a capture from an interview with Michael Schmidt:

Carcanet did not exactly change direction in 1987 but when we took on the poetry of John Ashbery there was, as it were, a second direction running parallel to, and occasionally colliding with, the first. I became much more interested in experimental writing—not the kind that has its being wholly within the walls of universities and is the fruit of literary theory, but the kind that grew out of an experience of language at fruitful odds with convention and sometimes with itself—so there was the New York School, and some of the poets we already published began to loom larger for me—Christopher Middleton, Edwin Morgan. It was a wonderful time: I think writers like the great Irish poet Eavan Boland, whom we have published since 1987, felt more at home in this broadening list. I know I did, too: all sort of temptations could be succumbed to with a sense of righteousness rather than sin. This did not lessen my commitment to the original direction, which still seems to me crucial; but there was a sense that the whole choir was now singing its harmonies and dissonances. The main thing has been to try to avoid the merely academic, poetry hijacked by theory, just as in early years the tact was to avoid poetry that had been hijacked by fashion.

- how true is this?
tact - tactic? tack?  
This probably is a key moment in the history of the Eighties. Someone changes direction, more or less stops attacking the Alternative, and starts being a modest patron of the Alternative. This is so much more credible than a conservative being exposed, their politics catching up with them, and destroyed, which never happened. There was a phase when the broader audience for poetry did have an idea of an Alternative, but saw that entirely as being Ashbery. This was an end to hostility, but in practice it just made the local dissidents, who had nothing to do with Ashbery and that whole style of affluence and insouciance, even less visible than before. If you compile a list of what Poetry Review reviewed in the Eighties, they cover every Ashbery book – and that is just about all the ‘alternative’ publications they ever reviewed.
All the same the wave which brought Ashbery to the wider audience in Britain, published by Carcanet and reviewed consistently in Poetry Review, was hugely beneficial. It did open people's minds and it did prove that there was a Something beyond Simon Armitage and Tony Harrison. And, Carcanet really did change direction. They did a collected Edwin Morgan, for example. And they collaborated with Paladin on some significant English poets of the 1960s.
As for the British alternative of the 1980s... it's still a rumour.


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