Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Tonight's Poetry Fun

It's the August episode of The Other Room tonight at the Old Abbey Inn. I'm hoping to attend, although I don't know this month's poets, that's often been the case and I've not yet been disappointed. A chance to see friends as well.

When I'm in London in a couple of weeks I'm hoping also to get to the ICA for Poor.Old.Tired.Horse - an exhibition of concrete poetry, which I was alerted to by George Szirtes blog. No surprise that a poetry scene that has such a visual element is being showcased at a gallery, but it highlights again how poetry (and literature in general), sometimes can only get attention by disguise. Our expensive galleries need shows to put on, of course; literature without its cathedrals, loses out. Can you imagine if the same efforts and energies had been put into promoting modern poetry as modern art over the last twenty years? It's why I was so dispirited by Belinda Webb's reductionist take on the preservation of literary houses, such as Gaskell's in Manchester. I'd rather we had a better way of preserving the physicality of literature, but given that "the nation" feels a need to preserve and promote that very British invention, the Opera, a little literary restoration hardly seems out of order. (To put it in perspective: Manchester has a population of 2.5 million people; only the parsonage at Haworth, just outside of this, comes to mind as a literary landmark.)

I'm reading Helen Carr's immense study of the imagists, "Verse Revolutionaries", and the "revolution" has yet to happen; so its the period detail of the connections and influences of this small group of writers, all outsiders in their own way, that is so fascinating. Flitting between the book, and the Library of America's Collected Ezra Pound, you see how slow and painful any revolution was. Pound in particular was wanting a literary career of the old kind, it was when he realised this was no more a possibility, that he moved to becoming an iconoclast. Returning to America in 1910, he finds no literarily convivial scene in New York, had he come back three years later, its beginning's would have been there.

Reading this, its hard to recall that literary (and artistic) revolution can happen in a few years, across a generation. There's been, if anything, a counter-revolution in poetry since the sixties at least, particularly in the UK. Yet, I feel that despite the same conservatism of taste of the majority of the tiny poetry establishment that reminds me of the Royal Academy fellows up in arms in BBC's "Desperate Romantics". Reading of the small runs of books that Pound and others were producing in the first decade of the last century shows how poetry never changes in certain aspects. Poets would meet together to read their work, and sell editions of 50, 100 or 200 through friends, contacts, subscriptions and occasionally shops.

What would an anthology of poetry from this first decade of the 21st century look like? More like the Georgians, than the imagists I think. Yet, after too many years when the canon has been closed to any experimentation, it seems clear to me that the small audience who are fanatical about poetry are looking beyond a narrow view of what poetry can be - and, in parallel at least - finally a frustration at the either/or of poetry for "page" or "stage". As The Other Room and other events show, even more esoteric poetry can be electrifying live, it doesn't rely on the tired tropes of "performance poetry."

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