How to Keep Fresh

For almost seven years I traveled around the world with one suitcase. I had romantic notions that didn’t quite turn out romantic. Or sometimes they did. Now I am settling down in London. Waiting for the delivery of a used sofa that may not fit through the door. I have a big screen to type on and read from. I still don’t own a TV. I see the TV in the gym and it is unconvincing. Why would anyone want one?

Buddhism has helped a lot. Practical Buddhism. My goal in returning to London (one of them) was to see and acknowledge the new in everyday life. To centre myself with impermanence. From Smashing Time deals with that. I also realised that misery can feed on misery. Philip Whalen taught me how to have a light touch in my writing and in my life. Suffering is not wished away of course. It is often assumed that an artist/writer is consumed with pain and writes or paints or whathaveyou through that pain. But humour seems vital to me. In life and writing. Not forcing it but being able to see it everywhere. I think it was the poet Matthew Rohrer who said in an interview that humour and tragedy are equally important. I think quite a few poets forget the humour or assume it is part of the trivial world of so-called entertainment.

This seems especially apt in the divided world of contemporary British poetry. The so-called experimental (with some very notable exceptions like Tim Atkins, Peter Jaeger and Jeff Hilson) seems deadly serious in its use of theory/academic posturing and politics. But perhaps this is changing. In the so-called mainstream of British poetry they are stuck in the 19th century. Like a contemporary painter painting landscapes from the 19th or 18th century. There is very little playfulness. Or if there is it is the posturing of writing for the “common reader” by writing flat and banal. But mostly the mainstream is an identity parade. The ego is front and centre. See Carol Ann Duffy etc. etc.  Flat and banal work can be interesting in the right hands. See Mike Topp etc. There are no shalt and shalt nots. This is all very problematic. Even as I dash this off there are a million holes. But these are general tendencies I have noticed in the last few years.  There is a British anthology coming soon (oh no not another one) with a lot of experimental/avant garde poets and some in-between poets. It’s coming out from one of the biggest mainstream publishers (Bloodaxe). I think it might actually be interesting. The poetry world on this tiny provincial island needs a really really good shake-up. Again. The two sides of poetry seemed locked into position and have produced some very very stale and predictable writing. Whether avant garde or mainstream. Again, as always, there are some stellar exceptions. SJ Fowler has shook things up with his European poets reading with British poets, his covers project, his Maintenant Camarade project of British poets collaborating with each other and a million other projects. Openned with Steve Willey and Alex Davies did some good groundwork for opening the field. I think there are many folks who see that experimental/avant garde practice can have a much larger audience (like music, theatre etc. etc.) but how to go about it? Community is one of those hot topics both here and in the U.S. Community practice(s). That’s perhaps the most important. But I think the experimental poetry scene in the U.K. could be freshened up a lot more by moving beyond the disjunctive/performative work of Keston Sutherland (a fine poet) or Prynne and Cambridge or the sound and concrete poetry from the 1970’s and Writer’s Forum etc.

See Tim Atkins and Jeff Hilson for the huge huge exception to all this. Perhaps the most original and interesting poets writing in the U.K. today. Well not just the U.K. I haven’t read anything like their poetry in the U.S. either.

So keeping fresh. Hm . . .

one things for sure . . it starts with reading beyond the very very narrow reading of typical experimental/avant garde British poetry.

There is a ton of great poetry to read. And of course there is all this daily living to do as well.

I am not sure how it was in the 1960’s and 1970’s here in the U.K. I have heard a lot about the poetry wars. It seems from looking at books published in those two decades there was quite a lot of activity. Linking up with some of the New American poets and so on.

The NY Schools of Poetry don’t seem to have made an impact here (again for the exception see Tim Atkins and Jeff Hilson). Why?

There are definite signs of life here though. Maybe Penned in the Margins could become something almost like Fence in the U.S.? Maybe.  And Department books and Knives Forks and Spoons have done some interesting books. Veer Books has a few interesting books (In the Assarts by Jeff Hilson and a new book by Richard Parker are by far the most interesting and original). Reality Street has a couple of interesting books from the last twenty years or so (Peter Jaeger’s Rapid Eye Movement and Jim Goar’s Seoul Bus Poems for example). Department Books also has a few good books out and is showing a lot of potential (see especially Jessica Pujol i Duran’s Now Worry).

But we need more. Much much more!!

In all honesty I don’t think there is any UK press that equals Fence, Ugly Ducking, Black Ocean, Wave, Adventures in Poetry (and maybe 100 or so more North American presses) in terms of expanding the possibilities for both poetry and living.Of course North America is a large large place and this is just a tiny island. But still . .  I think it is possible to have at least one or maybe two presses that really push what is possible in poetry!

I have a lot of hope. I have made some very very fine friends here. There are fab poets. I am part of a community of artists/poets. That community has made a huge huge difference.

Still waiting for the used sofa . . . it will be nice to have a comfy place to sit  . .. finally . . .

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