Fred Beake to Ric Caddell
Thankyou for your reply, which was interesting.
However two points before that.
I hope that you mean it as a joke, but just in case you don't, no, I am not
Douglas Clark. Indeed I could scarcely imagine two more different
personalities. I am I fear that Fred Beake, who has appeared in contexts as
different as Acumen, Stand and Five Towns Poetry Festival, is due in the
last Etruscan Reader next year, has published three books in the last six
years, and edited the Poet's Voice since 1982 (including incidentally in
the first issue a substantial retrospective of Bill Griffiths). I cannot
afford the Internet, which is why occasionally Douglas puts things out.
Secondly my piece, which Douglas asked my permission to circulate(I did
not suggest it), was written as part of a debate in Acumen. Tim Love had
written a piece contending that there is no logic to modern line division,
and it would be more sensible to go down the prose poem route of W.C.W.'s
Kora in Hell. My piece was written (partly at least ) in response to this,
and therefore to a very different context than the British Poets. It was
also written to a very tight number of words, which possibly made it more
didactic in tone than it might otherwise have done. However, equally, I
think there is a lot to be said for saying things briefly: if nothing else
it clarifies arguments.
However, your reply .I in fact agree with a good deal of what you say. Of
course sound and rhythm are inseperably connected, the whole point of
defining rhythm is to define the relationships between sounds, which give
color and emotion to a piece, but also body, when it is heard. Indeed when
pieces don't come together it is usually because the sound patterns don't
cohere throughout the piece (which incidentally is a view I was glad
Bunting had uttered, when I met his comments in 1968, but I had held as
long as I can remember). Of course some people today do it well. One has
only to think of Bill Griffiths' Star Fish Jail, Prynne's Wild Weasels
Returning, O'Sullivan's In the House of the Shaman, perhaps Harriet Tarlo's
Brancepath Beck or Nicholas Johnson's Haul Song. Nevertheless, your
implicit assumption that these matters can be dealt with only by instinct seems
to me to be misguided.
My own experience over thirty years is that constant thinking on form
produces very spontaneous poems that are naturally formful; but also with
pieces that are difficult to write, it is often the discovery of a form,
however unorthodox, that ennables them to be finished. I am not talking of
the imposition of alien rules, but organic self-generating form. Freedom
(so called) is not actually very natural. Nature builds up from very small
building blocks into larger structures. The acorn is itself the product of
much smaller patterns, and has within it the full and individual growth of
a particular oak. What is wrong with a poem going along similar lines?
There has been so much about language in recent years, that it has surely
tended to drown out, the basic rhythmic impulses that have always made
poetry previously, even when (as with Milton, Virgil, Homer, Shakespeare!)
there was a large linguistic element. Yet at Five Towns S.Maclean's
linguistic/rhythmic approach came over best, despite other fine performances..
In the sixteen years I have been an editor I have become increasingly
worried by the tendency of much British Poetry (Avante Garde and Main
Stream) to stop one degree short of its potential. This was not so in the
early seventies when you got poets as different as Griffiths in Cycles,
Harrison in the Loiners, Prynne in Brass, Purcell in the Holly Queen,
Montgomery in Circe, Heath Stubbs' Artorius, Boaden Thomas' Twelve Parts of
Derbyshire, David Jones Sleeping Lord (and several more), all performing at
a very high level. The equivalents today are less varied and less
interesting bye and large, or so it seems to me.
This is a generalisation, and no doubt as such will be immediately shrieked
at from the four corners of outraged poetry. Nevertheless I will stick with
it as a thesis. I think that very good varied period was the product of
people who had been brought up in formal poetry, even if some violently
reacted against it. What links say early Harrison with Prynne or Purcell?
Nothing a lot of people will say. I would say a deep respect for the color
and feelings that constitute a poem, a respect for discourse (even if
dada), a refusal to treat language as the main poetic being, good rhythm.
Today rhythm is being treated as a none entity, something that will take
care of itself. Your remarks are indeed a very good example of this.
Subject in poetry is regarded widely as a dubious matter, and abstraction
has gone very far. This leaves us with language, which to my mind in itself
is a dead idiom without the others. We need rhythm and/or subject back.
This is no more extreme a view than say John Adams very succesful return to
tonality, despite being evidently haunted by Schoenberg all his career.
You will probably find this not to your taste, but I hope you will read it
and perhaps reply. I think it is a worthwhile argument, worth continuing...