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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Aidan Semmens: a reponse to the Fourth Series

Chris Hamilton-Emery writes: "A great deal of innovative writing that comes my way is using tools and techniques which are actually rather hackneyed. Disrupted syntax, linguistic borrowings, indeterminacy, hypo-contextualising, hyper-contextualising, heteroglossia, discontinuous texts, types of spatial arrangement." Well, stone me. What does this prove except that a great deal of people who submit to Salt bother to look at what kind of thing they are likely to publish? If he were an editor for Faber or Hallmark Cards he'd presumably get a very different impression of what people are writing. To suggest that the 'innovative' - or pseudo-innovative - is actually now the 'mainstream' is to overlook everything that passes for 'poetry' in the world beyond our particular cloister, our scriptorium. Roy Fisher might just have made it over the wall into the high street, Denise Riley perhaps - but who else? Is there even one worthwhile poet who makes a living at it in Britain, except by teaching? Even one worthwhile contemporary poem to be found in your local Waterstone's or WH Smith's? {editor's note: of course a large number of Salt collections can be found in Waterstones, many of them quite demanding, Peter Jaeger's book, for instance, and I, for one, am pleased it's there. My own Twentieth Century Blues among them. For me the issue is whether they stay there, i.e., whether they are bought. Sorry, I shouldn't have interrupted.}

Having said that, the techniques and stylistic tics Chris lists have now been around long enough and copied enough for ‘hackneyed’ to seem right, which indeed begs the question whether ‘innovative’ is any longer an appropriate description. It happens to be the stylistic water you and I were brought up in, which makes it a more comfortable and rewarding place (for us) to swim than, say, leftover Augustan, Romantic or Metaphysical pools (and I cannot imagine why anyone would choose to immerse themselves in the stagnant bilge of the Movement, which is still, incredibly and scandalously, the dominant ooze of the high street gutter, malgré Chris Hamilton-Emery). But there is surely little innovative left to do within our kind of poetry (what the hell do you call it? Chris is right about the historical nature of ‘avant-garde’ and to me ‘post-avant’ just sounds silly), which brings the whole business down to where it surely should be – to whit, what is said and how well, not the manner of the saying. I dare say most of the submissions to Salt (or any publisher, in whatever mode of writing) are pure kitsch, merely imitating a manner – part of the challenge for any writer must be to avoid either producing or seeming to produce such empty stuff.