P O R E S   4
An Avant-Gardist Journal
of Poetics Research
T  o  n  y      L  o  p  e  z
title page

Tony Trehy
Questions of Ideology and Ideological Apparatus

Gallery of work from contributors to the Forum on Women Writers:
Elizabeth Jane Burnett
Marianne Morris
Susan Johanknechtarmour
Emmanuelle Waeckerle
Carol Watts

Alan Halsey
An Open Letter to Will Rower

Allen Fisher
Minimaus: in response...

Will Rowe
Invisible Power

Frances Presley
Piano Trio by Nicola le Fanu

Frances Presley
two flames

Frances Presley
Frances Van Goor

Philip Davenport
Vogue Divine

Bill Griffiths
In Audience

Ceri Buckmaster
Contemporary Poetics and the Re-inscription of Urban Subjectivities

Dell Olsen

What Can Be Done

I was just at a conference in Tuebingen, which included a series of performances / readings by Steve Benson, Michael Davidson, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Carla Harryman, myself, Lisa Robertson, Gail Scott, Lytle Shaw, Rodrigo Toscano, Barrett Watten and Marjorie Welish. It was a wonderful experience to take part in these events in Germany with an audience including locals, the participants, and really well informed postgraduate students from Germany and from USA. Every one of these performances was a presentation of fully-achieved work across a wide range including dialectical open-form poetry and fiction, many kinds of serial poems, staged readings of experimental drama, performance-generated text, politically engaged writings and (perhaps because of the location of the readings in Holderlin's tower) radical revisions of the Romantics and post-war theorists. The standard of work presented was amazingly high and it confirms for me that we really are living through the most extraordinarily productive period for English Language poetry. This was an academic conference with an integral and coherently planned programme of performances, which is certainly not the norm. Of course one could come up with other lists or groups of writers and performers that would have different strengths but the point is that such events do happen, on big and small budgets, all over.

The Poetry Summit in Cambridge last summer was a completely different kind of event but very successful at establishing an exchange for all kinds of new work and the theatre for the main readings was packed. I remember particularly enjoyable readings by Alan Halsey and Peter Manson, but all of it was interesting, well worth the travel and those dodgy college guest room experiences. There is a temporary sense of community of like interest at such events (watching Colin Still's documentary material on Robert Creeley was also a high spot for me) and it helps to make me feel hopeful, that something might after all be done. Each of these events is important in creating a sense of what is possible. So I'm very impressed that we have people like Barrett Watten and Sam Ladkin the principal instigators of these events. Should I really worry about Jeffery Wainright and his potboiler? Certainly the book described in Will Rowe's piece sounds a bit lame, but there are lots of dull books out there.

I think everything has changed since the poetry wars of the 70s. I think that the anthologies that were produced around the millennium: Sinclair's Conductors of Chaos, Caddel's & Quartermain's Other, Tuma's Twentieth-Century British & Irish Poetry, and more recently Mengham's & Kinsella's Vanishing Points, have changed the map for a long time to come. It's obvious that Salt publishing has completely outflanked the old order and affected the policy of the state-funded presses (imagine taxpayers subsidizing Carcanet and Bloodaxe through the eighties and nineties!) so that they now feel that they have to search a wider terrain and demonstrate something that looks more like cultural range. Imagine a collected Raworth published by Carcanet, Prynne from Bloodaxe: things have certainly changed. But the range of work published by Salt is already by now generally more interesting and lively than those presses and Shearsman is terrific too. It is so much easier than it used to be to get work published. The problem now is how to make any particular work stand out in the flood.

I thought it was very positive when David Herd and Robert Potts took over Poetry Review and I'm not surprised that there was a backlash. That the takeover happened at all is much more important than the reaction. The only way to proceed in my view is to occupy the institutions. I think that Alan Halsey is right to point out some differences between USA conditions and those that obtain here and I do agree with much of what he writes, but I would stress the need for cooperative action here, without I hope raising any grandiose expectations. He is (of course) getting on with it without making a fuss, publishing West House books and, together with Geraldine Monk and David Kennedy, running a reading series in Sheffield that is precisely the kind of action we need to happen. Well it's happening at least in Sheffield. In England we do still have a widely established individualistic view of culture, a sort of Romantic overhang, which causes our atomized condition.

The generation previous to mine of English poets despised criticism and wouldn't get involved. That was and is a real problem we haven't yet got over. It was somehow beneath them to publish on their contemporaries or their forerunners: whereas the most productive of the Language poets have created their own networks of exchange and their own reception. They seem to work harder. Look at Barrett Watten's editing of This and Poetics Journal, (with co-editors Grenier and Hejinian, respectively): steady production with a high regard for the audience and eventually major achievement. Language writers' brazen early appropriations of constructivism and what was then contemporary poststructuralist theory got much more sophisticated as some of them went through research degrees and (eventually) into tenured academic jobs. My sense is that most of them have gone into not Creative Writing but English Departments. They either mostly teach literature or exclusively teach literature classes: Lyn Hejinian, Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe are professors of English, Bob Perelman and Barrett Watten are associate professors of English, Michael Davidson is professor of Literature and Bruce Andrews is professor of Political Science. They (Americans) are not I think immune to hatred and envy of competitors but we seem to have it here in spades, as a much deeper condition which must be something to do with the inescapable sense of class that permeates our society. The view that it is somehow a bad thing for an artist to have a regular job or to get involved with professional life and that the writer should be clear of all this clutter does still have currency here. I was a professional writer for some years and have since been an academic for more years by now and I'm ashamed of that general English anti-intellectual, anti-academic state of affairs. It's an unexamined deeply reactionary position.

There is surely no cultural activity with less visible rewards than poetry, but the general sense of competitive outrage, the lack of community, the sheer incomprehension of anyone else in the poetry world in England, ought to be the textbook example of the Legitimation crisis in our time. Who are we to be recognised by and belong among if we accept no others? Novelists, as we know, are measured like footballers by the money paid in their advances, whereas for poets it is not so clear how they can feel that they have begun to arrive. It can seem that envy and hatred is all there is. I could not see a way forward in the UK and just gave up on it for a long time, publishing and giving readings in Canada and in America. That's where the requests come from in my experience, and where the events happen (it still is). It was a new experience therefore to receive a request for work from David Herd (that is from any properly printed English magazine with an editor who can spell) and even more unreal to have False Memory reviewed by Robert Potts in the Guardian and the TLS. I kept getting phone calls from friends asking if I'd seen the papers. You publish small press and mostly abroad it's a surprise to make the dailies. Now I think that False Memory is the only poetry book I've published that would be worth noticing in the press. I've been publishing since the early seventies.

Allen Fisher's response to this Pores call was to review new work by Dell Olsen that hasn't had much response, or not so much as it deserves to have. I applaud this approach, we need a lot more of it, we need to establish more thoroughly our own networks of reception. The work that Allen picked to write about seems very lively and interesting and also usefully connects with his own playful and mocking take on Olson in his epic poem Place. I couldn't attend the Poetry Buzz but I hear that it was a very successful event and I think it's great (unlikely, wonderful, important, a hopeful sign etc) that these big books of Allen Fisher's work came out all at once. It's likewise terrific that we can read the big books from Alan Halsey. Should I read the Wainwright? I suppose I have to read it now that Will Rowe has based his argument on it, but there are some other volumes, including Olsen, higher in the pile.