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BRITISH-IRISH-POETS  1998

BRITISH-IRISH-POETS 1998

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Subject:

From:

[log in to unmask] (Peter Riley)

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask] (Peter Riley)

Date:

Wed, 14 Jan 1998 20:11:02 +0000

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As I see it the answer to Ric's query about the 1970s and the answer to
Keston's about the cover of Barry MacSweeney's book are one and the same
answer.

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.

But no, we opted for little enclaves, small presses, little magazines, tiny
circuits feeding off themselves, closed markets. Such things had happened
before of course, especially in the 1940s, there were failures to contact
the public by very real poets which weren't their own faults and have
distorted the history. But in the 1970s people started REJOICING in this
failure and seeing it as a badge of superiority. And of course other people
leapt into the vacuum thus created, 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, an immense ignorance which is now so widespread it has
become impregnable.  It could have been quite different, but there were
various kinds of despisal of the public field around with many different
motivations, from high-catholic intellectuality to underdog resentment. The
results of this, which was at least in some quarters a perfectly conscious
decision, can be seen all round us now. It has produced a real lost
generation of poets.

But it wasn't just a decision as to what to do with the poetry. The wilful
alienation bit deep into the poetry itself, which became increasingly
solipsistic, intransigeant, and began to cultivate non-transfer as an
asset, which has now, of course, gone to extraordinary lengths. Almost as
if the poetry sought to justify its neglect by becoming wilfully
unreadable, thus doubly enforcing the neglect.  Meanwhile the readership
shrinks to "about one".

(I guess Ric's nervous trips to London in the 1970s were symptomatic of the
growing mistrust of difference and consequent cold-shouldering which went
on at that time, as little exclusive poetry-nests were established in
defiance of the world at large. That doesn't seem to have changed much
either.)

If you look at the essay by Andrew Duncan on MacSweeney which I referred to
(it"s in issue 7 of BLADE) you'll see a fairly acute analysis of how the
poetry itself is by no means free of the contradiction manifested on the
cover. BM is very much a 1970s poet -- he's thrashing around trying to find
some common ground between "poetry" and the life he actually leads, in a
context in which the gap between them is increasingly cultivated and
relished. It would drive anyone to drink. It has of course become
second-nature to glossy publishers to sell poetry by extra-poetical
association, but what else can you expect when poetry is thought of by most
of the poets as some undefined language-virtue floating around in a world
of its own, and people need some handle to bring it down to a known
reality? To me the 1970s is marked by the canonisation of that belief (can
you canonise a belief?)

It"s very impressive how BMcM transcends this condition in PEARL by leaning
on acutely meaningful emotion, and thus sharable emotion, even if at a
certain loss to the intellectual faculties.


Anyway, for me at least the 1970s laid the foundations of the mess we're
in. It"s not a problem for young poets, who were raised in this splintered
context and are able to make something of it; it's a lost hope which feeds
on those now in their 40s and 50s, including "mainstream" poets, breeding
pessimism, detachment, resentment and solipsistic yearnings.

By the way, I notice everyone's very cagey and quote-marks-ridden when
mentioning that concept, mainstream. I've only just joined this club. Has
anyone at any time furnished any proof that it actually exists, this
""mainstream""? I have severe doubts.

/PR









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