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Monday, February 28, 2005

Editorial to the third series: Robert Sheppard


a blogzine of investigative, exploratory, avant-garde, innovative poetry and poetics edited by Robert Sheppard

I founded Pages in1987 as a “quick hit of the New British poetry as it happens”, as Ken Edwards put it: 2 sheets of A4 folded to give 8 pages (numbered successively) of poetry, originally published monthly. During this time it published writers as well known as Robert Creeley, Tom Raworth, Bob Cobbing, Allen Fisher, David Miller, but also gave a showing to then lesser-known writers, such as James Keery, Rupert Loydell, Michael Ayres, and many more. The first series ended at Page 218.

In April 1994 the second series began: this time A4 (again with spartan production values). Each issue was to have focussed on a single author. Although it didn’t quite turn out like that (and it took a long time to complete its run, until May 1998, in fact) all twelve were featured, usually with text, an essay, and a commentary on the text by another: Adrian Clarke, Peter Middleton, Hazel Smith, cris cheek, Ken Edwards, John Wilkinson, Maggie 0’Sullivan, Virginia Firnberg, Alan Halsey, Ulli Freer, Gilbert Adair and Rod Mengham. They were picked as a group of established, but not much written about, writers. This series made sure that was no longer the case. The first series ended at Page 445.

This third series picks up on a long-standing small press tradition, that of utilising available technology and subverting it – if that isn’t putting it too dramatically -­­- to the needs to editing, and to work with its disadvantages and limitations: in this case, the blog format. Perhaps the fourth series might be a proper website, with graphics and audio links, and whatever the technology affords, but Pages has always been fairly spartan in its presentation, and I see this as a tradition. I will also continue the tradition of numbering each posting as though it were a page, as I did with Pages. The technology has outstripped my nomenclature, even the metaphorical use of ‘pages’ on the net.

Since 1998 when I reached the end of the second series I have been busy on a number of projects, completing and exceeding my creative endeavour Twentieth Century Blues, and also finishing a critical work called The Poetry of Saying, an account of British poetry since 1950, in which Pages has its small part to play, it's worth saying. I have also been submerged in the world of creative writing teaching. I feel the need to get back to being involved in the field of cultural production a bit more, and on my own terms. Thus Pages will be more intermittent, more personal, this series, although I hope to post something every month. I'm hoping to combine work by well-known and lesser known writers. I also hope its previous reputation will mean that a humble blog might be looked at by those interested in this area of work, though I doubt whether I’ll reach the splendid 250,000 hits that Ron Silliman has clocked up at Silliman's Blog. Do have a look if you haven't seen it; at

Most of the contributions will be commissioned, but I will preserve the facility a blog offers for the posting of comments by readers.

Copyright of all works remains with the authors. This notice covers all subsequent postings on this site.

It seems appropriate to include the ‘Afterword’ that I wrote to the last series of Pages, if only to get myself back in the swing of ita all..

15th February 2005

Afterword to Pages, Second Series

Pages first appeared in July 1987 and has lived up to its simple name as a spartan magazine of exuberant work. The debates it has fostered have been taken up elsewhere and it has been a pleasure to be able to contribute to them. In particular, as I say above, the term "linguistically innovative poetry" spread, after having been coined by Gilbert Adair in the March 1988 issue of Pages, as a way of describing the kinds of poetry we then believed had been "operating since 1977" in "fragmentation and incoherence". The result had been a "public invisibility of the poetry" and "ditto of a theorising discourse" in Adair's words. The argument that all good poetry is linguistically innovative doesn't invalidate its particularity, but suggests that, like many such terms, its meaning is its use. Yet, as I said in the previous article, it has been used to speak of British Poetry Revival work as well as American language poetry in a way beyond Gilbert's use: a buzzword for a fuzzy set of poets outside his temporal and cultural determinants.

The conditions Adair identified as the post 1977 situation of the poetry - eg "decreasing publishing opportunities; wide gaps in continuations of public ... discussions; a one-way 'dialogue' with oppositions that largely expunge us, ... movement in a less visible, less real poetic community" - contrasts with Eric Mottram's celebratory survey of the earlier "British Poetry Revival 1960-1975", which catalogues reputations, achievements and opportunities. (See Hampson and Barry New British Poetries.) Yet this carries an appendix, dated 1978, which makes sorry reading: the story (again!) of the end of the Poetry Society Era. This was the "fragmented and incoherent" backdrop to the despair of the early 1980s, one matched by Allen Fisher's identification in his 1985 introduction to his Necessary Business essay of those wound-licking years as "a period of entrenchment and awe ... speaking in a considerably small room" (Spanner 25, p. 163).

The increasing willingness of poets since the mid 80s to operate theoretically, in terms of poetics and other theory, was a welcome change that seems not yet historical enough to assess. Magazines like Fragmente and Parataxis, and, earlier, Reality Studios, which lightened the dark years, promoted the "public discussion" of which Adair lamented the absence. The resurgence of poetry organising and publishing has been encouraging. (It is interesting to note that Wolfgang Gortschacher's Little Magazine Profiles broadly agrees with this chronology.)

Pages has had its place to play in this, and the second series, with its structured approach to 12 selected poets, proved an opportunity to explore empirically what "linguistically innovative" might mean. I had no idea it would take this long to reach the end of the process, and I would like to thank all the poets, critics, and readers who have made the whole thing possible. During this long time, conferences, discussions and publications have pushed arguments along. Possibly the very term "linguistically innovative" (which Adair never proffered as a Proper Noun anyway) has worn itself out. As I attempt to define it against the earlier British Poetry Revival work and American language poetry (see my "Negative Definitions" which appeared in Sulfur 42, 1998). I look with some hope to the day when it might be superseded, not necessarily by another cumbersome term, but with poetic work which will feel as fresh as the work Pages turned its attention to about a decade ago. There is evidence that this work is there, and it awaits its journals and publications. Reality Street's "Four Pack" series is showing the way.

Robert Sheppard 29 March 1998

Page 446


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