Gilonis speaks

Below is a set of replies from Harry Gilonis to questions previously published on this website. The directive here is to find what the poets think so that the prose accompanying the anthology does not shock/ annoy them beyond a certain threshhold value. Obviously, if only 1 of 23 poets (excl. the editors) responds, we don't disengage a clear image. Not at all!

Do you have comments on the Intro?
I have not seen anything formally thusly designated, so, erm, NO.
I can comment on The Leisure Complex of Discontent which gesticulates towards such a thing...
poets emerging 1980-95
I would avoid the phrase ‘Poets on the Underground’, if I were you... The anthology, alas, appeared in 1999 from Wesleyan University Press: eds. Richard Caddel and Peter Quartermain, Other: British and Irish Poetry since 1970. It contains three of your victims, and five more who should be, i.m.h.o.. of course, a third of the book, the ‘70s crew, are irrelevant to your concerns; and there’s a bit (not much) dull box-ticking (Zephaniah, B., makes an unwelcome appearance). 

1. About finding a generation
Not so sure about the isolation thing. I went to Derbyshire, Durham, Northumberland to see Tony, Ric, Colin Simms. It wasn’t illegal (except during the ‘84 miners strike, of course). Post was dirt-cheap, books and mags ditto. Printing fairly cheap, especially, ahem, if there was an office photocopier. (I did a book every Frankfurt Book Fair for years...)  Or do you mean we were isolated from Don Paterson?  I would be inclined to thank a beneficent Providence, me. 
2. Opening a vista 
This will need care and attention, much talk of shared techniques, modes and types of publishing and distribution, etc., if you are not to risk falling into the sociology of a postulated collective personality. I think John Goodby is remarkably adroit at linking Zeitgeist to poetics (see his Irish study, and to a lesser extent the intro. to the Welsh book) but it would be terribly easy to fall into the quag of unsupportedgeneralisation.  ...
5. Composition 
The only melody you could get would be if we all acted in unison. Well, we aren’t the Poetry Review ‘New Generation’ (“and we’ve got nothing to say...!”), are we?  I think you should move beyond even the notion of harmony and think, instead, of how wonderful Iannis Xenakis’s Pithoprakta, for 46 solo strings and percussion, is: [copy this into the command line] (Do give it 4or 5 minutes!)
6, Documentation 
A wonderfully laudable notion; but almost none of your victims have left any theoretical material lying about. Adrian Clarke and Robert Sheppard, to excess; as you, ditto, if more literary history than literary theory. Caroline Bergvall has written on her more recent work which is nearer to performance art or installation art. The rest of us are sad slackers with nary a manifesto to our names.
7, Making something visible to a market 
This is a near-relation of Explaining Art to a Dead Hare. I’m not sure I want to be explained to a capitalist hypostatisation, so very much... and you must either define Underground or stop using it!
*** What themes do you think should be discussed in the documentation for an anthology like this one? 
That’s a bit woolly... surely either you’ll have categories you want made use of, or you propose to let us make a selection? Either way, the themes are in the mind of the gallant and attentive reader, if such (themes, or such readers) actually exist... I think you may not select themes to ground a pre-extant thesis, not honourably. 

What do you think the influence of neo-conservatism was on poetry?
I half-answered this earlier, inadvertently. I think it was ignored by most of Cambridge, who were mulling over the ethics of ‘harm’ rather than looking sideways too much (honourable exception here, Prynne, though the politics ain’t often openly said); and sharpened a more street radicalism down in Lunnon. But probably the most focussed political writing is Kelvin over in Cheltenham; or perhaps Alan Halsey pondering ‘change and exchange’ over on the Welsh border. There’s savagery in Caddel (“The decision was taken by committee” *) and ecopoetics galore in Simms. 

    * Ric introduced this poem once with the words “the word ‘committee’ never appears in my poetry without overtones of treachery and betrayal”.)
Was there a break when the New Right and Marxism both gave up?
“When did you stop beating your [non-binary life-partner]?”  I don’t recognise either term in the assertion as responding to a fact in my Lebenswelt; and am gobsmacked at the notion that the right have gone away. Look more closely at the daily paper!

How did you perceive the “living underground” when you were starting out as a poet?
Again, not a term I rush to embrace. If you mean the obviously great poets publishing under sub--par conditions, remember my background in avant-garde classical music and improv. I would anticipate the commanding heights of any aesthetic area (artform, publishing outlet, museum or gallery, major performance venue...) to be in the hands of the corrupt, the giftless, the swinish, and assorted types of cretin. I am usually not disappointed here. 

  How did you perceive your generation and was there a delay in finding it (or being found)?
haven’t really got a keen enough sense of My Generation as separable. As I outlined, I have a rough sense of my peers; but I would never have looked over the (much-missed) book table at Sub Voicive with any sort of date filter. I bought Allen Fisher or Bill Griffiths on sight, always, for example. And as to being found, well, in a mad sense it was all there in front of me as soon as I got to Sub Voicive; having got to know Ric (through Tony Baker) I knew a good range of folk’s work **. I listed Ric’s stable (or piggery?) earlier, though didn’t highlight some minor-but-fabulous poets: Robert Christian, Peter Hoida, Pete Laver, Koef Nielsen, Aidan Semmens. These folk, who fall through even anthologists hands, are to my mind crucial to understanding a scene or milieu.

 though this can be over-valorised; I have a complete run of Tony Baker’s astonishing magazine Figs, and on looking them over today I see Ralph Hawkins in issue 1. Young(er) and earnest(er), I had simply found his work  illisible. I simply could not even see it. However, I was able to see Anyhony Barnett, Caddel, Corcoran, Ken Edwards, Allen Fisher, Bill Griffiths, Alan Halsey, Grace Lake, Barry MacSweeney, Billy Mills, Mottram, Wendy Mulford, Tom Pickard, Scully, Seed, Simms, Chris Torrance and Catherine Walsh.  And those folk who slip through every net, like Andrew Lawson, or the fabulous Stephen Oldfield. 

Is there a relationship between poetic style and political critique?

But so completely imbricated into syntax, vocab., layout, mise-en-page, outlets, design sensibility, milieu, performance mode, etc., that to restrict it to subject-matter would be asinine. 

** Do you think there is a shared sense of stylistics in the Underground?
Mostly banally so. There might be a greater fondness for open field, disjunctiveness, parataxis, lack of fixed subject-position, etc. ( But those things might be what get you lumped into the underground... “Discuss!”)  I suspect you can come up with as many undergrounds as you decide to look for and find, down to the individual poets... (‘the coastline of Cornwall is as long as you want it to be’, said Benoit Mandelbrot...).

Is the Underground an organism?
I was going to say ‘No’ and leave it at that; but if you look at the preconditions for being called a living organism, they almost all fit: movement ( lower-case m there!); respiration *; sensitivity; growth; reproduction; nutrition and excretion.
* even this, the odd one out, arguably fits, given Olson on breath in ‘Projective Verse’...

  Who do you admire of your contemporaries?
As you’ll remember from my interview in Don’t Start Me Talking, I’m sceptical about the value of periodicities; and I’m not that clear who my contemporaries are. At one point in the early ‘90s the gamut of my poet-friends was Scott Thurston (aged 18) to Brian Coffey (aged 88).  Taking a span of five years either side of my date-of-birth (1956) I come up with Tony Baker*Kelvin  Corcoran;  *Randolph  Healy; Billy Mills; Maurice Scully.  A year or two too early, Richard Caddel, Alan Halsey, Elaine Randell, John Seed; a few years too late, Rob Mackenzie and Catherine Walsh. 
[an * asterisk shows exact contemporary; boldface a particular enthusiasm. There were of course others outside that date-span, like Colin Simms or Bill Griffiths, etc. ] That date-span seems about right conceptually; Ric Caddel was a friend, but not a coeval, unlike our mutual friend Tony Baker (although when I first got to know him circa ‘86 he’d got a lot done already). Although I would never have dreamt of thinking of Rob or Catherine as folk I mentored, they were evidently younger than me, and didn’t know people or groups or magazines or books that I took for granted. I would assume they saw me in the same position that I saw Ric. But this can all be over-thought; we were all friends. 

*** Whom would you like to see in the anthology (who isn’t there)?
Tony Baker ( especially for the work in his 1983 debut, a bit brink green quartz-like), Randolph Healy, Billy Mills, Maurice Scully and Catherine Walsh. It is sheer accident that most of these folk are Irish; a good number of my potential enthusiasms didn’t make their debut between 1980 and 1994. Arguably also John Cayley, most of whose work is not page-based; but the Indra’s Net book is remarkable. 

( By the by, Kevin Nolan’s first book seems to be 1997 , thus putting him outwith your stated remit...)  

*** Were there new themes in the poetry of the 1980s?
That’s far too big a question to be answered on the basis of my thinking about what my chums were up to! I would say that a response to Thatcher and neo-liberalism and a newer, bleaker world must leave its trace in the poetry (if it doesn’t, why bother?). There’s also the emergence from the aftermath of the Poetry Wars. I was not a veteran, and it took me several years before I even found out about them.  There was initially a retrenchment and a restock, then the ‘mimeo revolution’. Your timespan takes e.g. Pig Press from A4 centrefold stapling to perfect-bound trade paperbacks with glossy covers. That isn’t a theme in the poetry; but is crucial to its making and its reaching a readership.

Was there a winter of poetry during the 80s?
You know me and the dubiety of decades. The Poetry Wars I think left a brief hiatus in their wake (but note that A I have not checked this against e.g. date records on the Poetry Library’s online catalogue, and B that it ignores non-metropolitan and non-London activity **.) It seemed to me that there were just-about enough magazines and presses to cater for the product being produced. You could go (as I did) from magazine to pamphlet in a couple of years. ( I could probably have managed a Big Book earlier than I did; but for many years my output was project-based, often small-scale, and wanted a different model.) Ric Caddel once said to me that whenever a mag. or press closed, another started up. It wasn’t, I don’t think, true; but a publisher and a published person of long standing thought it was, so it cannot have been wildly implausible.) London had a falling-off all of its own when key personnel left the city: Allen Fisher, Ken Edwards, Bill Griffiths, Robert Sheppard.

** Pig were very active, and published a lot of poets not from the County Palatinate of Durham: Paul Buck, Kelvin Corcoran, Ken Edwards, Allen Fisher, Roy Fisher, Robert Hampson, Lee Harwood, Andrew Lawson, Tony Lopez, Ulli McCarthy, Billy Mills, Eric Mottram, Tom Raworth, John Riley, Peter Riley, Maurice Scully, Robert Sheppard, Iain Sinclair, Chris Torrance, Catherine Walsh. As well as Pete Laver, MacSweeney, Seed, Aidan Semmens and Simms from Northern realms. 

And now the Dubious Generalisations with Harry Gilonis' comments on them.

Generalisations about the Thatcher Era

(1) The central feature of the Eighties was anxiety as the New Right put through policies which entailed immiseration and insecurity for the largest part of the population, while their lack of any restraint threatened an ever accelerating level of exploitation and exclusion. There was a specific neo-conservative cultural pattern which, while it was hardly significant compared to the brute economic facts of de-industrialisation, was more scary because it was more intimate. 
It is surely more that there was no cultural policy. I remember, the morning after a Thatcherite Night of the Blunt Knives, a newly-appointed and freshly-doorstepped Minister of the Arts said breezily “I don’t know why they gave methis job; I’m a bit of a philistine, really”.

(2) It is rational to identify a generation defined as “debuts between 1980 and 1993” or “(roughly) between 1950 to 1963”. But there is no agreed story of the characteristics, of style or attitude, of this generation. Arguably, they did not connect with each other – and went off in different directions.
All true, and true of any assemblage of folk outside Kim Il Sung-era North Korea. We don’t all march to the same drama.

(3) While it might not be true that the editors of Poetry Review were literally libertarian capitalists, it was true that their dislike of political poetry and of technical experiment put into practice a dislike of political change and the progress theory of history. These things reflected the anti-marxism of their paymasters. The connection was made unconsciously – the disturbing ideas caused anxiety and so came to be defined as bad taste or aggression.

The Poetry Society was a ‘membership organisation’ (like the National Truss) and thus driven by its largely provincial, largely middle-aged, entirely fuddy-duddy members. (I used to maintain their membership list for some tears; I know whereof I speak). Given mostly non-Londoners, the chief ‘benefit’ thry got, apart from a warm glow, was the magazine. It thus had to give them what thry wanted; bland verse that wouldn’t frighten the hearses. Sometimes the editors were depressingly unimaginative (Peter Forbes), sometimes cheerfully part of an in-crowd that thought it was everybody (Mick Imlah); but I don’t think they had the imagination to conspire.  

(4) Non-compromise in style was a metaphor for saying no to the new Right culture. This was a response to community pressure rather than to simple indifference to classical values. Acts of artistic freedom were moments where symbolic rebellion became symbolic authority. It was half the kingdom. The authorising audience didn't want artists who fitted in. 
Probably all sound; but the risk of all-embracing generalisations should be faced down. There was a generalised focus on the city and its problems, fir example; but there was also what Harriet Tarlo dubbed ‘radical pastoral’.  And as for classical values, well, I was reading Horace all the while, as Bunting and Zukofsky had, and as Gavin and Alan and Colin and others were too. (For a while since everyone was reading Catullus; nowadays it’s Martial**). 
** I have a book of Martial translations ready-to-go. Laurie Duggan’s were recently reprinted, and there have been newer ones from Alan Halsey and others...  **
(5) Having scrapped hierarchy, you didn‘t abolish the belief in rank. You faced two sets of laws, the official one and the radical one. 
Too woolly for me 
(6) The cultural temperature went down in the 1980s and the newer generation of underground poets did not have as high a cultural profile as the one which thrived in the 1970s. Indeed, many people active in the 1970s no longer followed the development of poetry, and assumed that it had stopped.
Is this the collapse of a ‘review culture’?  Things were far better then than now (Nuttall, and later Potts and Bainbridge and sometimes Wheatley, perpetrated the odd review of the odd odd book in the Grauniad from time to time...).  I suspect the 70s books, often a lot prettier, got into bookshops more, which would have made ‘following’ things easier. 

(7) There was no basis for rejecting Thatcherism unless there was a notion of behavioural beauty and beautiful interaction against which to measure it and find it horrible. Art was not simply going to protect a symmetry by reproducing the bad experiences caused by Thatcherism, essentially owned by Thatcherism, in a condition hypnotised by its malign stare and demonstrating its power. 
Oh yes there was. There was ethics. The official politics of the era was sadistic and brutal. Space prohibits, but I can tell you the story of how charges for eye-tests were brought in, after it had been explained that there would be an increase in undiagnosed glaucoma, cancer, etc., which would damage productivity and increase medical and social security spending. That is to say, it was not an economy measure: the Honourable Members voted to spend money in order to give poor people cancer. 

(ethics = behavioural beauty)
(8) It may be that nobody born in the 1950s wrote new poems attached to the Movement idiom. Homberger says that Formalism (a metrical habit correlated with conservative literary values) was fading, and starting to seem incongruous, by 1962. (Art of the Real, pp. 86-90) So we are not looking at the original Cold War Christian academic conservatism as an option for poets finishing their first book around 1980. The mainstream of the time could be divided into perhaps ten separate groups. Several of these groups were in rapid evolution after 1970. Further, the gatekeepers were becoming more open-minded.
I’m sure there were plenty of refuseniks. I remember an entry to the National Poetry Competition called ‘Ballad of the Falklands’, which began “We sailed across the stormy seas / To bring the Argues to their knees”. 
Also our crew are technically more adroit; if those folk resist older formsits because they don’t have the chops. Put Allen Fisher, or Zukofsky, next to post-Movement, speech-derived loose iambics with occasional hints of half-rhyme, and those fucks just look shoddy. I remember Lawrence Upton got into a lot of trouble on some mainstream messageboard by just persevering, as only he could, with formal analysis of a Jo Shapcott verse. They couldn’t defend it, in their own terms, and were astonished that anyone would notice ita ineptitude. I took part, in my small way, in a similar attempt to call Carol Ann Duffy to account, when Laureate, for writing pure bilge: (For once, persevere with the ‘Comments’ feed...)

(9) There was some unnameable point at which the New Right wave broke. This was not a single moment, even if it was the most important moment in our lives, although the 1992 general election, in the United Kingdom, clearly marked the end of Tory hegemony (even if they were in power for another five years).

As far as I can see we’ve had economically illiterate neocons in power since 3 May 1979 (which ought to be your start-date, in truth). A bit of getting our grandchildren to pay for a new school roof under Blair has been very plainly followed by demolishing the school and selling the site to build luxury flats to be bought by overseas miney-launderers. There may have been some alterations in the stated public face of the ideology; but if you think back to all the guff about the scientific nature of monetarism (‘M3 will fall, proving our theory right’ — M3 triples — ‘M3 was never a firm indicator...’) it was always lipgloss on the piranha. 
The real disaster was the split in the left vote with the Gang of Four and what became the Lib Dems. We have nitwit centralism to thank for Thatcher; the coalition, and this pointlessly-imposed austerity; Johnson coming to power (and thus Brexit).

* (10) The Underground in the decade was 80 or 90% male. Explanations for this are still sought. When the Paladin new british poetry came out, there was a real incompatibility between the “feminist” section and the two “alternative” sections. One way of putting this is that the feminists of that wave were linguistically conventional in order to bring a didactic message to a wide audience. 
Third-world writers of the time said ‘we were denied a voice, now we need to find one’. To ask them to sacrifice a hard-won ‘subject-position’ on theoretical grounds is perhaps a bit steep...
There were great women writers in thus as in all eras - look at Out of Everywhere. (And pause to admire the myopia that left Catherine Walsh out of both instantiations of that book. There were pious mumblings the first time round; I’m not sure they bothered in Part 2.)

** (11) In this realm poets are normally judged by the quality of their critique. They release the sociological imagination and make us see what is really there, not just what is subjective and imaginary. 
Lets not get too caught up in the Content Delusion, Saint Eric said that the gold standard of the then-current ‘mainstream’ was that poetry was the decoration of a prior prose meaning’. We must not let ourselves get caught in that idiot snare. Maggie O’Sullivan’s critique is her poetry. A prose summary of it (and there are those poor saps who’ve tried it) is weaker and doesn’t do the same job.
* (12) The poetry of the time evolved under the pressure of audience expectations, mediated by the intense sensitivity of the poets to the grandiose and exacting schemes and predilections of the underground population. So it seems that we should start with the audience. 
The poetry develops from the Zeitgeist, the milieu of other poetries, quotidian circumstance, the intentions of poets and what the language wanted instead of those.

* (13) The new organs of power were too rapacious to leave art alone. Once you were in the same room with the neo-cons, they were going to strip away any moment of deviance. Someone had to create an autonomous space – one of complex fulfilment or total deviance, whichever. 
Culture was on the slide as a meaningful social event and being subsumed into ‘culture, digital and sport’. There wasn’t even repressive tolerance. We weren’t reviewed. Not just not reviewed in the mainstream rags, but at all. I had one review in the first 30 years of my writing ‘career’. One. 
* (14) We have the ALP Catalogue for 1991-2, and this has an Index of authors published by ALP members. It is 40 pages long. Analysis suggests that the ones who are “British and poets” total about 700. This may be an indicator of how many alternative poets were publishing in the 1980s. (This is not a robust figure. For example, we assume that only alternative publishers would find it useful to be ALP members. Also, micro-publishers may have put out “underground” material without being able to afford ALP membership.) (Also, Bloodaxe were in the ALP.)
I suspect the ALP wasn’t as robust by then as it had been in the 80s. You need to out in some time with Poetry Information and PALPI, with the ‘publications received’ columns at the back of the key journals. 
(PALPI was a publication of the ALP and Poetry Information stopped early in the 80s.)
* (15) Face to face interactions were important and this suggests that regional clusters were part of the cultural inventory. But abstract connections were also important, poems wrapped up in print. These weren’t any regions where every poet was “alternative”. The probability is that the “alternative” thing was distributed everywhere and bound by shared texts and values.
Entirely true; though I’d stress shared cameraderie. I didn’t want to write like Allen (and couldn’t), but I fiercely wanted him to. And so on and so on.  There was a lot more unity/unison in the grey felt horror of the Chatto list, and all the people I really, really didn’t want to write like. 


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