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Monthly Archives: December 2012

A Various Art

A Various Art

Twenty-five years ago Carcanet published an anthology of poems edited by Andrew Crozier and Tim Longville. Crozier had been, of course, the founder of Ferry Press and Longville, in close collaboration with both John Riley and Gordon Jackson, had been the founder of Grosseteste Press. The introduction to A Various Art opens assertively:


This anthology represents our joint view of what is most interesting, valuable, and distinguished in the work of a generation of English poets now entering its maturity, but it is not an anthology of English, let alone British poetry. We did not begin with this distinction in mind; indeed, had we done so it might have appeared that there were no operative criteria by which to proceed. We knew this was not the case. Why, then, make such a distinction, as though the work of English or British poets did not belong to the general category of their national poetry?


The poets included in this seminal anthology are central to the developing quality of poetry in this country and many of them are still writing and publishing. In the words of Iain Sinclair, from his introduction to another central anthology Conductors of Chaos, ‘If these things are difficult, they have earned that right. Why should they be easy? Why should they not reflect some measure of the complexity of the climate in which they exist? Why should we not be prepared to make an effort, to break sweat, in hope of high return? There’s no key, no Masonic password; take the sequences gently, a line at a time. Treat the page as a block, sound it for submerged sonar effects. Suspend conditioned reflexes.’

Sinclair’s point is that ‘if it comes too sweetly, somebody is trying to sell you something.’

The names in A Various Art: Anthony Barnett, David Chaloner, Andrew Crozier, Roy Fisher, Veronica Forrest-Thomson, John Hall, Ralph Hawkins, John James, Tim Longville, Douglas Oliver, Peter Philpott, J.H. Prynne, John Riley, Peter Riley, John Seed, Iain Sinclair, Nick Totton.

In the current issue of PN Review there is an account of David Caddy’s So Here We Are (Shearsman Press) and its concluding sentence makes a point that associates Caddy’s work with precisely the assertive statements informing the introduction to A Various Art:


‘Beneath the attractive guise of belles-lettres we are alerted to the timbre of dissident voices whose music will continue to be heard through the jamming signals put out by the official keepers of the canon.’


Happy New Year to our readers.



The Son of a Shoemaker

The Son of a Shoemaker

Linda Black’s new publication from Hearing Eye Press, The Son of a Shoemaker, has just arrived and I note that Robert Vas Dias has written the blurb for the back:


‘Make no mistake: this is poetry of the highest order. Black is without doubt one of Britain’s foremost experimental writers. These enchanting / enchanted short pieces, based on collaging or treating the text of a fictionalised biography of Hans Christian Andresen, slip in and out of conscious understanding without compromising that essential kernel of awareness and apperception which characterises the best poetry.’


Robert’s own Perdika Press volume, London Cityscape Sijo, is reviewed in the forthcoming issue 56 of Tears in the Fence and Linda Black’s new volume is being reviewed by Dzifa Benson for Tears 57.

New from Oystercatcher

New from Oystercatcher

Three very different books arrived on my desk within the past few days and all are worth serious attention.


Robert Rowland Smith’s On Modern Poetry, From Theory to Total Criticism, gives a serious account of how we engage with reading poetry. In the introduction he points to the difference between poetry and prose as being demonstrated by poetry’s camera-obscura genius not just for focusing on the tiny and projecting it on a larger screen, but for turning it upside down:


‘Where a prose narrative keeps going with the pinpricks—and then this, and then that—accounting for every line in the budget, the poem takes us inside its own endarkened shoebox cinema and shows us a little scene, some magic theatre, of luminous non-sense’


The concluding chapter in this book is titled ‘The case of J.H. Prynne’ and it provides a fascinating close reading of ‘A blow on the side of the mouth’, the last poem in the sequence Word Order which appeared in 1989 from Peter Larkin’s Prest Roots Press.


Two new Oystercatchers


The Liverpool-based poet Sarah Crewe and the London-based Richard Parker both have excellent new chapbooks out from Peter Hughes’s Oystercatcher Press and these can be obtained by going to the website


Ed Dorn Collected

Ed Dorn Collected

Two nights ago I was fortunate enough to go to the book launch for Carcanet’s new Collected Poems of Ed Dorn hosted at the London Review of Books. The volume itself is terrific: nearly 1000 pages of one of America’s most important post-war poets edited with care, and attention to detail, by Jennifer Dunbar Dorn, Justin Katko, Reitha Pattison and Kyle Waugh.


Iain Sinclair introduced the evening and there were readings from John Hall, Tom Raworth, Justin Katko, Nicholas Johnson, Tom Pickard, Gordon Brotherston and Jennifer Dunbar Dorn.


The volume itself is the first attempt to collect almost all of Dorn’s massive range of writing and it is an impressive feat. It has appendices that include Bean News as well as Prefaces and Commentaries from individual volumes of the poems as they appeared.  ‘Afterwords’, one by Amiri Baraka and the other by J.H. Prynne are included as is a particular favourite poem of mine that was only published in Cid Corman’s Origin 13 (Summer 1954), ‘Relics from a Polar Cairn’, which I wrote about in PN Review 163 in 2005.


Also on sale at the launch, and as if a timely reminder of Dorn’s enormous output, was Etruscan Book’s Westward Haut, another superbly presented publication from Nicholas Johnson’s press. This book contains a couple of pieces that are not in the Collected and it can be obtained by going to

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