterson, Nigel Wheale, Steve Holland. D.S. Marriott, Hours into Seasons. Maggie O'Sullivan, From the Handbook of That & Furriery, Divisions of Labour; Kelvin Corcoran, The Red and Yellow Book

1987 A Various Art, anthology edited by Andrew Crozier and Tim Longville, puts an older group (essentially, those published by Ferry Press or Grosseteste Review in the period 1968-76) on the map. The phrase “Cambridge School” applies to most of these 17 poets. Maggie O'Sullivan, States of Emergency. D.S. Marriott, Hours Into Seasons; Graham Hartill, Bronzes Ian McMillan, Selected Poems Frances Presley, The sex of art : selected poems and prose, 1973-1986

October 1987 Stock Exchange panic of Black Monday

1987-8? Archeus, circulated only as photocopies, edited by DS Marriott. Project is to exhibit new Alternative poetry and to explore themes developed by JH Prynne.

1988 publication of the Paladin the new british poetry, supervised by Iain Sinclair. 84 poets. One section covers “some [22] younger poets”, including some new poets of the Eighties. The book has two sections of poets who are sociologically selected but not formally interesting, and two of poets who are formally interesting but less decked out in victimhood. A series of Paladin books follows which puts Underground poets of an older generation into the High Street. Under the brand “Re/Active” (related to “reactivate“?), volumes come out with Sisson/Davie/ Crozier, Fisher/ Catling/ Griffiths, and MacSweeney/ Torrance/ Thomas A. Clarke. This is how the original Underground became visible to a new audience. Maggie O'Sullivan, Unofficial Word; Kelvin Corcoran, Qiryat Sepher; Adrian Clarke, Shadow Sector; Keith Jafrate, Jump
1989 Kelvin Corcoran, TCL; Caroline Bergvall, An oblique view of a room in movement; D. S. Marriott, schadenfreude; launch of First Offense magazine
1990 (November) resignation of Thatcher as PM following an internal challenge by Conservative MPs. Replaced by John Major, who does not however row back on Thatcherite policies. launch of Fragmente, edited by Andrew Lawson and Anthony Mellors, in Oxford. Preoccupied with commenting on the Cambridge School. Sharawaggi, volume of poems by Robert Crawford and W.N. Herbert. Informationist Group also includes Richard Price and David Kinloch. Robert Sheppard, Daylight Robbery;

1990-1 Recession after problems maintaining sterling at parity in the ERM. The housing boom halts and the phrase “negative equity” becomes common.

Parataxis began in 1991. Edited by Drew Milne and Simon Jarvis. Preoccupied with commenting on the Cambridge School and trying to join it. Angel Exhaust re-launched in 1991. Edited by Adrian Clarke and Andrew Duncan. Initial plan is to give an outlet to new London poetry, replaced during discussions with the project of joining Cambridge and London avant-gardes in one magazine. Relaunch issue (8) publishes almost entirely poets who had been “on scene” in the 1970s. Issue 9, 1992, is ‘Tyranny and Mutation’ with an anthology of 36 new Underground poets, and starts a policy of seeking out new poets. The line-up includes Vittoria Vaughan, Nicholas Johnson, Michael Ayres, John Goodby, and Andrew Lawson. Most of the poets are quite unaware of most of the others.
This period sees the advent of personal computers, desk-top publishing, and computer printers, technological breakthroughs which change the look of Underground publishing – no longer distinctively tatty, austere, snarled-up, and hand-made.
1990-1 collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.
1991. Floating Capital, edited Clarke and Sheppard. Represents the London avant-garde of the 1980s. First (annual) Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry, invented by Chris Milton. Revives the idea of a public event where the Underground poets can meet. Early Conferences include forums where people try to argue poetological issues through. (planning from August 1990 and probably earlier)
Cut Memories and False Commands (Andrew Duncan), Spectral Investment (Adrian Clarke) published– representing the 80s generation of the Underground breaking into print. Ian Duhig, The Bradford Count; W.N. Herbert, Dundee Doldrums; D. S. Marriott, Clouds and Forges; Andrew Lawson, Human Capital.
Conservatives win a General Election despite widespread predictions of the opposite. Their weakening position is a sign that the New Right wave has broken, not however that it will win no new victories.

launch of Equipage series, rising eventually to 120 titles, all from the Alternative sector.
(possibly) start of magazine 10th Muse. The Paladin poetry series, which is not selling enough, is closed down. Geraldine Monk, The Sway of Precious Demons, selected poems. D.S. Marriott, Lative

1993 Elisabeth Bletsoe, The Regardians. Ten British Poets, edited by Paul Green, identifies the Eighties underground. Includes Peter Larkin, Gavin Selerie, Nigel Wheale, Rod Mengham, Andrew Duncan, Michael Ayres, Paul King, Nicholas Johnson, D.S. Marriott, and Ian Taylor. Nicki Jackowska, News from the Brighton Front. Maggie O'Sullivan, In the House of the Shaman; Graham Hartill, Ruan Ji's Island (and) Tu Fu in the Cities. Caroline Bergvall, Strange Passage; Robert Sheppard, Flashlight Sonata; Frances Presley, Climbing through Fire. Launch of Terrible Work magazine, in Plymouth.

winter 1993/94. Odyssey’s special issue of poets in their twenties. Includes Vittoria Vaughan and Steve Harris.
1994 Nigel Wheale, Phrasing the Light; Tony Lopez, Stress Management; Kelvin Corcoran, Lyric Lyric; Michael Ayres, Poems 1987-92; Simon Smith, Night Shift; Elisabeth Bletsoe, Portraits of the Artist’s Sister
survey of poetry publishing by Arts Council researchers reveals some 1400 volumes a year coming out. This is almost double the figure in the 1970s – a strong sign that the “poetry winter” is going to come to an end. Closing date for new poets in this anthology.
Launch of New Gen marketing initiative which promotes 20 poets (who have, essentially, developed their art during the 1980s). The gates are wider, due to a breakdown of inhibitions among the cultural managers. Redefines the difference between Alternative and mainstream. Hit list includes Jamie McKendrick, Moniza Alvi, Robert Crawford, David Dabydeen, Ian Duhig, W.N. Herbert, Pauline Stainer.

1995 Kevin Nolan, Alar. Niall Quinn, Nick Macias, and Nic Laight, However Introduced to the Soles; Tim Atkins, Folklore 1-25; Michael Haslam, A Whole Bauble; Grace Lake, Bernache nonnette

1996. Bizarre Crimes of the Future, second Angel Exhaust anthology of new Underground poets. It includes Paul Holman, Mas Abe, David Rees, Steve Harris, Simon Smith, Niall Quinn, D.S. Marriott, Robert Smith, Andrew Jordan. Dan Lane, Stuff Culture. Dan Lane, Wrecks in Ultrasound. [dates approximate]
Conductors of Chaos, edited by Ian Sinclair, anthology collecting 36 Underground poets all the way from the 1960s on. Recognises a younger generation. Vittoria Vaughan, The Mummery Preserver. Robert Hampson, Seaport; Rod Mengham, Unsung: New and Selected Poems; Tony Lopez, False Memory; Gavin Selerie, Roxy; Kelvin Corcoran, Melanie's Book
1997 General Election in which the Labour Party win resoundingly and form a new government. End of 18 years of Conservative rule. David Rees, The London. Tony Lopez, False Memory. Tilla Brading, Possibility of inferno
1998 John Goodby, A Birmingham Yank.  Out of Everywhere, anthology, edited Maggie O'Sullivan (mainly North American but does include some British women poets from the “alternative” sector). Geoff Ward, Rainer Maria Rilke. duino elegies (this is not actually a translation!). Andy Jordan, The Mute Bride. Elisabeth Bletsoe, Landscape from a Dream. Selected Works (on-line only). Adrian Clarke, Millennial Shades & Three Papers. Paul Green, Communicator. Harry Gilonis/ Tony Baker, From Far Away.
2000 David Greenslade, Each Broken Object
2001 Andrew Duncan, Anxiety Before Entering a Room. Selected poems 1977-99. Excommunicated, Paul Green number of écorché. Simon Smith, Fifteen Exits. Circa 2002 exploration of digital technology by Salt Publications and Shearsman Books wipes out the visible difference between “High Street” books and “underground” ones; use of POD methods make it possible for them to publish hundreds of titles. Salt publish more than 200 titles of British poetry before moving out of the field around 2013.
2003 Ian Patterson, Time to Get Here, selected poems 1969-2002. Michael Ayres, a.m. Elizabeth James and others, renga
2004 Val Pancucci, 80 Skins and 75 Eggs. Keith Jafrate, Songs for Eurydice.
2005 Graham Hartill, Cennnau’s Bell. Poems 1980-2001.

The chronology above was compiled originally (in 2020) to support investigation of claims about the history of poets born circa 1950-63, primarily the claim that there was a cultural winter in the 1980s and so younger alternative poets found it hard to get published, while the scene focussed its energies on poets who had already emerged before 1980 (in a warmer cultural climate). This discussion has not taken place. Evidently most of the poets in our anthology were still invisible, or published in quite a marginal way, in 1990. However, it has not yet proved possible to set up a norm by which the period could be measured as a cultural winter. Measuring the extent of polarisation (and the implied marginalisation of alternative and politically vocal poets) has also proved difficult. The initial hypothesis was of a cluster of poets waiting until nearly 40 to get a book out. This is a fairly clear signal in the data. The chronology stops in 1994 because it was there to shed light on this hypothesis. If we extended the time frame, what we would see is people producing very serious amounts of work after 40 (and at least up to 70). The blocks disappeared and people published a lot, more than we could read while preparing the anthology. In fact another idea is possible, namely that the audience also was affected by this delay, and we are possibly speaking of a generation which never found its poets. Surely you are susceptible to poetry in your twenties?


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  2. You point out the importance of electronic technologies on production and (eventually) distribution; I have raised a point elsewhere about the impact of networked communications on poetry worlds; but there were also - I suggest? - huge effects of the internet itself on the production of poetry. (I mean in general, aside from the discrete field of 'electronic poetry'.) One might hazard the notion that your subject cohort, born c1950-1963, were just ripe for their mid-life crisis when the World Wide Web became widely accessible, mid-late 90s. It would be interesting to hear what others have to say about this. Here's a rather summary and somewhat negative view: ('Poetry should come from personal inspiration, not from an internet search engine.' Discuss ...)

  3. Just a detail, re 1977 and 'designers': while the disparagement of celebrity designers may be a propos, this ought not discredit the whole concept of 'design', something actively contested in the period. Pace Eric Mottram's 'Towards Design in Poetry' (1977). It was possible to assert the potential of design for social and aesthetic critique; Mottram used the concept to differentiate (and evaluate) types of poetic production. John Chris Jones, a crossover figure between design and writing/performance, might also be cited. (Can someone say whether David Chaloner had thoughts on the subject?) So, don't let's deprecate 'design' per se. As the means of (small press) production came into poets' hands, their publications, and surely in some respects their actual writing, began to manifest intentional design, to some degree?
    Just to roll a ball ... Elizabeth James


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