Further on Rustbelt

Further on Rustbelt (AD)
Few comments are coming in and people seem to prefer to discuss via email, which after all means that only one person is going to see it. I am going to display a few of these, anonymised.

It has been suggested that we include Michael Blackburn. I admit to not knowing who he is. We will be looking at his poetry, although the book is probably closed by now.
>>I missed the Paladin (1988). Remember buying a 2nd hand copy of Allen Fisher’s Stepping Out in somewhere like Bingley in 1992 or so and being utterly baffled. My epiphany came later, at the end of the 1990s. What you say elsewhere about the strain of containment in the Paladin is very true - there’s the black ghetto in there as well as the women's, and that’s what struck me most about it. <<
So, we talked about the 1988 ‘new british poetry’ as being a moment when the Underground was in the High Street, and so where there was, or could have been, an “official underground”. But, our informant (now in the Witness Protection programme) didn’t even see this book. We wondered whether missing the ‘orthodox serial line’ of the Underground was actually beneficial, and a reason why the poets in our anthology are so diverse.
Another witness was unhappy about the idea that the underground had dwindled, and was more like a trickle than a mighty river, in the 1980s. Ulp. If our poets are not under-exposed, the anthology is not such a great idea as we thought.
Following this line of cultural acts not being visible, we wondered if there were things going on in the North (for example) which we weren’t aware of, and if the rules were different in the North. So being anti-metropolitan and anti-Tory was a way of achieving dissidence and sometimes implied a detachment from legacy literary norms. But, this feeling could take on particular forms of rejecting abstract ideas, rejecting literary “height”, clinging to realism and mundane experiences, which were not conducive to exciting poetry and which don’t stand reviving 35 years on. Still, if you take on the concept of “small groups being invisible except close up”, all kinds of things could be lurking in the wetlands and the high wastes.

Another witness said from hiding:
>>You are right about the underground being invisible to a wider public. The verso of that is that hordes of people were finding the Mainstream stifling and unconvincing, so that it could be that 95% of the people writing interesting poetry in 1996 (say) had never heard of either Prynne or Mottram. So “underground legitimacy” ceases to be a significant concept. Yes, there were people who attended SubVoicive readings or hung out with the Cambridge commissars and read A Various Art. But most innovative people didn’t know that “legitimate” stuff even existed. So, a “decentralised underground”.
[…] SubVoicive was in a city where probably 10 million people were in travelling distance, and I used to turn up and see 20 people in the audience. On a good night. Conversely, you have “the new british poetry”, which sells 8000 copies or something, and this is part of the End of the Dry Period. >>

Every statement has someone who objects to it. If we followed every objection, the write-up would just be a pile of er’s.
>>The way I’d put it is that as a beginning poet in say 1982-3 myself there were just no models visible but the mainstream Poetry Review one. In other words, if you hadn’t had an earlier taste of 60s or 70s BPRevival, you would have found it very difficult to see, let alone find out about, the underground scene. I think this is what Cecil doesn’t get, perhaps. I was, admittedly, too incurious and too eager to ingratiate myself with the mainstream outlets; but I wasn’t stupid and I was well aware of even earlier exptl stuff (1920s-50s) and liked it, so I should have been prime material for a conversion. That this didn’t happen until the 1990s tells its own story. In the mid-1980s, ‘radical’ was Ken Smith - which is not to diss him, of course. On the other hand, weirdly, you could see flashes of exptl techniques in the early work of a Motion / Morrison stalwart like James Fenton (’The Shropshire Murders), which tended to be subsumed under the ‘postmodernist’ label.>>

Other people have wistfully remarked that if we moved the time limits out by a few years we could include another ten poets. Yes, there is no particular moment to end at. But if you have fewer poets you have more focus.
Just want to emphasise that people who made a debut before 1980 cannot be in this anthology & criticism about not including people who had books out in 1972 are Simply Irrelevant. Do try to read the framework before reacting.
One contributor wrote to us saying that Robert Hampson had demolished the idea of a generation. This is a bit problematic, given that we are producing a generational anthology. “This essay considers the use of the term ‘generations’ in the public discourse of poetry during the period 1960 to 2010.” It is part of a book edited by Wolfgang G√∂rtschacher and David Malcolm, costing hundreds if not thousands of euros, aimed at university libraries. Robert is sceptical about the media brouhaha around some marketing exercises using “generation” in their branding. This isn’t a threat to the validity of our book. The shared factor for the poets is being pushed out of the limelight by various cultural forces, so that the material in the book will be unfamiliar to most readers. This argrument remains convincing even if some “generations” of mostly dull and conventional poets turn out to be dull and conventional. He talks about “Oedipal struggles” whereby young poets theoretically are oppressed by their elders and fight to break out of their grip and find a new and unruined living space. He sees these as largely fake stories designed to exploit the boredom of readers with the existing cultural offer. The NewGens, he implies, are equipped to create boredom and frustration on a big scale, and the mainstream has rejected all the interesting innovations of the last 50 years in order to remain palatable to a conservative market. The Underground poets who emerged after 1980 did not, by all accounts, seek to destroy and erase the Underground that was flourishing in the 1970s.


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