The demise of the print version of The Encyclopedia Brittanica after 244 years of publication is something of a milestone in publishing history. I enjoyed reading the old issues with their retrospective insights into a past world. The joy of seeing how things were perceived and understood fifty or sixty years ago is informative, fun and curiously satisfying. There is a sense of knowledge being marked in time and of young minds being introduced to the wider world in a relatively compact and concise form. The contemporary online equivalent Wikipedia is nowhere near as reliable. Some might argue that its provisional nature and status is a virtue. It is also much wider, more inclusive and open to anyone to write. It is easier to reach and despite its unreliability a potentially useful starting place. The problem is that it may not by its nature be able to move from potentially useful to an established epistemological position unlike those old dusty books. Wikipedia needs more reliable online competitors.
Monthly Archives: March 2012
Fifty years ago this year Penguin started their series of volumes each containing the work of three poets. Penguin Modern Poets was a startling and splendidly eclectic venture than ran to 27 volumes over the next thirteen years and it says something about the faith a publishing firm had in both its readership and the value of the poets published. In 1962 the first volume must have sounded a safe note with its choice of Lawrence Durrell, Elizabeth Jennings and R.S. Thomas but by the following year Christopher Middleton was there and the American West Coast scene was represented by generous selections from Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. To suggest a measure of the importance of the Penguin venture here it might be worth recalling that Andrew Crozier’s American supplement to Granta and Charles Tomlinson’s Black Mountain supplement to Ian Hamilton’s the Review did not appear until 1964. The series continued its highlighting of the Americans in 1967 with Penguin Modern Poets 9: Denise Levertov, Kenneth Rexroth and William Carlos Williams. Number 12 presented the punchy world of former San Quentin inmate William Wantling and in 1969 Charles Bukowski appeared alongside Philip Lamantia and Harold Norse. The series gave some context for the use of the word ‘Modern’ by re-issuing work by David Gascoyne, W.S. Graham (17), Adrian Stokes (23) and offering space to the more recent voices of Tom Raworth and Lee Harwood (19). It was a remarkable achievement and Geoff Ward’s comment in The Salt Companion to Lee Harwood is worth bearing in mind in terms of what it tells us about the poetry world of 1971: ‘Tom Raworth, packaged alongside John Ashbery and Harwood in volume 19 of the Penguin Modern Poets series, offers work that is broadly comparable at this early stage in its insistence on present tense actualities, rather than their ironised recovery by experience at a metrical remove.’
I might have mentioned before that we’re loving the Poetry Pairing series in the New York Times? Inevitably, Whitney Houston’s death has found its own poetry pairing.
The poem’s very affecting, right?
Robert Montgomery takes over billboards, signposts and the like to make social-cultural comments. On his website it says he “works in a poetic and melancholic post-situationist tradition.”
In the Keynes Library of Birkbeck College on Friday, 9 March there was a John James evening introduced by Carol Watts whose own recent volume When blue light falls 3 has just appeared from Oystercatcher. There were short talks given by Simon Perrill, Rod Mengham and John Hall all of whom had contributed to the Salt Companion to John James and these were followed by readings by both Simon and John himself. As John read from his two most recent publications, In Romsey Town (Equipage) and Cloud Breaking Sun (Oystercatcher) one became aware of that haunting quality of his poetry, that sense of ghosts lurking behind the scenes, and what John Hall has described as ‘quiet and tender acts in the departing shadow of the inevitably fugitive.’ This attractive venue had been used some eight weeks ago for the one-day Peter Riley conference and Carol Watts left us with the firm sense that there are going to be many more poetry events in the Keynes Library.
This looks interesting. But I’ve got to wonder why they are celebrating only the 1960s specifically. Especially with the word ‘modern’ attached to it all. I get that it’s probably connected to when Penguin got in on the poetry act but for someone who wasn’t alive in the 60s, this seems like a narrow timeframe. Then again, why not?
Should we remain sanguine in the face of pop stars, politicians, actors etc, etc, inveigling their way on to the poetry stage? Well, if we believe that poetry is everywhere then it stands to reason that everyone is poetry.
Still… Jarvis Cocker, a poet?