For a Life
(in Loose Talk)
Welcome visitor. Vanity speculates upon researchers, like Tavern Moll with a price-list. If you know the material-idealist score I hope you'll solo within the arrangement. The idea of a bibliographical list excites a kind of spaceless claustrophobia. I want to tell a story or I might well yawn.
I've laboured in some abject jobs but I never found ought so dispiriting as applying for literary patronage. Publication's not so much achievement as a needed knot in the net-mesh.
I was writing at University, 1965-68 and got to know, in some measure, Andrew Crozier and John James. I took a year's tutorials with J H Prynne. And there were younger lads like Ian Patterson and Nick Totton and Anthony Barnett who seemed active and about. (Now Nick's quite given up Poetry for the Therapy world, and lives about a mile from me, but therapists and beerdrinkers don't much mingle).
Then for a couple of years I thought I'd left Poetry for a kind of Apocalyptic Living In The Present. I crashed and felt Saved by Poetry. I found myself living in Denise Riley's room on Mill Road, Cambridge, while she was away in Ireland----subletting from Tom Sharpe (I suspect I'm a model for the anti-hero of 'The Great Pursuit'). I was batting between Cambridge and London, while acquaintances, nay, friends were experimenting with lysergic-acid terrorism. What blew up for me personally was: I fled to the hills.
But one day, at a flat on Ladbroke Grove W10, I came upon something part-forgotten but familiar: a stash of copies of The English Intelligencer. I met the subscriber. He was one of two poets with the name Pete Bland (call this one the lost Pete Bland). He told me I should send some of my stuff to Peter Riley, then in Denmark, who, if he chose, would duplicate some 40 copies of poems and send them off to editors of little mags. After a few months at Foster Clough I felt I had something to send, and Uncompleted Movements was distributed. This generated invitations to publish in Paul Buck's Curtains, Kris Hemensley's Earthship and The Ear in a Wheatfield, Richard Downing and Andi Wachtel's Shesheta, Martin Thom's Turpin, and Peter Philpott's Great Works, and possibly others.
One awkward product of this period was that Paul Buck came to live next door to me. He clearly belonged to the same, or a like, net or clique, and it wasn't his fault that I found his attitude to poetry perfectly unconscionable. Curtains did publish some good stuff. I let Paul be 'the poet of Foster Clough', until he returned South in the later 1970s.
My first pamphlet was published by Turpin. It was printed from paper plates on a Multilith, up at the Arvon Foundation, by Tony Ward: various ragged fringes (1975). Vacation poetry of the Celtic seacoasts. Then Great Works came out with The Fair Set in The Green (1976), which was actually written in 1969, as I fled by thumb from London.
By mid-decade I'd had a new idea. I was doing transformations of stories from The Mabinogion. My style-models had shifted from Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan to W S Graham and David Jones. This stuff went out to the range of mags, now including Paul Green's Spectacular Diseases, the Cambridge-based Perfect Bound, Peter Hodgkiss's Not Poetry, and, perhaps most significantly, Tim Longville and John Riley's Grosseteste Review. Then I published a sequence I liked in Tony Baker's figs. And Richard Tabor's Lobby Press brought out a pamphlet (a tail-end of Mabinogion stuff) Son, Son of Mother (1978).
I can't recall the exact sequence. I thought I had two books coming out: from Grosseteste The Children of/We Came This Way Before; and from Ferry Press The Children of Love/and no embarrassment. I felt susceptible to headiness.
Then something else happened. I suffered and enjoyed my life's major Miraculous Secular Epiphany, brought on by the week-long Cambridge Poetry Festival of 1977. A yes Miraculous but Dangerous Experience, that issued in a self-published booklet Immediate Must Be A Miracle (1977). I think it's fair to say that the immense charge that went into the booklet didn't come out to greet its readers as other than light flippancy.
I came down. The Grosseteste book sort of sank with John Riley's death. Andrew Crozier wrote to say he'd gone off Love/and no embarrassment. And in truth, so had I.
I began again, with a concept for Continual Song. Grosseteste Review published some early versions. Tim was going to do the book, but then he was, I think, abandoned by Arts funding, and closed the press. Not again but yes. I decided I'd try to publish it myself.
The story of Open Township (1985-90) coincides with that of my marriage. A stepmother for my half-orphaned son; a source of capital with which to print my book; a response to lust, or call it love; but nay, a bibliography is not the place....We typeset and published some printed books, e.g. Continual Song and photocopied booklets, and I edited the magazine folded sheets, among other stuff. We could have been worse, but it wasn't what it might have been, and Open Township closed with our separation. Its last act was all mine. I published a pamphlet Aleethia (1990), my abject farewell to Poetry and Hope.
I had not written much while married. I was not allowed for fear of what might be read into it. Or I wrote hiding the writing even from myself. Macmillan via Denise Riley published a contribution to Poets on Writing. Wife weren't impressed.
For better or worse, the habit of scribble, so long suppressed, re-awoke, and before too long I had the makings of poems. Peter Riley's Poetical Histories issued Sothfastness (1992), and Rod Mengham's Equipage published a full sequence as Four Poems (something's recrudescence through to its effulgence) (1993). Meanwhile, before, between, in and among these things, something odd had happened.
I was working as a de-nailer in timber recycling, and Rob, the boss, let me have the run of his not-too-good office photocopier, so I made a few copies of the poem sequence, which I was then calling The Calder Cloughs, bound them with plastic clips, and sent them to such folk as I thought might be interested. Blow me, but then Jim Keery goes and reviews this supposed book in PN Review, as though it existed, and I was getting queries, so I felt I had to write a letter to PN to clarify the situation.
For a while I was on a roll and a high. I felt in demand. I was in love again. There were requests from (and I know there were often multiple editors but) Andrew Duncan's Angel Exhaust, Anthony Mellors' fragmente, Ralph Hawkins's Active in Airtime, and others. And Michael Schmidt had reacted to my letter with an invitation to contribute poem-sequences to PN, soon followed by an invitation to produce a Collected Poems for Carcanet.
This was fine, but the problem was, I was in poetic ferment and in no mood to treat old work with respect unless I might completely rewrite it into my current bubble. I reckoned I might clad Continual Song with all-new or utterly-rewritten stuff, as a great ball or balloon, a whole bauble. It meant a year of making excuses to the Jobcentre, about what I was meant to be doing, but I got it done. "A Rush of Fresh Air" declared David Herd in the TLS, and that blew me away. And Peter Larkin submitted it to percipient and meticulous study in Parataxis. Glints in the mainstream. I was almost surprised to find myself being well-understood.
Bibliography! There were the anthologies, Iain Sinclair's Conductors of Chaos got some Bauble; Richard Caddel's Wesleyan U.P. Other took some old Cont. Song. That sort of thing, but there was something I'd begun to think.
It was great and worthy of gratitude that Mr Schmidt let me do what I did. There was never cause for argument or grudge, and it wasn't specifically political, but my antennae singing "There's a misfit somewhere, and I think it's me". So when Michael didn't take to some new stuff I sent him (the core of The Music Laid Her Songs In Language) I saw a dead end.
I'd known Tony Ward for years, and he'd been my book-printer for Open Township, and I've liked good parts of Arc's output, but it was actually his address, Nanholme Mill, Shaw Wood Road, that seemed to mesh well with my text, that had me sending it thither. And Tony says yes and I think Great, Grand and Handy----right nigh the valley Refuse Transfer Station.
The current state of poetry publishing will probably be well-known to interested visitors who may have read thus far. A fair few of the aforementioned crew are as yet active in our airtime. And it's been good fun to come across they I call, inaccurately, "The youngish lads and lasses of Cambridge". It's like hope that the lutes continue.
One clouding threat of recent years had been that typewriters were becoming obsolete, unserviceable. I had an outsider's suspicion that there was a party going on, on the Internet. So, belatedly, I computerised in the year of 2005. There'll never be ought as good as a book, for reading poetry in. But this machine changes everything, bar nib and paper, up to that point, though I don't quite get fully how as yet.