slowed metabolism?

Slowed metabolism?

The anthology relies on a claim that alternative poets emerging during the 1980s had difficulties and that the metabolism of the scene had slowed down to near-deathly rates. By coincidence, I have retrieved poetry titles from 1983 from the British Library, and I thought to excerpt from that list the “alternative” titles. Like this.

A bit brink green quartz-like / Tony Baker. Durham : Pig, 1983.
Testaments / Chris Bendon. Lampeter : Spectrum, 1983.
Throw out the life line, lay out the corse : poems 1965-1985 / Asa Benveniste. London : Anvil Press Poetry, 1983.
Sweet cicely / Richard Caddel. Durham : Taxvs, 1983.
The tulpa index : A stairway ; Half locked at ; The human gate / B. Catling. [Norwich] : St George Press, Norwich School of Art, c1983.
Twenty poems / Thomas A. Clark. Matlock Robertswood, Farley Hill, Matlock, Derbyshire : Grosseteste, 1983.
The hollow way. Thomas A Clark [Nailsworth] : Moschatel Press, 1983.

Gnomery / Simon Cutts. London : Coracle Press, 1983.
From the flow / Peter Dent. Durham : Taxvs, 1983.
Nightvision / George Evans. Durham : Pig, 1983.
Sweet Lucy / Paul Evans. Durham : Pig, 1983.

African boog / Allen Fisher. London : Ta'wil Books, 1983.
Banda. Allen Fisher, 1949- [London] : Spanner/Open Field, 1983.

Seven religious songs / Paul Green. Peterborough : Spectacular Diseases, 1983.

Lost and found : poems 1975-1982 / Harry Guest. London : Anvil Press Poetry, 1983.
The emperor of outer space / Harry Guest. Durham : Pig, 1983.

The book of coming forth in official secrecy / by Alan Halsey. [England?] : [A. Halsey?], [1983?]
Chant for a regional occasion : 2000 voices. Ian Hamilton Finlay [Dunsyre?] : Wild Hawthorn Press for the Committee of Public Safety, Little Sparta, [1983?]

Berlin return / John James. Matlock Robertswood, Farley Hill, Matlock, DE4 3LL : Grosseteste, 1983.
The half-year letters : an alphabet book / designed by Ronald King ; written by Roy Fisher. Guildford : Circle Press, 1983.
Seven elephants and one eye. Tim Longville Matlock : Grosseteste, 1983.
Burning brambles : selected poems, 1944-1979 / Roland Mathias. Llandysul : Gomer, 1983.
Intermediate spirit receiver / by Ulli McCarthy ; cover photo Roger Tebbutt. [S.l.] : Zunne Heft, [1983?]
Now it can be told / Ian McMillan. Manchester : Carcanet, 1983.
111 poems / Christopher Middleton.
Manchester : Carcanet New Press,1983.
Grafts / Edwin Morgan. Glasgow : Mariscat, 1983.

Address / by Eric Mottram. Eric Mottram [Gateshead] [86 Salcombe Gardens, Gateshead, Tyne & Wear NE9 6XZ] : Shadowcat, c1983.

In the elements free / Philip Pacey.
Newcastle upon Tyne : Galloping Dog Press, 1983.
The oval window / J.H. Prynne.
Cambridge c/o D.S. The Book Shop, 14 Peto Place, London NW1 4DT : [J.H. Prynne], 1983.
The secret ones / Jeremy Reed. [London] [22 Huntingdon Rd., N2 9DU] : [Enitharmon], 1983.
Radio times : poems 1977-1981 / Nick Totton. Matlock Robertswood, Farley Hill, Matlock, Derbyshire : Grosseteste, 1983.
Essay in articulation : found/sound text for performance / Stan Trevor. London : Writers Forum, [1983?]
A gathering of poems : 1950-1980 / Gael Turnbull. London : Anvil Press Poetry, 1983.
From the language of the heart. Gael Turnbull Glasgow : The Mariscat Press, 1983.

Not the hand itself. Geoff Ward, 1954- Windows, 1983.
The book of Noman / Mark Williams. Mark Williams, 1952- London : Nosuch, 1983.

Argument about boundaries is too complicated to engage in. However brilliant, Harry Guest is abidingly on the borderline (although Eric included him in the original “BPR” list). Mark Williams was heavily performance-oriented and the texts are not especially complex. I have not seen this McMillan book, although I suspect it is full of experimental elements as well as being of high quality.

Anyway, we were asking the question if the “alternative scene” was in an ice age in the 1980s, and this evidence hardly supports that. Only one of our poets features, Paul Green. The suggestion remains that the poets we are promoting did have difficulties in emerging during the Thatcher decade. The chronology on this site shows how few of them actually got a book out during the Eighties.

I have tagged titles I recognise, but it is always possible that radically original work is in the source list but not excerpted because I did not recognise it. I hope that is true, but I can’t really check this. Philip Pacey’s book is excellent and I must admit I only found out who he was in about 2018. Another question is about the energy of the scene as a whole. I recovered just under 600 titles by individual authors for 1983 – lower than some years in the late 1970s but much higher than the starting-point around 1970. So the overall level of activity is high, even if you can't also point to a steep gradient of ascent.
‘Intermediate spirit receiver’ was actually written by Allen Fisher but published under the name McCarthy as a gesture... of solidarity? of distaste for ownership, even of cultural goods? We are allowed to speculate.
Feelings of coldness and isolation in 1983 were real, I think, but probably related more to the political atmosphere than to the “core body temperature” of poetry itself. The media were enticed by neo-liberalism – more than the electorate, actually. Feelings of cold may have related more to a loss of warmth, embodied in a collective feeling, than to literal cold, for example the disappearance of an audience or of other “alternative” poets. The sense of loss, pessimism, the departure of a cherished future... you can’t quantify these things.


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