Bulletin (March 2021)
we have frozen the length (to reach a cover price agreed with the publisher) and are getting closer to the end. A few elements are outstanding. The contents may have to get cut again if the typesetting affects the page count we have set up. We are trying to collect Plaudits to adorn the back cover, without sending out masses of copies of the text, which would make it too freely available.

Rumours have reached us that a rival anthology, Custodial Ragwort, has been set up to include the poets we left out. Edited by Norval Osbick and Fifi Blunkett-Adorno. Naturally they claim that they were first, and we are a splinter group of poets excluded from ‘Ragwort’. Yet a third breakaway/eject anthology, Treuhand Arcade, has been announced, to include little-known poets of the conservative wing.

Analysis of Harry's statements [see previous post] shows him listing a whole generation of poets, as the horizon visible from Strongpoint Gilonis. Of our 25 poets, he mentions only two (three if you include himself). The conclusion is that we don't have a generation, but rather a landscape in which most points are invisible from most others. So this is actually a pioneering collection. Setting up generalisations cannot work, because of this lack of a shared cultural or linguistic space - no point fighting over the detailed criticisms which Harry makes.

In 'Edge of Necessary', Davies and Goodby collected 45 Welsh poets of the Underground, from the period 1966 to 2018. If we take the population of England as being 16 times larger than the Welsh population, that would equate to 720 underground poets from England. This is a stimulus to thought, not a measurement. Quite probably we could compile a spreadsheet with 720 names in it - the quality of the individual talents might be rather low. But certainly, anthologising the Underground in Britain is a puzzling task. The first step must be to limit the area you are looking at - to gain clarity. So we did well with "Arcadian Rustbelt" to set up a frame and look at nothing outside that frame. Having slowed down, and collected lots of information, generalisations are still evasive.

Harry’s list of poets he was aware of in the Eighties allows a neat determination of the question of a unity of the “alternative”. Since he only mentions 2 of 24 names in our anthology (excluding himself!), this is a basis for thinking that the Alternative consisted either of small groups, or even individuals, who were unaware of each other. 25 names fall naturally into 13 detached groups. The basis for fragmentation is simple and economic, “alternative” means poets who were never mentioned in national magazines, who were only reviewed in little magazines, who were generally published in cheap and flimsy formats which bookshops would not stock. To be harsh about it, people who said “no” to the mainstream were likely to say “no” to each other.

I am interested by this claim that you have to read Koef Nielsen to get with the milieu or the scene. “These folk, who fall through even anthologists hands, are to my mind crucial to understanding a scene or milieu.” I think this is guilt-tripping. The basis is that H knows everybody else has never heard of Koef Nielsen. More, Nielsen published pamphlets in the Seventies (and did not debut in the Eighties) and seems to have stopped in the early Eighties. I have never seen any of his poems. I think there is a problem with the idea that Alternative poetry is a “milieu”. To clarify, the word comes from early 19th C France and describes the social connection of an individual, which explains their opinions. So you say someone comes from a Bonapartist milieu, a monarchist milieu, a republican milieu, etc. It describes salons – it is basically a room full of people talking to each other. Your milieu is what you HAVE had contact with. The idea that your milieu involves poets you have never heard of is perverse. It only works as guilt tripping. The question we are still asking is “do the Alternative poets of the period (1980 to 1995) belong to a single artistic milieu or is there a scatter of poets who said no to the mainstream poetry scene and mostly didn’t locate other poets who said No?”.
The word “scene” also repays analysis. It means “stage”, so something visible. Something invisible can’t be a scene. This is just a perverse claim. I am doubtful that reading Koef Nielsen would shed light on the poetry of any of the 25 poets in ‘Arcadian Rustbelt’.
The anthology is not a collection of people who knew each other in the Eighties, a society which had meetings and left a paper trail. It is more a collection of individuals who found a way out of the paralysing conventions of the time and who had limited contact with other poets. It is worthwhile partly because it is an addition to cultural memory.
The first step for many poets who said "goodbye" to the conventional poetry world would be to write poetry without trying to get it published. If later on it did reach print, and cross the field of vision of our elite editors, that called for good luck. Throw six sixes to start, roughly.

It is good to have a list of obscure poets from Harry – Stephen Oldfield, etc. This raises the possibility that there are realms of lost Alternative poets. Of course, the anthology is full and it is too late now to add any more poems. The libraries are closed and research is almost impossible. If you add these lost poets, you surely get closer to the total of 720 “alternative” poets hypothesised above. You surely don’t need to read all of them to get what the “alternative” meant. Conversely, this whole discussion makes it ever less credible that we can put down significant generalisations about this raft of poets. This is liberating.


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