Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Clark Allison: Plural Locutions

Clark Allison

Clark Allison has published the prose poem 'Six Paragraphs' as well as reviews of George Oppen and Barbara Guest at Stride magazine website( and well as on Pages.

Plural Locutions: Remarks on recent developments in British and Irish poetry

(Momentary glimpses of the personal amid the plural:)

A poem felt like this:An entirely new way to beginWalking itself first thing in the morning…
It can’t quite help itself.A stranger to being in words
-- John Welch ‘Personal Poem’ in ‘fragmente’ 9, 2007

The historical moment being what it is change in social and aesthetic consciousness can take time to filter through, though there are generally also inescapable fads and fluctuations that happen quicklywithout necessarily at first securing a convincing hold. There may be age stational latency prior to assimilation and the most obvious indication of this now is probably the uptake of digital and electronic poetry, often of a mixed and fluid, fluent nature characteristic of new media (there are now also it must be added a great many interesting and relevant literary blogs on the Web, the British and Irish Poetries mailing list continues as does the British Electronic Poetry Centre . Sometimes exchangeable formats to circulate this kind of work can’t readily be secured so it exists more in its tentative and now centred way as a species of performance fixed to the localities capable of presenting it, not unlike a gallery presentation or a custom, view only type of website, amenable to housing the tangible synchrony of physical and technical specifities needed to display it, poetry being reconceived as new media exhibit or performance. This sort of approach will surely evolve, but looks highly gallery or event space dependent in a way that the traditional,venerable book unequivocally isn’t.

There looks to be a need then to differentiate long term from short term literary/poetic movements and trends, not least because when short-termism does realise assimilation it can, in doing so, be radically reconceived. Among more recent observations and instancings, looking abroad for incoming modern - Modernism incontrovertibly an omnivorous phenomenon that traversed national boundaries - and postmodern inspiration, it is doubtless significant that American avant-gardes likethe New American poetry, which included versions of projective verse, jazz inspired free improvisation and painterly conscious species of abstract figuration, moving onto the dis-locutions and textural disruptions, if not irrepressible postmodern posturings and provocationsof Language poetry (‘L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E’ magazine, ed. Andrews,Bernstein 1978-81, archived in gif format at is the classic locus), never could credit more than a minor efflorescence here amongsympathetic British readers and respondents. Tricks and torts have been lifted, stolen or tweaked but the full blown package of ideological practice obstinately resisted. Similarly the strong blast of Continental stylistic and theoretical agenda making that proposed an aesthetics of intrinsic, perhaps universalisable structure even along mythic lines of a kind uncovered by Levi-Strauss, only to deconstruct these into the aporias of quirks, uncertainties and shadowwork leaving on dust clearing little other than the dubieties of Lacan’s ever disruptive Symbolic, created a flurry of ripples in Anglophone readers until succumbing to not much more than an unconvincedly resistant scepticism, still attuned to the supposed immoveability of traditional, perennial verities. Oulipo plied much of this radically reformed systematic elaboration (eg in Perec, Queneau) as well as foretasting its irresistible dissolution, not unexpectedly positing a recuperation, if not also a blurring, of past aesthetic spaces along the way.

If British poetic preoccupations have seemed a mite insular, there are numerous signs that pluralism is increasingly making an impact. Pluralism has differing predominant loci of effect, bespeaking aplurality within, an increasing differentiation and heterogeneity, are cognition of multiplying constituencies, as well as an increase in borrowing from without, be it America, the Continent or elsewhere. The plural is ‘Other’, to borrow the title of the Caddel/Quartermain’98 anthology, and is concerned with addressing questions of social and political identity. The notable alternative anthology “The NewBritish Poetry” (ed. Allnutt/D’Aguiar/Mottram/Edwards, Paladin 1988) bundled its contributors into separable categories, feminist, black, younger and British Poetry Revival-inspired, signalling some obstacles to integration as well as locating the '70s BPR experience as a peculiarly potent and aligning event, one that is still discussed, pro and con (see Peter Barry “Poetry Wars” Salt 2006), where the prolonged delay in arriving at detailed documentation looks significant.The Poetry Society and its organ ‘Poetry Review’ wages on, exuding its air of crusty, uncomplicated conservatism, prompting attitudes,variably, to engage or disregard. The most persuasive and reliable recent compendium is Tuma’s “Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry” (Oxford, New York 2001), which has people in it as varied as John Wilkinson, Catherine Walsh, Carol Ann Duffy and Benjamin Zephaniah but lamentably no Prynne or Andrew Duncan. The categorisations of the classic Paladin anthology, however, are far from arbitrary, and as we find the BPR even now being reassessed there is unlikely to be much confirmation that we have moved as far as we might towards integrating or resolving them, as Chris Hamilton-Emery observed in his pointed commentary earlier, “Innovative poetries in the Black andAsian communities have largely been excluded from recent surveys…and new Muslim writing seems to have been branded as identity writing”. The situation with feminist (or just women’s) writing is perhaps not quite as bleak or intransigent, though the air has stilled a little, perhaps,since the 1996 Gilbert/Gubar ‘Norton Women’ anthology and the Maggie O’Sullivan edited “Out of Everywhere” of the same year. The sheer profusion of graspable cultural identity categories is perhaps so wide that geographical locus or instead the marshalling of more specifically identified ‘issues’, such as environmentalism or cyberpoetry or personal development or obscurities of aesthetic taste (difficult, complex, authentic, transparent etc) or just as consumers what to wear and buy (“no real framework…outside of consumption” Hamilton-Emery), across geographic boundaries, is rather claiming the agenda.

Peter Finch in a persuasively encompassing retrospective survey of the broader developments in British poetry in 2003 thought he could still discern what he called a neo-Georgian line in British poetic development ‘which runs up from Hardy, through D.H.Lawrence, Philip Larkin, Betjeman,’ encompassing the Movement, to in the present day ‘Douglas Dunn, Motion, and Armitage,’ “although is no longer quite as central as it once was” (see This delineates the mainstream current, the centre, against which the marginal and experimental articulate and contest. We may actually have now, or bemoving toward, a plural “multi-hued, post-modern, culturalenvironment, available to all” (Finch) but the wheels of change are slowly turning.