I hope you realize that the chunk of material I quoted was from an
interview with Michael Donaghy. I should perhaps have made it clear why I
quoted the passage: it struck me as wildly tendentious and inaccurate in
its description of "other poetries", even those that might still wish to
use the term avant-garde. Not necessarily a symmetrical pair for Keston's
satiric ploy, but something along those lines: the "non-mainstream"
doesn't have a monopoly on caricature.
All these scare quotes. Ugh.
I don't share Donaghy's views.
As far as the term 'progressive' goes, I took him to be using it in a
fairly standard political sense--progressive as opposed to reactionary.
It's surely exceptionally difficult to claim--after modernism, after 'make
it new,'--that artistic innovation is tied to social progress. Even from
the perspective of the historical avant-garde (Dada, Surrealism), it's
very far from straightforward: the target of at least some of that work is
surely the bourgeois notion of progress--science, technology and
capitalism moving society towards ever greater enlightenment and freedom
(well, no, apparently it led straight to a century of war).
I suppose I see what you mean by your mention of BBC radio as in some
sense informed by (Reithian?) ideas of progress and education. Believe
me, from a US perspective that all sounds highly admirable and attractive,
even if I can't help finding much of Radio 3 and 4 lambent with the warm
tones of paternalism.
I haven't looked at that Foil anthology in ages. I'll see if I can dig it
out. I don't recall the intro. The rhetoric of "risk-taking" also, for
the record, gets an outing in the Don Paterson edited "New British Poetry"
anthology. It all gets to feel like the language of marketing, whoever
On 8/28/15 12:16 PM, "British & Irish poets on behalf of Tim Allen"
<[log in to unmask] on behalf of
[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>OK, where I agree with you is in the more elevated ideas of 'progress'
>etc that the avant-garde (and by this I mean those who did actually see
>themselves as being avant-garde and not just called it for lack of
>another name) often saddled themselves with. But the trouble is that this
>is mostly a historical thing - artists from the avant-garde art world,
>particularly in America from the 50's on, did equate what they were doing
>with progress - it was part of the zeitgeist. It might not have been
>particularly political but it was certainly cultural. It's as difficult
>to knock that as it is difficult to knock any other aspiration. The
>earlier European avant-gardes had of course been a lot more political,
>often seeing no real difference between artistic and political action,
>but yes, they saw it as being progress, and why not?. Even in the rather
>neutral and liberal minded field of English literature there is a notion
>that artistic activity is a promoter of human progress in general and
>personal progress for both producer and consumer. That idea has a long
>history, going back to Ruskin on to Leavis and on down to the common
>philosophy of something like Radios 3 and 4. It's been dented by
>post-modernism but not as much as anyone would notice.
>That's why it is not really an issue for me - personally speaking I don't
>know if any art is progress or not, including my own - it's just what
>happens. What does make it an issue - and this is where I agree with you
>and have clashed with certain folk on this list - is when one faction
>looks upon its own stuff as progress and the other faction's as retro, or
>whatever. This is why I strongly object to the idea, for example, that
>poetry made with electronic help is of more value than poetry written by
>a bloke with the back of an envelope and a pencil. I'm really interested
>in experiments and explorations and crossover stuff and love them for
>their freshness and excitement but I would never say that they are better
>than something else just because they are what they are - they might be
>So I don't really think that the idea of 'progress' is still a 'cherished
>illusion of the avant-garde'. I mentioned postmodernism above, that has
>had a noticeable impact and of course it contains the idea that
>progress/quality are scrambled concepts.
>Re conceptualism - I don't have any problem with it until it starts to
>talk big about itself, then I get cross. And of course a lot of it is
>just promotional talk anyway, but that's no different to any other area
>within capitalism, something trying to sell itself. I do remember being
>at a conference listening to (think it was Michael Palmer) talk and all
>kinds of words like 'revolutionary' and 'ground-breaking' and
>'progressive' and 'emancipating' were being used and it all sounded very
>exciting but then I realised that the only thing he was talking about was
>poetry. On a similar topic I once wrote a review of the Foil anthology
>(do you know it - Etruscan) where I praised the work in it but was
>critical of the editor's introduction with all its talk of risk-taking -
>however much I liked the work in in the book the writers weren't taking
>risks, they were writing poems - so yes I know exactly what you mean but
>for me it's not that important, more of an occasional irritant.
>PS - spent far too long on all this stuff today - I think I might ask
>myself for a divorce.
>On 27 Aug 2015, at 20:13, Jeremy F Green wrote:
>> I'd never heard of the poet Peter mentions, so I found my way to his
>> read a (frankly, rather trite) poem about football, failed to discover
>> Martians or Martianism, but did come across a passage from a Michael
>> Donaghy interview which suggests that there are all sorts of phantoms
>> floating around the putative divide. I don't find this any more helpful
>> than frustratingly vague accounts of a supposed 'mainstream':
>> "But look at those sexy words used all too frequently to describe
>> contemporary art and literature, 'experimental' and 'revolutionary'. The
>> first is a metaphor filched from science - experimental art doesn't
>> control group, doesn't collate and publish its findings. And
>> 'revolutionary' properly describes a brick thrown at a police cordon,
>> a poem in Parataxis. Among the most cherished illusions of the
>> is the idea that bourgeois art consoles, pleases and mollifies with
>> received notions of beauty, whereas avant-garde art shocks and
>> and doesn't seek to please. I'm always dismayed by this kind of
>> self-delusion. The audience for avant-garde art is a middle-class
>> that pays to be shocked, bored or insulted, much in the same way that
>> Mistress Wanda's clients pay to be horsewhipped. It's an audience that
>> knows what it wants and is comfortable with its rituals and cliches.
>> Whether it's a urinal on a pedestal in 1910 or a poem composed entirely
>> semi-colons in 1997 ('everything changes but the avant-garde', said
>> Auden), the audience expects to retreat from a direct and complex
>> experience of the craftsmanship, to ideas about art.
>> The most common of these ideas can be phrased as 'Justify your
>> reaction that this is not a work of art.' In other words, the burden of
>> proof is placed with the audience, where in former ages it belonged to
>> artist. Whatever the quality of your work, if it strikes the critical
>> powers-that-be as 'anti-poetic', it is de facto worth talking about.
>> I enjoy avant-garde work from Duchamp to Damien Hirst, to poets like
>> Coolidge, but let's not delude ourselves with the naive and sentimental
>> notion that such art is 'progressive'. I'm angry about that pretence.
>> Capitalism long ago defeated the avant-garde by accepting it as another
>> style. Yet artists continue to present themselves as an offence to the
>> establishment even as they accept fat cheques from the Saatchi Gallery
>> attend academic conferences on 'oppositional' poetries."
>> From www.benwilkinson.org
>> On 8/27/15 8:00 AM, "British & Irish poets on behalf of Peter Riley"
>> <[log in to unmask] on behalf of [log in to unmask]>
>>> Don't get the dreads, Tim, the dog may catch them. I wasn't expecting
>>> you to answer all those questions,, just to consider they may be more
>>> interesting than senses of usurpation (which I've knows myself quite
>>> well in my time and there is, somewhere, some kind of justification,
>>> or used to be). (The king supreme of the brand of resentment involved
>>> is Anthony Barnett). (Listening to a young poet called Ben Wilkinson
>>> recently I had to conclude that Martianism is not dead).
>>> On 27 Aug 2015, at 14:07, Tim Allen wrote:
>>> Good lord Jamie, too much for this lovely day. The bits I feel I can
>>> respond to I will in separate posts if I can (but it might be
>>> tomorrow), but some of below I just don't know enough about to be able
>>> to judge its relevance. Also had a reply from Peter where the prospect
>>> of trying to answer fills me with dread. Hi Peter. So patience. I'd
>>> love it if some folk out there could chip in and help but I think the
>>> list's ten million lurkers are all on holiday.