Saturday, May 05, 2007

So Much Everything

I bumped into the poet Steven Waling last week in the Cornerhouse and he had with him a new book which he's reviewed since on his blog. A handsome affair, "50 Heads" by Tony Trehy is a collection of pieces by the curator of Bury's Text Festival a couple of years ago. At the time he got some considerable press for complaining about how the poetry that is most recognised abroad is ignored at home. What always amuses me about the self-conscious avant garde is how they behave in EXACTLY the same way as they complain about, say, the more mainstream poetry scene. Despite the occasional fights over whether JH Prynne is more important than Carole Ann Duffy, what you see is a ghettoisation on both sides, with not a moment of crossover. Two Bald men fighting over a comb in other words, to nick Borges formulation on the Falklands War. Steven made the valid point that he liked going to avant garde events since it was rate for him not to be the most avant garde person in the room. It mirrors John Burnside's recent horror in Poetry Review at the disdain for American poetry he'd recently come across. For the common reader, and I consider myself one, (for God help someone who hasn't spent their whole life immersed in sub-genre of a particular clique), its clear there's no single anthology of either contemporary British or contemporary American poetry that tries to cover the waterfront. You might be able to dig out something like "Vanishing Points" on the experimental side of things, but we're well overdue a collection, say, of "English Poets born after 1965." Since that would include forty something's like myself in its age range, its likely a whole generation has been missed, or sidelined. Going back to Tony Trehy, I believe that you can only begin to give a value or otherwise to poetry like this, when you put it side by side with both its predecessors, and its opposites. Personally, an avant garde that doesn't engage, enrich or even fight with the mainstream is a self-intended failure, since its only acting within in its own "mainstream." A true avant garde would be rejected by those who have considered themselves avant garde for 30 years or more, as threatening to their little piece of land. That they guard it so carefully, and make it so hard for visitors, means it will eventually face the fate of the Shakers, compromised by the very purity of their beliefs. Just to add, that this isn't an attack on any particular writers, that I felt Trehy did a wonderful job with the Text festival, and that what I'm really asking for is that the diversity of poetry in this country - mainstream, experimental, performance, personal - needs to develop a common respect rather than being always either/or. A couple of nights later, I bumped into John Hall from Citizen 32, laden with the latest issue, complete with Lawrence Ferlinghetti poems in it. Having to get up at the crack of dawn for a 3 hour train journey on the Friday, meant that I couldn't come along to what sounded like a great line-up at the Briton's Protection on Thursday night, with George Wallace and Derry's the Poetry Chicks amongst others.

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