If p then what?

Posted by Ken Edwards on Wednesday, December 9, 2009 Under: writing
I'm recovering from last night's reading in the desperate for love series curated by Alan Hay and friends at Komedia, Brighton. I had the pleasure of supporting Tom Raworth, one of the great presences in British poetry over the past few decades. He is a formidable performer as well as poet. I also enjoyed hearing the third poet on the night, Rowena Easton.

Equally amazing to me was the audience - young, engaged, and, unusually in my experience, about 90% unknown to me. I guess there were around 50 or more, packed into a small underground bar, many standing. This reinforced an impression I've been getting over the past couple of years about post-avant, innovative, call it what you will, poetry in this country, and the direction it's heading in.

On the one hand, this poetry is getting academic respectability, partly as a result of the professional coming-of-age of many practitioners who happen to be teachers, whether in English or Creative Writing departments. The Journal of British & Irish Innovative Poetry is one symptom of this.

But also, and more importantly for the future of the poetry, there has been a resurgence of grassroots activity: readings and small press publishing. Desperate for love and its fellow Brighton reading series, Chlorine, are examples. In London, there has been the Openned series at the Foundry, now discontinued but perhaps to revive in another form, joining the longer established Blue Bus and Xing the Line and bringing in new, younger audiences.

In Manchester, I see, the Other Room has  been engaging new audiences too. Its co-curator, James Davies, is also editor of a magazine of "experimental poetry", if p then q. The first two issues, which I haven't got, were issued in envelopes. The third came in the form of a set of full-colour posters.

The fourth, and current issue, is likely to cause apoplexy among some of the more austere adherents of post-avant poetry, but I love it. It really is a magazine. I mean, it's a miniature version of something you might buy at a railway station news stand. The cover is glossy. It shows Caroline Bervall, wearing a deeply cool jacket, in spreadeagled pose. The main cover line below this directs you to "Cash for Questions", a feature in which Caroline, whose bilingual Norwegian/English poem "Crop" is also included in this issue, is bombarded with "lifestyle" questions from poetry readers from around the UK, Ireland and Spain (and fields them expertly).

Allen Fisher, who is also represented by two poems with visuals, is subjected to a "60-second interview". You can view a YouTube version here. "Writer's Room" promises to be another lifestyle feature, but is actually a rather excellent poem, with a photograph of a truly dismal corridor, by Richard Makin. Lucy Harvest Clarke, a good new poet but scarcely a household name as yet, reveals "what's in [her] fridge". She has an extraordinarily well stocked fridge for a poet, and you even get a photo of it.

As well as all this, there's a generous selection of work by Ray DiPalma, one of the unsung heroes of Language Poetry, and poems by Charles Bernstein and many others.

As I have surmised above, some readers are not going to take kindly to this apparently disrespectful approach to the deeply serious business of innovative poetry. But amid the joyful parody of celebrity culture, I believe if p then q does make a serious point. If this poetry has a future, it has got to appeal to an intelligent young audience. And it has got to come back down and out of its own arse somewhat. (No disrespect intended towards my academic friends - OK?)

In : writing 

Tags: poetry 
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Ken Edwards This blog is written by Ken Edwards, co-founder and editor/publisher of Reality Street, and it's mainly about the press. Ken's personal blog can now be found at http://www.kenedwardsonline.co.uk