Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bill Griffiths: Ghost Stories 1: TOMMY

The clocks go back next weekend (in Britain) and the winter months draw in. It is time for a ghost story or two - even if they don't have actual, virtual or artefactual ghosts in them - but who better than Bill Griffths to tell them to us. I read a wonderful piece in Alice Lenkiewicz' magazine Neon Highway called 'Fog', and asked Bill if he had more. He had six, which (one a month) will last us through until Spring. Check his own web-page and see the smoke rising from his chimney, and much more. (See a picture of Bill reading on Page 473 (July 2005.)

Boldly I went up to the door and knocked.
“I want to join the party.”
The man at the door looked at me for a moment, in a detached sort of way. “You cannot,” he said with an almost amused calmness. As though I was not a member of their club.
Behind him I could see lots of people, men, women, not all old. My age too. “There’s youngsters there too,” I pointed out, so he knew he wasn’t fooling me, but keeping it pleasant, like.
Just as mild, he gave a sympathetic shake of the head, and shut the door.
Not rudely, but as an older more wise chap might deal with a bairn.
It rattled me.
What were they? What sort of posh crew, them? Wasn’t I good enough?
I went round the side to look in a window. There was quite a lot of them. Not exactly merry, chatting in little groups, easy enough. ‘Mebbe there’s nae alcohol,’ I thought. But it looked sociable enough, not some prayer meeting or lecture or nowt, and they was a curious mix to be getting on so well, I thought. Some were right old. But there were some me Dad’s age, and a scattering of young-un’s. And somewhere a baby or two was settin’ off its voice.
One or two of the old folk looked my way and noticed me. They gave me such a glare of challenge – or mebbe just astonishment – I had to give up and walkt away.

I had every right to be curious. So many people are leaving our estate to get work, there’s empty houses a-plenty. When no one expects it, a block or so gets knocked down. It depends on what pattern they fall empty in. And then just as often, other people move in. From outside the estate. Exactly, we want to know about them. Especially if they’re the sort to throw parties.
Just once a pair of houses were joined into one, to make a bail hostel. That caused commotion enough. What with packets changing hands on the street and break-ins at the houses round, it wasn’t long before the local residents got together and had it shut down.
But always there were new people coming in. Councils sent them here, hearing there was spare housing. Sad cases, and wrong cases, and belligerent types, so you always wanted to know who they were, what they were like, as soon as possible.
Only I wasn’t having much success here.
“What about that corner house, then, Mam?” I asked at tea-time.
She looked oddly at me. “They’ll keep themselves to themselves,” she said. Suggesting I should dee the same.

I was round there again after dusk. Surely the get-together would end some time. They would set off – somewhere – I could ask one or two as they came out. That seemed fair.
Only there was no sign of change. A dim light was on now, simple blinds were down, so I had to move around a bit to find a chink and get some notion of what was happening. There seemed no less of them (after all no one but me had come knocking on the door; no one came out). As far as I could make some shadowy sense of it – more were sitting down now, it looked more relaxed somehow. Occasionally someone got up and went through a door at the back. Perhaps they were getting a bit bait or summat. But I saw none of them returning. Were they going to bed? Did they all stay there?
The house didn’t seem big enough. I set out to prove it. Being a corner house that wasn’t so easy. A receding corner, that is, so you couldn’t see how big the house itself might be, or how widely the garden fanned out. I could try from round the back. This meant going to the next street, or so I thought. But I plain got lost. At least, I got to where I thought it should be, but then there were other houses and gardens in the way. I clambered over into a back garden here, in case I could get through; but then I lost my bearings, the houses opposite looked all the same; a dog began barking; I gave up. Bedtime.

“Tom, where do you gan when ye’re deed?”
“A gert big serpent swallers ye up.”
“Wi googly een?”
“Weel, he wad, if’n he’d swallered ye.”
“Ye’re funnin’.”
“Aareet, what d’ye reckon?”
“Mebbe things just stop.”
“Or mebbe ye just carry on i’ sum other place.”
“How d’ye knaa?”
“It maks sense. Nowt ends, dizzit?”
“Sae gan ti sleep willyer?”

All the same, mi little brother gave me an idea.
I walked up to the door, and knocked.
A woman answered; she waited for me to speak first.
“Is Jake there?”
Her mute face registered alarm. She kinda gestured with her eyes, at the room behind her, mebbe not meaning to. She never moved to let me in or auht.
“Jake!” I shouted.
I thought I caught a glimpse of my marra – just a flash as of a turned heed – or someone caught unaware – or was it him?
I was trembling now.
The woman looked at me not unkindly. “I think you’d better leave now,” she said.
It was a suggestion, not an order.
I was too dazed to reply.
The door quietly closed.

Did I want to meet Jake again?
Did I dare?

It took a coupla days afore A’d worked that through; and then the house was empty again. Everyone had went. Everyone.

Page 484

There will be another Bill Griffiths story next month. Two poems of his may be found here.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Patricia Farrell: Otherwise Than Beings

To celebrate the arrival of copies of Robert Sheppard's
we are publishing the cover art by Patricia Farrell
Page 483

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Robert Sheppard: A History of the Other part eight

Out of Everywhere: Be(com)ing a Woman Poet

The absence of women writers in the British Poetry Revival has been noted; Horovitz’ 1969 anthology Children of Albion was ‘no more hospitable to women than [Alvarez’] 1962 The New Poetry’ as Claire Buck says, but little has been suggested as to why this was so. One of the five women amongst the 63 poets of Children of Albion, Libby Houston, remembered being involved in Horovitz’ proto-Beat scene and recalled being the only woman to attend readings, a view echoed in Michelene Wandor's memories of a slightly later period:

In the late 1960s-early 1970s I had read my poetry at the very many poetry-reading venues there were but had stopped by choice, since I felt uncomfortable at being (mostly) the only woman poet - the other women around were wives or groupies, and I always felt a bit odd in relation to both camps.

Female audience members clearly were defined in relation to male audiences and male poets. The word ‘groupie’ suggests not just an importation of pop argot, but the adoption of its macho ethos. A groupie is there to have casual sex with the poetry star. Such a scene - and the poetry reading was as vital to the survival of the poetry as print - would be prohibitive for a woman writer or audience member. Readings were often held in pubs, traditional male territory; the potential childcare problems of attending readings, let alone going on ‘tour’, must be recalled too. A telling anecdote of Houston suggests that women were expected to play other familiar roles.

I could flash a smile, dress up, being a woman part of the act which belonged there. When Horovitz and [Pete] Brown set about starting a reading agency, Poetry in Motion ... eyebrows were raised at me, the woman ... to run it.

If sexism was rife through the Underground – and I have heard a senior British poet say, with relish and regret, that there was a ‘lot of leg-over’ in the 1960s - it is not surprising that aspiring women poets of the 1960s and 1970s turned to the women's movement for an audience, although the movement was not unequivocally receptive. Wandor recalls political attacks on poetry as ‘moribund’, so it is small wonder that, as Claire Buck states,

The poetry that flourished within the context of the new women's movement was characterized by a clear fidelity to its political ideals translated into a poetics concerned with cultural critique, an accessible language and form, and the expression of women's personal experience.

Clearly distinct if not distant from the work dealt with here, some of this work was collected in The New British Poetry (1988), but while its feminist section was slim on the grounds that women were also represented in the black writing and the two sections which are more my concern, Mottram’s British Poetry Revival section has only two women poets out of its 25, Denise Riley and Wendy Mulford. Linguistically Innovative Poetry by women has not fared much better; Edwards’ section, ‘Some Younger Poets’, has four women out of 18 poets, and Conductors of Chaos, a similar anthology edited by Iain Sinclair showcases only five women out of 36 contributors.

However, in the 1990s, there seemed a genuine paucity of British experimental women writers. When Maggie O’Sullivan, who was only too keen to redress this imbalance, edited Out of Everywhere: Linguistically Innovative Poetry by Women in North America & the UK in 1996, she could only find nine British poets to join the remaining 21 from across the Atlantic.

Out of Everywhere therefore features a large selection of North American, mostly language, poetry. It is interesting to see that, by 1996, it was possible to place British work alongside North American work in the same context, for example, to put Bergvall’s performance work next to Rosmarie Waldrop’s extraordinary series of prose texts ‘writing back’ to other texts. Such work is located outside of most gatherings, and discussions, of women’s poetry, despite its importance for certain questions concerning women’s writing, such as French feminism’s identification of a specific √©criture feminine. O’Sullivan's introduction quotes the words of ‘an unidentified audience member’ at a Waldrop talk who noted how such linguistically innovative work by women is doubly excluded from the institutionized marginality of feminist poetry or from Gilbert and Gubar style anthologies. The comment provides O’Sullivan’s anthology with its title: ‘There’s an extra difficulty being a woman poet and writing the kind of poetry you write: you are out of everywhere (laughter).’ This ambivalent evocation of both inclusion and exclusion is apposite. O’Sullivan points out, perhaps a little too stridently, that

Excluded from ‘women’s canons’, such work does, however, connect up with linguistically innovative work by men who have themselves also transcended the agenda-based and clich√©-ridden rallying positions of mainstream poetry.

As early as 1984, O’Sullivan and Geraldine Monk launched an attack in an article which prepared the ground for Out of Everywhere. They argue that feminist poetry, far from raising consciousness, is often ‘versified propaganda’ and, more importantly, is being falsely ‘validated as the poetry that speaks for women’. In terms that mirror Buck’s analysis, they argue that

the most effective chance any woman has of dismantling the fallacy of male creative supremacy is simply by writing poetry of a kind which is liberating by the breadth of its range, risk and innovation.... to exploit and realize the full potential and importance of language.

Caroline Bergvall, Maggie O’Sullivan and Geraldine Monk, are featured in both of the 1996 anthologies, as is Denise Riley. Claire Buck argues that Riley, too, was ‘out of everywhere’, because her ‘focus on the poststructuralist concerns of language and sexual difference place her ... in opposition to the main trajectory of feminist poetry in both the 1970s and the 1980s.’ 85 After some years of poetic silence, the genuine and distinctive voice of Riley rose to prominence, with two Reality Street collections, one of new poems, Mop Mop Georgette in 1993, and her Selected Poems in 2000. Among the formal experimentation of Out of Everywhere, her work (which, in any case, has also found itself in the Penguin Modern Poets series), seems muted, the ironical play with voice and self more often attenuated by traditional rhetorical figures; she is often seen as another member of the Cambridge axis. However, the texts are full of evanescent presentations of a far from stable female ego, a voice in which the promises of identity divide and dissolve into the ‘I’ provided by the lyric poetry tradition. She articulates voices (not ‘voice’); most of them want to act out a self-absorbed otherness:

in sleep alone I get articulate to mouth the part of
anyone and reel off others' characters until the focus

of a day through one-eyed self sets in again: go into it.
I must. (CC, p. 393)

The weaving of song lyrics into the text (so that what is quotation and what is not, what is expressive and what is ironic, is unclear) enacts the ambivalent remembering and misremembering of a nostalgic and narcissistic content that the poems themselves appear to offer, as in ‘Lure 1963’:

Oh yes I’m the great pretender. Red lays a stripe of darkest
green on dark. My need is such I pretend too much. I’m
wearing. And you’re not listening to a word I say. (CC, p. 86)

Fashion and emotional excess are intertwined in the word ‘wearing’. Such sartorial disguise and the deference to the ventriloquial articulations of popular song result in the ego singing, rather than talking, to itself.

Next month A History of the Other concludes with a consideration of anthologies and conferences. In the meantime check out the Pores/Readings website Forum on Women Writers for some other views on the matters discussed here.

Page 482

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Index to Pages September 2005

(Just click onto the appropriate month under Archive on the right; an index for that month will appear at the top of each)

September 2005

481: Neil Pattison: Preferences 1
480: The History of the Other, part seven
479: Jeff Hilson: from Bird Bird
478: Robert Sheppard: The Poetry of Saying

August 2005

477: Lawrence Upton: Two Texts
476: The Poetry Buzz: Pictures of Pages authors
475: Patricia Farrell: Visual Work: Tomorrow’s Attack Objects Talk
474: The History of the Other, part six

July 2005 (June was too busy)

473: The Poetry Buzz (images! new technology!)
472: Robert Sheppard: The Anti-Orpheus/Rattling the Bones
471: Scott Thurston: Sounding Scheme
470: Robert Hampson: Synthetic Feed
469: Robert Sheppard: A History of the Other, part five

May 2005

468: Adrian Clarke: from MUZZLE
467: Marianne Morris: from Easter Poems
466: Robert Sheppard: Looking Back at Place and Open Field Poetics
465: Robert Sheppard: A History of the Other: Part four
464: Ken Edwards: from BARDO

April 2005

463: Robert Sheppard: TEXTintoTEXT
462: Robert Sheppard: A History of the Other: Part three
461: Neon Highway Interview with Robert Sheppard
460: Alice Lenkiewicz: Poems from Maxine

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 sequence)
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