Thursday, March 13, 2008

More Dispatches from the Poetry Wars

Tucked out of sight of the snipers, safe for now under my duvet, I continue my reading of Peter Barry's highly dangerous Poetry Wars: British Poetry of the 1970s and the Battle of Earls Court. See previous post for full briefing.

March 13th 2008. Late evening. Skim-reading through Chapter Nine: Taking a Long View. Bombing less heavy tonight. Discussing possible reasons for the marginalisation of experimental poetry both then and now, Peter Barry writes from the quieter trenches of retrospection (pp.183-4):

'Part of the explanation, then, must lie in the specific social formation of avant-garde poets, and to some extent (to return to a point raised earlier) it concerns their attitude to publication, which is often very complex and contradictory, as frequently with avant-garde groups. Some variety of self-publication, in fact, has long been the norm for innovatory writing - it isn't an accident that T.S. Eliot first published The Waste Land in a magazine he was editing himself, or that Virginia and Leonard Woolf ran the Hogarth Press. By definition, almost, the quality of something new will not easily be recognised by major publishers, who must cater for an existing set of public tastes. But these existing public tastes are precisely what an avant-garde despises or distrusts ...

... In Liquid City (Reaktion, 1999), Iain Sinclair, en route to visit Eric Mottram [experimental poet and 1970s editor of Poetry Review during the running battles between what Peter Barry terms 'radicals' and 'conservatives' - JH] with photographer Marc Atkins, explains to Atkins who Mottram is and what he represents:

The names don't mean anything to Atkins. This is deleted history - Allen Fisher, Bill Griffiths, Barry MacSweeney, the heroes of the 'British Poetry Revival' - have been expunged from the record. Poetry is back where it belongs: in exile. In the provinces, the bunkers of academe. In madhouses, clinics and fragile sinecures.'


For more on avant poetry versus the mainstream, here's a discussion of some antithetically opposed contemporary anthologies.


David M Lumsden said...

I've also just started reading Poetry Wars and agree that it's a page-turner for anyone who's ever been remotely connected with any poetry scene. I recently recalled the comment made by Morrison & Motion in the preface to their 1982 Penguin anthology that not much seemed to have been happening in England in the 60s and 70s. Peter Barry's book sets that particular record straight. I enjoyed your post and am glad to have stumbled across your blog.

Jane Holland said...

No relation to the poet Roddy Lumsden, I presume? (Unlikely, but I had to ask!)

Glad you enjoyed Raw Light. Poetry Wars is a little stunner of a book, isn't it?

Do come back occasionally or put me on your blogroll. I like to reach out and touch (even at the risk of being arrested).