Monday, March 28, 2005

Index: March 2005 and February 2005

(Just click onto the appropriate month on the right to view archive items)

March 2005

459: Robert Sheppard: Cobbing: Two Sequences
458: Robert Sheppard: Bob Cobbing and Concrete Poetry
457: Bob Cobbing: Exhibition, Performances and Links
456: Robert Sheppard: You Need Hands: Iain Sinclair’s Dining on Stones
455: Tony Trehy: Coprophilia
454: Ian Davidson: Too Long
453: Robert Sheppard: A History of the Other: Part two.

February 2005

446: Robert Sheppard: Editorial to the Third Series/Afterword to Pages, the Second Series (moved out of order)
452: John Seed: from Pictures from Mayhew
451: Dee McMahon: Three Poems
450: Robert Sheppard: New Memories: Allen Fisher’s Gravity as a Consequence of Shape
449: Allen Fisher: Mezz Merround
448 Rupert Loydell: ‘Entangled’ (for Allen Fisher)
447: Robert Sheppard: A History of the Other: Part one.

© the authors, 2005

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Robert Sheppard: Bob Cobbing: Two Sequences

Two of the surprises of the Textfestival exhibition in Bury are a number of early abstract paintings from the 1940s and 1950s, which prefigure his later work, and a number of duplicator prints from the 1970s that he (obviously) could not reproduce (Well, he could have done after he’d his photocopier in the early 1980s, but by then they were in storage.) There are works there that even Jennifer Cobbing had not seen before.

However the two larger single selections are from two photocopier sequences, as it were, the Domestic Ambient Noise sequence that he produced with Lawrence Upton, which hangs from the ceiling, and the Third ABC in Sound, which is a particular favourite of mine. Here are some notes on these two.

Domestic Ambient Noise

Between 1994 and 2000, working with Lawrence Upton resulted in an astounding collaboration of both texts and performances. Entitled Domestic Ambient Noise, the completed project consists of 300 booklets; each processes a single theme drawn from the other poet’s work to produce 6 page variations. Partly because it is a collaboration with the younger poet Upton, who brought his experience of cartoons, clip art, posters, computer art and more conventional forms of Linguistically Innovative Poetry to the project (as well as his experiences of performing with cheek, Fencott, and Cobbing, in the 1970s) it is an eclectic exploration using various techniques. The two poets drew (and dared) each other into new areas as one created ‘variations’ from the ‘theme’ produced by the other, any of which may, in turn, have become the ‘theme’ for the next stage.

From the point of view of Cobbing’s development it is fascinating to see that he had a superb eye for selecting and imaginatively processing any Upton theme into a distinct set of ‘original’ Cobbing variations: icons and computer graphics are crumpled into innovation; images are abstracted; handwriting becomes ideogram; a banal smiley face suggests a new set of surreal portraits; a negative review of Verbi Visi Voco is magnified into a visual poem. In the text Cobbing produced on his 75th birthday, Domestic Ambient Moise, Upton’s cut up handwriting is transformed into six beautiful suggestive calligraphic visuals, some of them demonstrating Cobbing’s experimentation with speed, movement and arrest. The risky dialogue between the two writers ensured the injection of unpoetic materials, even by Cobbing’s standards: packaging, clipart, Marmite smears as well as calligraphy, found texts and even semantic texts. Cobbing and his latest photocopier could process any materials he was challenged with, and transformed them into surprising and beautiful texts.

The Third ABC in Sound

The Third ABC in Sound, a work of Cobbing’s 80th year, 2000, revisits the alphabet poem, but whereas the first ABC of 1964 demands oral, but still relatively conventional, performance, the reader of the new poem would have to be familiar with Cobbing’s performance methods outlined above. Despite its title and despite the presence on each page of a letter (sometimes minimally, sometimes as the entirety of the visual component), its suggestive visuality is what is most immediately striking.

The letters of the alphabet become elements of play in the visual field, not dominant structural alliterations as in the first ABC. Variable font styles almost symbolize the intrusion of the arbitrary into the apparent orderliness of the alphabet. On the opening page, we see a bloated bubble ‘a’, backed by a ghost of its shape, and some vague intimations of text, even a roughly cut fragment of a word at the bottom of the page. The whole rises above a textured, but cracked background, with the arc of a curve slashing through to the left. ‘G’ (or ‘g’) is dominated by a lower case letter, the bottom oval forming not the ‘grin’ of the 1964 alphabet, but a glowering, menacing, empty mouth shape. (Compare them at Bury!) Other texts show a pull towards angularity and clarity. ‘L’ is lost against a latticework of girders, one of the few visually mimetic traces in the texts. The letter M looks disassembled, its almost sculptural components rest angled against a sloped background of the night sky. ‘O’ consists of beautifully arranged white arcs against a pure black background. None is complete, yet each suggests the circle that forms the oldest letter shape in the world. On the other hand, ‘K’ looks like a powdery tornado, and only if one knows the page is alphabetic, is one likely to notice the K at the base of the twister. Turn it 45 degrees and the viewer realizes the image is a shadowy depiction of a pair of lips, as though Dali’s Mae West Lips had met the ‘U’ of the Five Vowels, an earlier sequence. ‘S’ resembles a negative of one of Duchamp’s nudes, and has the stately beauty of an art lithograph. ‘V’, on the other hand resembles (perhaps even derives from) a mysterious scientific photograph of jumping particles (in v shaped trajectories). The apparently microscopic is tensioned against the cosmic, and there is a vertiginous loss of scale in these texts.

Cobbing clearly utilizes the full possible articulations of the mechanical devices available (photocopying, overprinting, cutting, juxtaposing, enlargement, cracking images, dispersal through magnification, mis-inking, etc.) yet it is difficult to determine how he has produced many of these texts, possibly because techniques are mixed. After the exploratory to and fro and deliberate hit and miss of the Domestic Ambient Noise collaboration, the care over each page - and the stylistic individuality of each - is evident. In ‘X’ the letter is half obscured and wedged by other shapes. This points to a late development in Cobbing’s work; there is often in (rather than on) these pages a clear sense of figure operating against ground, with the letter often, but not exclusively, acting as the figure. The combination of the earliest form of concrete poem, designing with the basic alphabetic graphemes of the language, and concrete poetry’s outer point of development, the use of the print-sound-scape which Cobbing has made his own on the page and off it, is the work’s impressive novelty. A marvellous later flowering.

Page 459

For more on Cobbing see here, here and here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Robert Sheppard: Bob Cobbing and Concrete Poetry

Bob Cobbing, who died on September 29th 2002, aged 82, was a major exponent of concrete, visual and sound poetry in Britain. Long after its international heyday in the 1960s, he continued to produce visual texts that were also scores for performance, many of them published as booklets by his Writers Forum press, and launched at its associated workshop, which had been meeting in private houses and rooms above pubs since 1954. Both are set to continue operations.

Cobbing was brought up within the Plymouth Brethren. His family ran a business of sign writers. It is tempting to see this literal painting of words as presaging his later work, but it was probably the Brethren’s work-ethic and single-mindedness that left a lasting impression. During the War he was a conscientious objector. Although it has been said that he was a lay preacher at one time, a number of years ago he objected to a piece of mine that spoke of ‘religious’ elements in his work. ‘All my life I’ve been trying to free myself of religion!’ He was given a Humanist burial and is survived by his wife, Jennifer Pike, and his three sons and two daughters from previous marriages.

Trained as an accountant, and then as a schoolteacher, Cobbing began his life-long engagement with arts organising in the mid-1950s, with Group H and And magazine in Hendon, which grew into Writers Forum in the 1960s. After leaving teaching he managed the famous underground shop Better Books, venue of many readings and happenings of the ‘Bomb Culture’, as early Writers Forum poet Jeff Nuttall called those heady days in his book of that title in which Cobbing features. He was a founding member and vice president of the Association of Little Presses, a self-help organisation for poet-publishers like himself. In the 1970s he convened Poets Conference, which campaigned for higher reading fees and for the modernisation of the post of Poet Laureate. He served on the council of the Poetry Society, during a turbulent period in its history (the mid 1970s) marked by Poetry Wars between the mainstream and experimentalists like himself. Cobbing was awarded a Civil List pension for his services to poetry, a fact he never publicised.

Between 1963 and 2002 Writers Forum published over 1000 pamphlets and books, many of them his own work, but he was also generous as a publisher to younger writers of subsequent generations, such as Lee Harwood, Maggie O’Sullivan, Lawrence Upton, Adrian Clarke, Scott Thurston, and myself. He issued texts by John Cage and Allen Ginsberg, and by fellow concrete poets, such Frenchman Pierre Garnier and Italian Arrigo Lora-Totino, both of whom were guests at the workshop in the 1990s when I was a frequent attendee. The sense of permission on these occasions was tremendous, as poets at all stages of their careers tried out new work and worked in collaboration with performers. Books were launched. Beer was consumed. Little advice was given, by Cobbing, other than ‘Read it again, slower, louder!’ It was the opposite of the shred and edit type of creative writing workshop, but somehow the participants knew whether the work they were reading to their attentive peers was successful or not.

Cobbing was a visual artist before he was a poet. His earliest duplicator print of 1942 foreshadows his later work and his interest in the mechanics and accidents of office, rather than fine art, printing. However it was not until 1964 that Cobbing came to maturity with the alliterative sequence ABC in Sound, published the following year. By this time the awareness he had gained of the international concrete poetry movement and the various forms of 1960s interart, meant he gave himself to such experimentation with great energy.

The basic orientation that unites most forms of concrete poetry – in its recent century of experiment – is that it foregrounds, by emphasis or distortion, one or more of the conventional elements of poetic artifice (such as lineation or rhyme and alliteration, or even simply letters and their appearance in books), or their attendant sounds, and concentrates upon the resulting materiality of language. Appropriately, at one time the term ‘abstract’ was as popular as ‘concrete’ to describe this work. The link between the physical signifier and the conceptual signified of other kinds of language is problematized, a particular kind of the suspension of the naturalizing processes that Veronica Forrest-Thomson described in her book Poetic Artifice.
This poetry has been conventionally divided into two types: visual poetry and sound poetry, both of which were practised by Cobbing.

In visual poetry the physical signs of print on paper assume prominence. At its simplest there are the pattern poems of George Herbert or Dylan Thomas.4 The more experimental ‘calligrammes’ of Apollinaire prefigured modernist experiments in words arranged in patterns upon the page, whether it be the characteristic typographical violence of Futurist ‘words in freedom’ (‘ScrAbrrRrraaNNG!’) or the comparative stasis of Gomringer’s word ‘constellations’ (itself a term borrowed from Mallarmé’s influential Un Coup de dés of 1897), such as his ‘silencio’ (the word repeated in rows, though with a ‘silent’ gap in the middle). The Brazilian Noigandes group of the 1950s, the Lettrism of Heidesieck, and the spatialism of Pierre Garnier, suggest the range of visual experiment. There were brief vogues for signalist and semiotic poems (which used signs), and for op, pop and kinetic poems, which textually mimed the procedures of the visual artists who adopted those terms in the 1960s. The huge overprinted panels of Steve MacCaffery’s work of the 1970s, Carnival (a text which had to be partly destroyed to be unfolded for assemblage) contrast with the recent clean typographical devices of Johanna Drucker. The stone and architectural fantasies of Ian Hamilton Finlay, particularly the site-specific works in his temple garden at Stonypath, contrast with the earlier printed word-towers of Furnival’s ‘Temples’. The book-making projects of artist Tom Phillips, particularly his Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel, involving the systematic overpainting and isolation of found texts from his original, is analogous to several kinds of concrete poetry. At its most abstract, visual poetry can present fractured signs that barely resemble orthographies, such as dom sylvester houdédard’s 1960s metaphysical and sometimes wordless typewriter designs that Edwin Morgan called ‘typescracts’. Cobbing’s use in the 1970s, by himself and by some of those he has influenced, such as Clive Fencott, Lawrence Upton and cris cheek, of the misuses of printing equipment in which ink, rather than print, becomes the medium, points towards the total integration of text and event in performance writing.

Sound poetry has been divided into poesie phonetique and poesie sonore, in France at least. Phonetic poetry originated, in modern times, with the primitivism of the Russian ‘zaum’ poets and with Kurt Schwitters’ Ur-Sonate (1923-8).This permitted later work such as Ernst Jandl’s ‘niaga/ra fëlle’, or Edwin Morgan’s poems of the 1960s, which work by making sound structures of syllables and words, meaningful or not.

Poesie sonore, such as the work of Frenchman Henri Chopin, resident in Britain during the 1960s and 1970s, uses the voice and electronic superimpositions and speed variations to create sound textures, from whispers to bellows. François Dufrêne’s cri-rhythms take this essentially wordless technique one stage further. Some poets use unaided voice; others have used electronics, particularly the Swedish ‘text-sound’ poets, such as Sten Hanson.

Language experiments which do not distend either the visual or the aural might be called, after the work of Polish emigré Stefan Themerson, ‘semantic poetry’. Themerson’s work, such as the semantic poetry translations in his 1949 novel Bayamus, utilizes dictionary definitions of every word to re-write other texts, for example a folk song. Found texts, such as those of Bill Griffiths or Cobbing himself, work by framing an utterance and isolating it. A treated text is not necessarily the opposite of a found text, because both are methods of disrupting already existent texts. A treated text of Cobbing’s in the 1990s, which I quote here to complicate the narrative of his ‘development’ that this chapter might otherwise suggest, the incomplete sequence Life the Universe and Everything, is a hilarious collage taken from various popular science sources which perfectly preserves the dead-pan absurdity of the originals:

Predicting the weather
is one thing
predicting it correctly
is another …
elephants fleas
have a natural length-scale
coastlines don’t.

Cut up, an analogous technique used, more occasionally than supposed, by William Burroughs, himself British-based for a while in the 1960s, was practised by Cobbing as far back as the 1950s. The procedural and permutational works of the Oulipo movement, founded in 1960, and still active, suggests another relationship, one seen in Cobbing’s sideswipe at the inane figurative play of much contemporary British poetry when he generates lines such as ‘rock ’n roll makes me feel like rolypoly/a little lechery makes me feel like spotted dick’ from Liz Lochhead’s ‘a good fuck makes me feel like custard’.

While the exemplary internationalism of the concrete poetry movement must be acknowledged, the rigid distinctions of the French have not appealed to British artists and performers. Dufrêne and Chopin are, according to Cobbing,

very suspicious of using the word so importantly. Whenever I turn to non-verbal sounds, Chopin welcomes me with open arms!... But I go back to the word again, and they tell me the word is finished.

It is not simply Cobbing’s achievement that he has taken the rare route of practising all the forms of concrete and semantic poetry, but it is crucial to his work that his (freestanding) visual poems are always scores for performance. Cobbing has done more than most concrete poets since Zurich Dada to liberate the text from the page into performance contexts - to use all manner of marks as a notation for vocal (and other) performance - yet the page is also a visual text. One of Cobbing’s titles, Sonic Icons, exemplifies the interdependence of the two sides of his work through its appropriate anagram. (This is currently part of the Text Festival Exhibition in Bury, by the way.) Cobbing performed in various ensembles, sometimes with improvising musicians such as David Toop and Lol Coxhill, or dancers, such as Jennifer Pike or Sally Silvers, but often with other poets, such as Bill Griffiths or Lawrence Upton. A group can develop techniques and procedures, possibly even establish provisional conventions of translating marks on the page into sound – even when the ‘text’ is apparently non-linguistic. As Eric Mottram writes, in the introduction to Cobbing’s 13th volume of Collected Poems, Voice Prints: ‘The issue of what images instigate what sounds, and the lengths and tones and volumes of the performance are left to the combined sense of a particular occasion.’ The scores are indeterminate invitations, as in some of the ‘open work’ musical scores Umberto Eco examines in his essay ‘The Poetics of the Open Work’, such as those of John Cage.

Cobbing’s division of labour between performance and self-publishing ensured the unity of his creative project, although the emphasis upon the performative element sometimes obscured his work as a maker of publications and as a publisher. Eric Mottram clearly summarized the ethos of Cobbing's little press, Writers Forum: it ‘stood for high standards of innovative work, inexpensive material production and rapid distribution to a reading public who wished to buy poetry but had restricted budgets’. Indeed it is the most generous and exemplary little press of our time; this ‘cheap and neat’ attitude sets it apart from the exclusivity and rarity of most of the art book market. (The work of the press is best illustrated in its anthology, Verbi Visi Voco; a note in it declared that all of its publications remained in print. Verbi Visi Voco gives some idea of the scope of the press and its associated workshops.)

The ownership of the means of production (at first an office duplicator and then a photocopier) also had implications for Cobbing's own work since, as he put it in 1974, ‘With a visual poem, the printing stage is a vital part of the creative process’. In later work the printing stage became the creative process, since his misuse of machinery matched his ‘misuse’ of language: ‘I do things with the duplicator that Gestetner really get horrified over,’ he said in 1973. Printing is, in effect, performance. The making of books, both in terms of conceptualising them and in terms of producing them, is the making of poetry. For Cobbing it was a source of creative self-renewal.

Non web Notes and Resources

See Page 457 for web-links.

See Bill Jubobe: Selected Poems 1942-1975 (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1976), pp. 102 for the 1942 ‘first duplicatorprint’. Cobbing had a tendency to refunction his early visual pieces as sound poems.

See Art without Boundaries 1950-1970, ed. Gerald Woods, Philip Thompson and John Williams (London: Thames and Hudson, 1972) for an account, and examples of, crossovers between design and art, performance and art, etc, including Cobbing on pp. 88-9. Of artists treated in this chapter it also features Robert Rauschenberg, Stefan (and Franciszka) Themerson and Dom Sylvester Houédard.

Major concrete poetry anthologies are: An Anthology of Concrete Poetry ed. Emmett Williams (New York: Something Else Press, 1967); Concrete Poetry An international anthology, ed. Stephen Bann (London: London Magazine Editions, 1967) Cobbing himself was involved with five anthologies, the first exclusively concerned with the subject: Concerning Concrete Poetry eds. Bob Cobbing and Peter Mayer (London: Writers Forum, 1978); GLOUP AND WOUP, ed. Cobbing (Gillingham: Arc Publications, 1974) Changing Forms in English Visual Poetry – the influence of tools and machines (London: Writers Forum, 1988); Verbi Visi Voco eds. Bob Cobbing and Bill Griffiths (London: Writers Forum, 1992); Word Score Utterance Choreography in verbal and visual poetry, edited by Lawrence Upton and Bob Cobbing (London: Writers Forum, 1998). Anthologies including concrete poetry are the two volumes of Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern Poetry, eds. Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris, (Berkeley: The University of California, 1995/1998). Concrete poetry of various kinds may also be found in Imagining Language: An Anthology, eds. Jed Rasula and Steve McCaffery (Cambridge Mass: The MIT Press, 1998).

See Dick Higgins, Pattern Poetry: Guide to an Unknown Literature (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987) for the long history of this form of writing.

For Apollinaire’s ‘Horse Calligram’ see Poems for the Millennium eds. Rothenberg and Joris, Volume 1, p. 119.

For Gomringer see Concerning Concrete Poetry, eds. Cobbing and Mayer, p. 31, and An Anthology of Concrete Poetry, ed. Williams, np. Also Marjorie Perloff, Radical Artifice: Writing in the Age of the Media (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 115-6. Mallarmé’s Un Coup de dés may be found in Stephane Mallarmé, The Poems, trans. Keith Bosley (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), pp. 253-97.

For letteriste statements see Cobbing and Mayer, Concerning Concrete Poetry, p. 18. Noigandres are discussed in Perloff, Radical Artifice, pp. 116-7. See also Cobbing and Mayer, Concerning Concrete Poetry, p. 19. There is a spatialist statement by Garnier in Cobbing and Mayer, Concerning Concrete Poetry, p. 23 and p. 34.

For signalist poetry see Concerning Concrete Poetry, eds. Cobbing and Mayer, p. 52. There are two signalist poems in Steve McCaffery, Modern Reading, Poems 1969-1990 (London: Writers Forum, 1992), np.

For early Finlay see An Anthology of Concrete Poetry, ed. Williams, np. He is discussed by Perloff in Radical Artifice on p. 114, and in Alan Young, ‘Three “neo-moderns”: Ian Hamilton Finlay, Edwin Morgan, Christopher Middleton’ in British Poetry since 1970, eds. Peter Jones and Michael Schmidt (Manchester: Carcanet, 1990), pp. 112-24, at pp. 114-119. Furnival’s work may be found An Anthology of Concrete Poetry, ed. Williams, np.and in GLOUP and WOUP, ed. Cobbing, loose cards in folder.

The work of Dom Sylvester Houdédard (the spelling of his first name is inconsistent in texts; the Dom indicates that he was a Dominican friar) is found in most of the British anthologies listed above. See also In Memoriam dsh ed. Cobbing (London: Writers Forum, 1995) which is actually a collection of dsh’s work. See Concerning Concrete Poetry, eds. Cobbing and Mayer, p. 53 for a statement by Houdédard.

See Poems for the Millennium eds. Rothenberg and Joris, Volume 1 p. 224 for Khlebnikov’s zaum poem; p. 323 for Schwitters. A recording of the complete Ursonate by Schwitters has been recently discovered, and is available on CD as Kurt Schwitters, Ursonte, original performance by Kurt Schwitters, WERGO 6304-2, (Mainz, Germany, 1993), and there are several versions on ubuweb.

Jandl in most of the major anthologies; there is larger selection in The Vienna Group: 6 Major Austrian Poets ed. Rosmarie Waldrop (Barrytown: Station Hill Press, 1985), pp. 17-34. ‘Niaga/ra fëlle’ appears on p. 28 in translation and in Word Score Utterance Choreography, edited by Upton and Cobbing. Other works may be heard on the record Sound Texts/?Concrete Poetry/Visual Texts Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1970.

See Morgan, Selected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 1985), and Concerning Concrete Poetry, eds. Cobbing and Mayer, pp. 20-21. See also Morgan’s ‘Into the Constellation: Some Thoughts on the Origin and Nature of Concrete Poetry’, in Essays (Manchester: Carcanet, 1974, pp. 20-34.)

For Chopin hear: ‘Espaces et gestes’ on Sound Texts/?Concrete Poetry/Visual Texts, and Henri Chopin, Audiopoems, Tangent Records, TGS 106 (1971), LP record. See also ‘Throat Power’, 1983, number 2, 1975. (cassette). Chopin’s own print magazine OU often contained records. See Concerning Concrete Poetry, eds. Cobbing and Mayer, p. 47, 56-7.

For Dufrene, see Concerning Concrete Poetry, eds. Cobbing and Mayer, p. 49-50. He speaks of the ‘CRIRYTHME, my desire to create a phonetic poem, beyond any concept of writing, directly on to the tape recorder’. (p.50) Hear ‘Crirythme pour Bob Cobbing’ on Sound Texts/?Concrete Poetry/Visual TextsHear Sten Hanson’s ‘Subface’ on Sound Texts/?Concrete Poetry/Visual Texts

For Stefan Themerson, see On Semantic Poetry (London: Gaberbocchus, 1975). Collected Poems (Amsterdam: Gaberbocchus, 2000). See also Concerning Concrete Poetry, eds. Cobbing and Mayer, pp. 37-42.

See also Eric Mottram, ‘Writers Forum: A Successful Campaign’, in Bob Cobbing & Writers Forum, ed. Peter Mayer (Sunderland: Ceolfrith Press, 1974), pp. 15-24, at pp. 17-19.

For more on Cobbing see here. And here. And here.

For an account of my first meeting with Cobbing in 1973, see here.

For my homage (and introduction to a volume of his Collected Poems), 'The Micropatholgy of the Sign' see here.

See both a performance of my second collaboration 2001 with Bob Cobbing, Blatent Blather/Virulent Whoops, and links to an online text, here. [NB 2021: Both of my Writers Forum collaborations with Cobbing are back i9n print from Veer: Pages: COLLABORATIONS (Bob Cobbing - Robert Sheppard) published in a box by Veer - out now]

Note 2014: For my more recent critical work on form, see here. See also a 2015 Cobbing event here.

You can read about Sheppard’s own recent poetry here and here, and follow the links to points of online purchase.

Page 458

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Bob Cobbing: Exhibition, Performances and Links

The splendid Text Festival at Bury Art Gallery opened last night. There was some pomp. The Mayor of Bury clanking his chains like Boris Karloff. The organiser, Tony Trehy (a Pages poet) clutching a news item about the festival from that day’s Guardian. Clearly it’s starting to stir an interest. Exploring the overlap between visual art and poetry there are to be various exhibitions lasting throughout 2005. Check it out. Artists involved include Caroline Bergvall, Hester Reeve (last night handwriting Heidegger’s Being and Time, with a smile on her face), cris cheek and Kirsten Lavers (TNWK), Carolyn Thompson, Alan Halsey, Mark Nowak and Geraldine Monk.

Of particular interest to me last night was the Bob Cobbing exhibition curated by Jennifer (Pike) Cobbing and Phil Davenport, the poet in residence at the Festival. Ranging from Bob’s earliest work to latest, including the splendid 300 booklets of Domestic Ambient Noise (a collaboration with Lawrence Upton), there were lots of pieces I hadn’t seen before. I’m looking forward to going back to hear the CDs that will be playing when the exhibition is up and running, and having a long look at it.

Bob and I collaborated on two projects, the second of which Blatent Blather/Virulent Whoops (I know ‘blatant’ is spelt incorrectly), Patricia Farrell and I will be performing at the Gallery as part of the Bob Cobbing celebration on Saturday April 9th. (7.30, £5) The whole text may be read/seen here.

Have a look at the text on Jacket magazine, and read a review from Terrible Work.

Also on that evening: Jennifer Pike will be performing a visual work by Patricia Farrell A Space Completely Filled With Matter; sound works by David Toop; and a performance by Ira Lightman.
Other links. Read also my celebration of Cobbing’s work, written for his 75th birthday. Visit his EPC homepage, the UBU web pages, both of which have sound files attached, and see a visual work wan (in the exhibition) at artpool. Well, I say it’s visual but you have to read it out loud.

Robert Sheppard

More on Cobbing here. And here. And a later event (2015) for which this Bury event was an important precursor here.

Page 457

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Robert Sheppard: You Need Hands: Iain Sinclair's Dining on Stones

Dining on Stones, published in 2004 by Hamish Hamilton and Penguin – a significant change of publisher for Iain Sinclair – is his most postmodern novel. Written in sections that carry the paratextual device of fake authors and title pages, as well as two ‘manuscripts’ by Marina Fountain (a typical self-conscious use of a place name for a character by Sinclair), the text is sprinkled with photographs of South America purporting to be from the hero Norton’s ancestor’s Kodak. (Shades of WG Sebald, I expect the critics will say, but actually a reversion to the photographic accompliments of Lud Heat and other early pieces.) On the other hand, the writing - short paragraphs building up to short chapters - is less ornate, less given to Baroque constructions, more like his non-fiction style, although it is still highly, even hyperactively, allusive.

The Gothic prop of the doppelganger is enacted in the bifurcation of Norton’s character, as a reflection of Sinclair's own division of labour, into Andy, the ‘one who put the hack into Hackney’, (Dining on Stones 286), the documentary ‘urban topographer’ (DS 374), and A.M. Norton, who is the ‘fabulist’, removed to the Hastings area on the Sussex coast. (DS 374) (This division neatly forgets the poet in Sinclair, of course.) Each is haunted by the other, suspecting him of secretly writing his works. The mysterious Fountain also provides two parallel narratives, the first of which, ‘Grays’, was originally published in White Goods (a marvellous book of poems, prose-poems, essays and fictions, published by Goldmark in 2002). A stunningly powerful tale that enacts a ritual killing where the scapegoat takes on the identity (as well as, quite creepily, the hands) of the killer, this is another of the many doublings of the novel. (It’s also my favourite part.)The ‘twin quests of art and murder’ (DS 340) are enacted in the ‘twin tales’ of the Nortons, (DS 364) which itself reflects the imagined ‘composite landscape (leading to composite time)’ of the two principal locations. (DS 351) A superimposed film in a camera suggests that doubleness is implicit in all acts of perception. When the two Nortons meet at a spectral motel, face to face in a mirror, one launches the other through it, to disappear into its double world. The central Ballardian setting of the roadside motel – one even boasts a book-dispenser (containing Ballard’s fictions) - is an appropriate postmodern atmosphere-neutral non-place where ‘fiction and documentary cohabit’. (DS 132)

A picaresque adventure to kidnap entertainer Max Bygraves (they actually pick up the drug-dealer Howard Marks, who had previously made guest appearances in both Sinclair’s fiction and documentary) leads to the death of the Hackney Norton, which affords the narrational ‘I’, if not escape , then the opportunity to continue the narrative: ‘Norton’s third mind had broken cover.’ (DS 370) The characters who follow the Hackney Norton down the A13 (a quest along the eventful tributary of the M25) do escape from the narrative. However, Norton’s re-integration leads him to an erotic liaison with the mysterious Fountain, who reveals that ‘her’ fictions in the book (and the works of the ‘other’ Norton) are in fact pastiches drawn from his own abandoned fragments. In a plot full of improbabilities the revelation that she is in fact the first of his two ex-wives – another thematic doubling - seems not unreasonable. The book recurrently exposes the mechanisms whereby individuals are represented, either by the act of being fictionalised or by the media. Though this is a staple of post-modernist deconstruction, the crucial representation, as often in Sinclair, is of an event not yet enacted, in this case the death of ‘Norton’. Fiction is simply fact waiting to happen, and it is the writer’s responsibility to write the narrative away from calamity, which the fabulist Norton manages.

However, the postmodernity of the novel is not inflected by Sinclair’s customary occult paranoia (although in a tale with patterns of doubling, paranoia is an unavoidable part of its texture). Norton realises that the doppelganger is no ‘fetch’ but merely an effect of textuality, is ‘a grammatical error – he for I’. (DS 357) ‘If they find themselves in the same room, at the same time, the world tilts on its axis,’ the novel comments, but it is a vast intertextual world that ‘tilts’, with the work of Essex-based Joseph Conrad as its ‘axis’. (DS 368) Whereas Downriver had consciously used Heart of Darkness as its fictional double, here that role is taken by Nostromo. Norton flirts quite consciously with the notion that he is a ‘mirror-world’ parallel for the detached semi-outlaw of Conrad’s novel. (DS 422) Conrad and the ancestral Norton are also twinned, as it were, both ‘explorers’ of South America, and both suffering financial losses (in Conrad’s case both in the fiction and in life) Financial loss haunts both books, and throughout Dining on Stones there are negative references to property investment. The margins of Sinclair’s London have reached Hastings because of soaring housing costs (a ‘boom’, if one is a beneficiary), while the ‘Thames Gateway’ of the A13 promises ‘regeneration’ on the inner margins of the expanding capital. The features of a number of Sinclair’s projects are folded into Dining on Stones, thus ensuring its place in the expanding intratext of Sinclair’s oeuvre as another ‘book-length footnote to his other books’, as the critic Nicholas Lezard puts it.

RS March 2005

The above piece was written – in a slightly different form – as an appendix to my forthcoming monograph Iain Sinclair, to be published by Northcote House in the Writers and their Work series. Also available is a pamphlet of reviews of Sinclair’s crop of millennium volumes, Where Treads of Death, from Ship of Fools, 78 Nicander Road, Liverpool, L18 1HZ, at £3 (including p+p). See also my ‘Guessed Disappearance’ on Stride magazine. There is a further essay in preparation for Pages.

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Tony Trehy: Coprophilia

GRANDMOTHER – mother – son puppy-training.
nothing to eat – can’t therefore to insert
ready encopresis drill
this importance we assign these early texts

training too early or using coercive methods cause
aversion retentive blunt fixed will become
mesoamerican rituals colourless and stiff bases

made of polypropylene (especially resistant to UV
radiation, low and high temperature and other
atmospheric influence)

family rituals
window ledge spikes merely a roosting deterrent earlier
than puberty
nativity sleepwalked away ergo coprolite in the mouth
and training issues

NIGHT at alarm NIGHT like smoke (insects)

police are to society what dreams are to sleep the sleep to
society what police
are to dreams; like all men
– scared of big leaves

enduring pain, the old will become attractive like a future
with our past

did Hélène wish you to end her life
the tragedy of althusserianism he is limping people
without exhaust

and not nobody writes to the colonel to ask the fact for the

we do not wish to deal with this important question here
Tony Trehy works at Bury Art Gallery, where he is responsible
for the current Text Festival.
Check it out. And his own site, too.
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Monday, March 07, 2005

Ian Davidson: Too Long

the same circles

take a break eat
take the third roundabout
and feeling as if only or impossible
desire imagined medinas cool air off
the atlas the geography of a new country
the trip was taking me out of myself and then
what was left? inserting the endless
possibilities from casual to smart
casual and exhausted I blew
myself out

in the airport that is a city
names get mangled
ah david sõn
in the north terminal
names becoming mangled
in the place that becomes a city
through commerce
all points of the compass
I flew south
little left over

there are no maps of the medina
the people are many times restored
bodies carpets tattoos
reversible skin
inside out
live stock
boiled to dish rags
hand maiden

the way the connections of a real life never end unlike the
closed world of
a fiction expressed in a few hundred pages the price of
real life or the
cost of living
beyond belief

narratives close in
double knotted
making good siesta
the silence of the hooves
streets opening out into other streets many
ways to construct the medina
many ways to live a life and coexist
simultaneously outside of
the restrictions of stories we
tell ourselves or the histories
we carry around I'm talking
for you from whatever culture
or out of time for so many centuries
doorways within doorways up stairs
the recycled treads of the horses hooves

blue cobalt blue indigo blue incomplete
upper stories the silk yarns like
broken threads or a completed
building lacks a roof in certain
quarters the overspill in the mosque
canalised Idriss founder of Fez like a snagged
tooth of Welsh extraction stumbling
over the Arabic from holding it all in

what to make of it all
holding it all in
wave upon wave
digging into absorption
walking out on history
pretty mosaics and many of them
many pointed stars
doorways shaped like keyholes
multiple stomach disorders
symmetrical gardens disordered
minds and in winter sunshine
the crusade is to wipe Islam
off the face of the earth
until every smile is wiped off
every Arab face until
every corner of public space
is marked private and has a cost attached

he greets his friends warmly his
hand held between two hands he
touches his chest and takes away the
arm in a gesture of such gentleness
the bird bound hand and foot

Ian has a blog of his own (it was actually looking at his that led me to revive Pages in this format). His is dedicated to collaboration, and the last posting features the poem above. Click here. You can also see where I tried to collaborate with him but the technology decided to 'collaborate' as well.

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Thursday, March 03, 2005

Robert Sheppard: A History of the Other: Part two

Children of Albion

Michael Horovitz’ 1969 campaigning anthology, Children of Albion: Poetry of the ‘Underground’ in Britain­ was the first widely available gathering of the British Poetry Revival. Unlike Andrew Duncan in his recent book, The Failure of Conservatisim in British Poetry, I do not think this 'the worst book I have ever read'; indeed, it was one of the first books (of poetry) I ever read and, for all its faults, gives an insider's account of the Literary Underground. Essentially this is a collection of writings by persons associated either with Horovitz’ long-running little magazine New Departures, or with the series of readings/performances called Live New Departures­. Both ventures began in 1959, and the latter delivered 1500 ‘shows’ during an eight-year period in the 1960s at various venues, ranging from the Marquee pop club to the Institute of Contemporary Arts. This variety indicates an ability and willingness to mix high and low culture, without having to ironize the difference between them; Adrian Mitchell’s dictum that ‘Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people’ was a clear challenge to the exclusiveness of the ­Movement poets and their book-bound means of distribution. (Children of Albion, pp. 356-57.)

In 1960, Horovitz with others (such as Mitchell and Pete Brown, who later wrote song lyrics for Cream) began to write and perform poetry that derived heavily from the American Beat writers, particularly the trinity of Ginsberg, Corso and Ferlinghetti, who were to achieve wide currency when, in 1963, the popular Penguin Modern Poets series issued a volume of their work in Britain. At ‘Live New Departures’ ‘gigs’ (as poets, like musicians, came to call readings), poetry was read to jazz performed by some of the best British jazz musicians, and, on occasions, Roy Fisher, himself an accomplished pianist, played. In contrast to the Movement, and looking back to the popular performances of Dylan Thomas, these poets believed that the sound of poetry was as important as its sense, performances completing the inert words on the page. Thus a social aim (to broaden the appeal of poetry) coincided with an aesthetic aim: ‘voice’ in poetry was no longer a metaphor for ironic modulation; the voice was a performance instrument of communal gathering, and (often) the voice of political protest, which broke abruptly with the quietism of the Movement poets of the 1950s.

Most of the British Beats, however, did not innovate beyond mere imitation of their American models. Rather than the vatic passion of Ginsberg’s Howl (1955) their followers slipped into easy whimsy. British Beat poetry modulates towards the one-shot (and sexist) joke, possibly as a result of responding too readily to the demands of a live (and, as I shall argue in the last part of this history, male) popular audience.

Many British writers began by reading the American Beats, including Lee Harwood, from 1958-61 a student of English Literature at Queen Mary College. Like others, he discovered their work around 1960, chiefly in Donald M. Allen’s influential American anthology, ­The New American Poetry 1945-1960­. After the work of the Movement (which Harwood has characterized as ‘dull, boring, & smug’), reading the Beats was an imaginative release: ‘They said: ... “You don’t have to have gone to a Public School and Oxford and Cambridge before you can write.”’ Whereas he found Movement work ‘remote’, Harwood speaks of

for the first time picking up a printed book, where people were talking about the world you knew, that you lived in, and were expressing what you felt were your feelings, confused and gauche as they may have been at the time.

A predominantly educated (often art-school and working‑ class) audience, with interests in CND, drugs, modern jazz and street life, could find affinities with those hipster ‘best minds’ of Ginsberg’s Columbia ‘generation destroyed by madness’, and authorized Harwood, for example, to write of his own life, environment and involvement with drugs, in ‘Cable Street’ (1964-65).
All three American Beats, British writers such as Adrian Mitchell, and the Viennese sound poet Ernst Jandl, read at the most spectacular poetry event of the decade, the Royal Albert Hall Poetry Incarnation of 1965, when over 7000 people listened to four hours of poetry. In Horovitz’ polemic this is a central occasion, a success on both aesthetic and social grounds, even if Horovitz’ claim that on that day ‘poem after poem resonated mind-expanding ripples of empathy’ sounds hyperbolic. (CA, p. 337)

Ginsberg, of course, had by this time become a prophet of the underground, an exemplar of a new, liberated sensibility: at the Albert Hall reading, chanting a mantra to finger cymbals, he was described by Jandl as ‘the soul’ of the flower-festooned audience. (CA, p. 338) ‘At poetry readings and teach-ins,’ Theodore Roszak wrote, ‘he need not even read his verses: he need only appear in order to make his compelling statement of what young dissent is all about.’
But this new-found populism was not congenial to all who had discovered Ginsberg’s early work and literary influence. ‘There was a whole group of English sub-beat poets,’ Tom Raworth recalled in 1989. ‘It’s like tossing the quarter bottle of whiskey out of the mini as you drive down the M16 - it doesn’t work at all, there’s a whole different way of going about things.’ By about 1965 Harwood felt he had learnt all that he could from the Beats, and distrusted the polemical ‘ranter’ element in their verse, ‘telling people how to live’. In an uncollected ‘Train Poem’ (published in Great Works magazine in 1975), entitled ‘At the ‘New Departures’ Reading 1975, Not 65’, Harwood looked back to this era to question the sixties’ programmatic euphoria; its creativity was ultimately mindlessly destructive:

Crush the flowers ‘underfoot’
that have been picked,
and scattered on the floor,
while talking of ‘love & joy’.

Indeed, ‘love’ - a key word for the underground audience - would become a rhetorical trademark of the poets who were to reap the benefit of the media exposure for accessible popular poetry. These were the Liverpool Poets, Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten, who were to be published in three collections during 1967, including The Mersey Scene, Penguin Modern Poets 10, which was (and continued to be, in updated form) an extremely popular volume. They were again able to mix avant-garde and popular culture in an accessible (and saleable) form, and extended their work, not just through a Liverpudlian association with the Beatles, into performance, which lay somewhere between stand-up comedy and the happening.

When Children of Albion appeared in 1969, some ground had been prepared by The Mersey Scene­. There are many writers among the 63 included whose work might be thought to be out of place: for example, poems by John Arden, Michael Hastings and Bernard Kops, who are better-known, and more talented, as playwrights. It has been a particular feature of the British Poetry Revival that it has re-discovered radical artists who have been obscured; Horovitz features Paul Potts and Philip O’Connor, the former a remnant of Dylan Thomas’ Fitzrovia, the latter a minor, but individualistic, surrealist writer of the 1930s. Some writers, then quite young, published immature work: David Chaloner, Andrew Crozier and John James would be thought of as Cambridge poets, Carlyle Reedy as an intermedia artist, Ian Hamilton Finlay as a leading concrete poet. Some writers were fortunate enough to be represented by mature work: Gael Turnbull, Edwin Morgan, Jim Burns, Tom Raworth, Roy Fisher and Lee Harwood. For example, Roy Fisher’s selection includes both late and early work: the favoured anthology pieces from his first major work City (1961), ‘The Entertainment of War’ and ‘Starting to Make a Tree’, the first poem from the major sequence ‘Interiors’ (1967), and a poem from the late fifties, ‘The Hospital in Winter’ which is one of Fisher’s least characteristic poems, in that it approaches the realism and rational structure of the Movement Orthodoxy. Harwood’s selection is also uneven, but it also shows a greater immersion in the general concerns of the underground, though with some important reservations. (The reasons for this are partly generational: Fisher was born in 1930, Harwood in 1939.) Two of his finest poems, ‘As Your Eyes Are Blue’ and ‘Plato was Right Though’ are included, but so is ‘sciencefic’, which remained uncollected after the pamphlet title illegible (1965), and which, with its surreal edge, shares the whimsicality of the British Beats.

A persistent theme for many writers in the anthology was drugs and drug-taking, in the work of such poets as Anselm Hollo, Alexander Trocchi, Tom McGrath and Mark Hyatt. In Bomb Culture (1968), the poet Jeff Nuttall claims that the interest in drugs reflected a desire for the dissolution of an unacceptable self, to effect the ‘reasoned derangement of all the senses­‘ that Rimbaud recommended for the ‘visionary’ poet and which contemporary thinkers, such as Herbert Marcuse, recognized as an attempted utopian gesture.

Various kinds of inconsequential subjective notation of so-called expanded consciousness in the anthology fortunately contrast with poems, such as Mark Hyatt’s ‘Smoked’ and Lee Harwood’s ‘Love in the Organ Loft’. Hyatt, a heroin addict who committed suicide in 1972, was described by Geoffrey Thurley as ‘the strangest and most talented poet’ in the anthology; he ‘writes like a newcomer to language, to the world it opens up’. (There are rumours of a Salt volume of his work.) In ‘Smoked’ he balances despair and desire, and describes ‘a feeling of dreamy nonchalance, heightened awareness, bursts of introspection, mellowing attitude towards one’s fellow man ... and a formidable sense of contempoaraneity’ (to quote Richard Neville, from the hippie Bible Playpower, on the effects of marijuana):

It goes through the body like a satellite
because one wanted it that way
holding back a mouthful of air.... (CA, p. 152)

An image of love and peace, a cliché of the era, as we have seen, is forcefully imaged in the controlled and hopeful surrealism of the poem’s end, which no contemporary reader could fail to relate to the continuing war in Vietnam:

I hope the war in the apple-orchard ends soon
for all the missiles I’ve are filled with love
and they will drop like birds from the sky
on the drawings of desire in this heart. (CA, p. 152)

This poem may be usefully compared to Lee Harwood’s ‘Love in the Organ Loft’, which, although it begins in disarming innocence (‘It is April - of course. (Why should songs have all/the good lines? - like “I love you”, too.)’) (CA, p. 97)) deals with the ‘morbid masochism’ of an involvement with heroin. (CA, p.100) The post-Beat Harwood takes over much of the tone of Frank O’Hara and the New York school he visited, but darkens it considerably. He places his narrator within the painful context of personal relationships.

But what can this mean - that I should
sit here all night watching over my love
& at the same time I fix
more than double my usual intake
to feel without compassion my brain wince & flatten
under chemical blows -
cocaine memories now repeated, though on a less brutal scale. (CA, p. 99)

The poem presents a collage of viewpoints, from that of ‘cocaine memories’ to the ‘adoration’ for the loved one that ‘fills my eyes with happy tears’; (CA, pp. 99-100) the passage of time is uncertain, as night approaches morning, and everything, except the opposed realities of human life and drug addiction, is ‘disturbing and disordered’ in a paranoid world of accidental and unrelated occurrences, that counterpoints the narrator’s desire for the ordinary. (CA, p. 97-100) However, there is a further aspect of the poem that reveals a less savoury trait of the sixties underground. There is a certain self-satisfied (and, given its yearnings, ironical) smugness in its consideration of ordinary people in the ‘straight’ society, from the point of view of a ‘deranged’ bohemian.

But everything on this (surface) level is so disjointed
that it can make even this possible act of kindness
appear to ‘THEM’ as ‘foolishness’ (if ‘they’ feel patronizing)
or ‘absurdity’ (if ‘they’ feel insecure that day).
(A ‘definition’ of ‘them’/’they’: ‘They’ shampoo their cars on
Sundays, each holding a red plastic bucket.) (CA, p. 98)

When the poem was reprinted, these heavily-laboured final two lines were omitted. In attempting to expose the clichés of the ‘straight’ society with his scare quotes, Harwood has merely exposed his own.

The generational dichotomy of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ is often alluded to in the rhetorical gesturing of Horovitz’ ‘Afterword’, whose apparent extemporized structure allows its author to side-step analysis. Its nervous excitement may reflect the time at which it was written - April 1968 – between the Movement of March 22 and the subsequent Paris student and worker riots, and between the two major anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in Grosvenor Square, London, and with apparently concerted unrest breaking out at every educational institution. At times Horovitz writes as if the underground was a formal cultural opposition, waiting for the edifices of ‘their’ society to tumble so that ‘we’, the bohemians, can take over. Indeed, as Tom McGrath wrote, ‘The revolution has taken place WITHIN THE MINDS of the young.’ It was merely a question of turning the subjective and the artistic into the objective and new utilitarian; Horovitz predicted a successful campaign of infiltration: ‘Spreading an aesthetic wing for the daily more effectual changes wrought by students - & teachers - all over’. (CA, p. 372)

But what would this aesthetic wing, this fifth column of underground thinkers and poets be? Ginsberg, Roszak writes, ‘is a protest poet. But his protest does not run back to Marx; it reaches out, instead, to the ecstatic radicalism of Blake.’ Blake was a pertinent influence during the 1960s (and later). The Albion who fathered Horovitz’ generation of poets was the spirit of a compassionate radical England, who appears principally in Blake’s Jerusalem, Emanation of the Giant Albion (1804-07). There was a general belief that the revival of poetry and imagination could be an apolitical model for massive societal change. As Horovitz put it, ‘The mutual response between people determined to free their spirits can simultaneously give birth to the architecture of that liberation.’ (CA, p. 371) There was a desire to heed the words attributed by Blake to the artist-revolutionary figure Los, in Jerusalem­: ‘I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s;/ I will not reason or compare; my business is to create.’ Creativity, valorized here twice, is elevated over reason; Blake’s attack on empiricist philosophy is re-read as an attack upon the instrumentalist reason that, for example, supported the Vietnam War. Blake’s teasing ambiguity – that to create a ‘system’ is actually to replicate one’s repression, that one might be enslaved by one’s own system – was conveniently ignored. It was read as a libertarian gesture to do ‘your own thing’ (in the parlance of the day).

Blake’s illuminated books may be viewed as some of the earliest small press publications. He was an example to writers who had turned away from the world of the formally published book. More importantly, poetry was a prime weapon in the underground’s arsenal, not because it could be used for propaganda purposes, but because it was in aesthetic experience that the very model - what Horovitz calls the ‘architecture’ - of the change in consciousness and society lay. R.D. Laing, himself an important figure in the underground as an anti-psychiatrist, famous for declaring that insanity was the result of familial and societal repression, and peripherally involved with Live New Departures as a poet and pianist, writes of the oppositional role of the imagination in this battle, as being both psychological self-preservation and radical activity.

Words in a poem... attempt to recapture personal meaning in personal time and space from out of the sights and sounds of a depersonalized, dehumanized world. They are bridgeheads into alien territory. They are acts of insurrection.

Poetry, it seems, can create an image of another world that is historically irrepressible. Such works ‘generate new lines of force whose effects are felt for centuries’.

Lee Harwood, in the conclusion of ‘Cable Street’, seems to concur with this view. He combines in his multi-faceted narrative the evidence of the senses, drugs, a significant reference to Blake, everyday life (without the supercilious elitism here), and the final plea for a new sensibility, for a political revolution. Horovitz’ ‘aesthetic wing’, he predicted, ‘will surely be in the “running” of such countries as last out to, well – 1984?’ (CA, p. 372) It was a fateful, and bad, guess.
The 1960s were an affluent time for the young, as the 1970s and 1980s proved not to be. Economic well-being, and educational expansion (particularly in the new universities, polytechnics and art colleges) encouraged experimental diversity in the arts, even if the revolution was slower, more ambiguous, than was supposed by Horovitz and others, and found the relationship between utopian politics and its poetry equivocal. Behind the pronouncements of Horovitz and others stand not just Blake, but the work of Herbert Marcuse. A non-conformist Marxist philosopher, Marcuse had described how a capitalist society assimilates working-class protest by making the population define itself only through accelerated participation in consumerism (by advertising and other coercive means). Again, small presses, as Ken Edwards suggests, are part of a rebellion against this. Indeed, it seemed to Marcuse, in An Essay on Liberation, written in the United States in 1968, that the wider youth movement and underground was undermining the values of the dominant society, of participating in the ‘Refusal’ as many others had noted. Moreover, in the words of Fredric Jameson, Marcuse sees in the new sensibility and the new sexual politics an application of the artistic impulse to the creation of a new life-style itself, to the concrete acting out of the Utopian impulse.

Marcuse argues that the aesthetic, manifested in the behaviour of the young, is a model for a ‘light, pretty, playful’ free society, that is nevertheless rational enough to utilize science and technology, not for the reduction of human beings to consumers, but to distribute its scarce resources with equity and compassion.

Technique would then tend to become art, and art would tend to form reality: the opposition between imagination and reason, higher and lower faculties, poetic and scientific thought, would be invalidated. Emergence of a new Reality Principle: under which a new sensibility and a desublimated scientific intelligence would combine in the creation of an aesthetic ethos­. Art, or artistic consciousness – even Horovitz’ aesthetic wing - becomes a weapon for establishing that which does not yet exist. ‘The new object of art is not yet ‘given’, but the familiar object has become impossible.’ The new reality requires a new language, as Blake had realized. We’ve been teetering on the edge of finding it ever since.

To be continued next month: What the Chairman Really Told Tom, as we go into the 1970s. Read a later take on 'The Underground' here.

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