When did the counter-poetry start?

The current version of the Introduction is still the object of fierce debate among a few people being consulted. One issue is the start of people “dropping out” of the poetic mainstream. The text reads at present “This constricted focus is the reason why young poets left the mainstream and moved into an alternative world – why, in fact, they had been steadily walking out on this set-up since the late 1960s.” Of course the date around 1960 for the origin of the Underground is more traditional. A popular moment of transition is Roy Fisher’s City, coming out from Migrant Press in 1961. One comment:

“This must refer to an extension of the AR timeframe, as you say "had been...since" and it seems to me palpably the case that that behaviour goes back a lot further.  (Andrew would know about the Apocalypts better than I, but didn't, say, Keidrych Rhys opt out of the standard-model literary rat-race?  And some of the Angry Young People?  There were a few British Beats...  I think the date is at the most conservative estimate a lot earlier in the '60s; Raworth's mag. Outburst (1961-63) marks a new mood and suggests the existence of a new readership.” (HG)  
“This point about “where does the underground start” is fascinating and I don’t think it can be resolved quickly. One fix is :  

OLD This constricted focus is the reason why young poets left the mainstream and moved into an alternative world – why, in fact, they had been steadily walking out on this set-up since the late 1960s.

  NEW This constricted focus is the reason why young poets left the mainstream and moved into an alternative world – why, in fact, they had been steadily walking out on this set-up since the alternative began, so since 1965 or even earlier.  

My work {AD] on late 20th C poetry begins in 1960 because that was a fixed element from G√∂rtschacher (starting in 1959) and Mottram (starting in 1960). For this intro, I moved it to 1965 because I had long been aware that very little was published between 1960 and 1965. There was a Thing, even in 1960, involving Pete Brown and Michael Horovitz, and I was pretty keen to avoid any endorsement of that. The Beat influence... just say No.

  You are right to point to people dropping out at much earlier dates. I can't find a point where no-one was dropping out. The focal point for me is the expectation of someone (the reader?) that things were going to change. If you say that people have been dropping out continuously since 1860 then the process becomes completely flat, there is no prospect that the Centre itself would collapse and give way, cultural impact reduces to the sound of a leaf falling on a forest floor. The effect of choosing 1960 suggests an Instability which is of high importance and also of great relevance to our poets: the idea that the alternative would grow and take over.

   Anyway, the 1950s clearly had various poets not being published (I am not saying that Nicholas Moore, C Middleton, and EP Thompson were the only ones, just that I know who they were!) and there was no zero state from which a stratum of dropout poets departed in 1960, or 1965. People have fairly often taken Migrant and their publication of “City”, by Roy Fisher, as the Decisive Moment. However, not much followed from that; or, not immediately. I don’t think there were any single moments which were decisive. (I guess the student revolt of 1968 founded a lot of individual revolts… but 1968 must be the wrong date, in terms of poetic history.)

  I don’t want to get into this in a rather terse Intro, but I was very taken with EP Thompson’s 1950 poem “A place called choice” when Keery sent it to me last year (I think). If I were able to do an anthology of the BPR I would start with this. It is a great poem and wasn't even published in this country until 1986. Unbelievable. So in the 1950s there was at least one drop out of a high magnitude (and yes, he ran a little magazine, The New Reasoner, with lots of poetry. I have one issue. Logue, Beeching, Swingler – not names to sneeze at.)

I think “Songs” (1959) by Christopher Logue could be an alternative start-point to ‘City’. Or, Donald Allen’s famous anthology was possibly the most influential book. “Originally published: 29 May 1960” according to Wikipedia.”

So we have two problems: that very little happened for several years after ‘City’ and that the 1950s were not poetically blank but had people who had visibly dropped out and were following alternative artistic routes (even if barely published). Also, Martin Booth’s work on modern British poetry starts the new thing in 1964. Fulcrum are often cited along with Migrant as blasting open the door to a new era, but a check of the Poetry Library catalogue suggests that they started in 1965 (with books by Bunting and Hamilton Finlay). This is an argument which nobody is going to win. Of course the idea of dropping out became much more collective with the Summer of Love (967) and the mass student revolt of 1968. That is not a start point unless we bypass earlier poetic works by at least half a dozen poets.
For the poets emerging in the 1980s, it is clear that they were joining something which already existed (and that applies even if they had great difficulty getting published, hunting for loose resources which actually weren't there). However, that also means that they had to be accepted by other Alternative poets as alternative: the old ”I is modern but you isn’t” to and fro. This is less simple than just saying “to hell with Poetry Review”.

There is some confusion about City but evidently Migrant published one part in 1961 and another ("Then hallucinations: City II") in 1962. Other early Migrant titles were from Matthew Mead, Gael Turnbull, and Edwin Morgan ("Sovpoems"). Attention should be drawn to:

Latterday chrysalides
Hill, Hugh Creighton
Worcester : Migrant Press, 1961

A soundproof gesture: selected poems
Hill, Hugh Creighton
Malvern : Migrant Press, 1982

Creighton Hill had published his first book in 1928 and was probably a hangover from the first Modernist era. There are tantalising traces of his activity in the 1950s but in general he was someone else who was stuck on the outside (his phrase "soundproof gesture" probably refers to this). It is remarkable that Migrant found him, and the story of this contact would be interesting. In a bookseller catalogue I can see:
Some Propositions from the Universal Theorem
Hugh Creighton Hill
Published by The Heron Press, 1954

and Heron Press was a sort of proto-Migrant, on an even smaller scale. They published Vincent Ferrini. and there was a magazine called "Artisan". Maybe that one sentence of the Intro is fixed now?


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