On Wed, 14 Jan 1998, Peter Riley wrote:
> If there's a 'need to ghettoise poetry' in this country, well, no one has
> done more ghettoising than the poets themselves. They have ghettoised each
> other and they have ghettoised themselves, endlessly and relentlessly. And
> the mid-to-late 1970s was when they started doing this in earnest. Before
> that there was some hope, I'd say, of establishing a real poetic presence
> in the public arena, there were people around capable of it, and there were
> inexperienced people who could have been helped into it if older figures
> had acted with wisdom.
- Hmm... well, I WAS young - and certainly inexperienced - at the time...
but I just don't remember it that way. I just don't recall in the 70s the
Thwaites and Fullers and Enrights (or their critical or publicational
cohorts) of this world exhibiting any kind of openness towards the
Raworths and Prynnes (to name but five). Nor, indeed, did I see any
prospect of dialogue between them, with the solitary exception of Davie
(who was fast becoming closed). Nor, after the crashes of the Fulcrum/Cape
Goliard set, did I see the least chance of a Raworth (for instance) having
a "real poetic presence in the public arena". It's quite possible I missed
it, being far from the centres of culture - but I'd really like to know,
Peter, wherein the hope of such presence was. What WAS the light that
Poets exist in little groups (or alone) - always have done, always will
do: that's nothing to do with decades. It's regrettable that few of them
are prepared to talk cross-boundaries (let's mention Anne Stevenson here
as one who significantly DOES talk and read across the range) - or is it
not so remarkable? Sometimes (hear the voice of the listowner) I'm amazed
that any of us talk to any of us, so preoccupied are we with our perfectly
justified concerns. For myself, I like to look up from the wordpit from
time to time and see what the other faceworkers are up to - but that
doesn't make me part of a group, and that's not why I do it. But this is
totally different to the closedness of the central organs of publishing in
this country, which is clear and demonstrable, and has been for some time.
Look at the way in which "Conductors of Chaos" had to get "marketed":
Wild! Whacky! DIFFERENT! And directly contrary - and rightly so, to my
mind - to those who Peter describes as:
" journalist-poets eager for success, and established their own kinds of
comparative easy poetry as the national product, henceforth thought of by
all the rest of the world as what british poetry is doing "
Whilst any definition's going to be imperfect and raggy at the edges, it's
not hard to come up with a working definition of hardcore "mainstream",
along the lines of : "that which is promoted by most cultural arbiters as
the succession of excellence in UK poetry" (please feel free to tinker
with this, I really don't mind). I first heard the term from a Newcastle
publisher (in the 70's actually), who said - not that I'd asked him - that
I wasn't mainstream, and that writing outside the mainstream was pure
wilfulness, and that no non-mainstream poetry could ever hope to achieve
recognition, other than as a momentary aberration... it was a formative
moment for me.
Again, Hmm. Nevertheless, there was some great stuff written during the
70s, and not all of it by signed-up members of any particular orthodoxy.
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