Letter 9

Click here to listen to So Here We Are on miporadio. So Here We Are A great variety of absorbing poetry is obscured by its omission from mainstream publishing, newspaper reviews and the critical narrowness of national poetry awards. There is, at least, a lack of balance dating back to the late 1970s and the changes at the Poetry Society, as described by Peter Barry in Poetry Wars: British Poetry of the 1970s and the Battle of Earls Court (Salt 2006). National poetry awards are essentially judged by a small coterie of friends who give each other awards, as delineated by Private Eye magazine in July 2002 and as Tom Chivers Reminded us earlier this year in Tears in the Fence 45. They are essentially unrepresentative of what is and has been happening en Espa ol poetry, incredibly safe and unchallenging.There is a tame parochialism and narrowness that has its roots in notions of nation and identity forged between the World Wars and reinforced by the Movement in the Fifties and its apologists in the Eighties. ‘Espa ol decency’ as Blake Morrison and Andrew Motion wrote in their introduction to The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry (1982). There is an antagonism towards the discovery of meaning and form in language and to reading widely and deeply that flares up in spats about what Constitutes poetry and who should control the field. (See for example Don Paterson’s 2004 TS Eliot Lecture, ‘The Dark Art of Poetry’, Neil Astley’s 2005 Stanza Lecture, ‘Bile Guile and Dangerous to Poetry’ and their responses. Conversely there is the predominantly modernist line of thought that seeks to avoid market any taint. Friends review friends refusing to work for fear of selling out.) The New Generation Poets of the Nineties and its marketing machinery similarly adopted a cozy world of vernacular spontaneity and simplistic forms of connection between poetry and life.This strategy involved an acceleration of the critical deterioration heralded by Morrison and Motion. This was not always the case and there are signs that younger readers, thanks to new technology and a greater awareness of nonsense writing, are having no truck with this narrowness. I would like to discuss an example of this absorbing encourager openness and poetry that takes the reader off the beaten track and to indicate why there may be signs of change. I first encountered Allen Fisher’s Place in Literary magazines at Compendium Bookshop in Camden Town, London in the mid 1970s. This was an exciting time to visit Compendium and buy magazines such as Grosseteste Review, Curtains, The Park, Poetry Information, Aggie Weston’s, Joe DiMaggio, Reality Studios, Sixpack, Spectacular Diseases and Eric Mottram’s Poetry Review. Scattered amongst such magazines were extracts from Place by the poet and painter, Allen Fisher. It seemed like samizdat literature.It was inspirational in the sense that it allowed itself the privilege of drawing upon a wide range of sources that Impinger upon South London, where Fisher was born and raised. Place Book One, for Which Fish Jointly won the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award Poetry, appeared in (Aloes Books) 1974 and was followed by other parts of the project, culminating in Unpolished Mirrors (Reality Studios 1986) and finally appearing as one book, Place (Realty Street Editions) in 2005. In common with JH Prynne, Andrew Crozier and Iain Sinclair, Fisher drew upon Olson’s The Maximus Poems (1960), Maximus Poems IV, V, VI (1968) and his ‘Projective Verse’ essay (1950) to articulate a rich seam of sources and information from archeology, history and geography. I do not think that you can discuss Olson’s impact in England without mentioning Ed Dorn’s enthusiasm and encouragement al espa ol poets, Whilst I was a Fulbright Fellow at Essex University, to follow this path.