Monday, October 29, 2007

Chris Hamilton-Emery

[Chris Hamilton-Emery, of Salt Publications, asked a very similar question to one I was framing on the British Poets list. Zeitgeist or (M)orphic resonance aside, I thought it fitting to begin with his reply to his own question – and sort of to mine -

My feeling is, and I don't want this to be seen as an attack, but 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. So I wondered whether given what I see as the huge take up of these practices, it might be more accurate to regard these practices as mainstream. I've also pondered on whether new innovations are in fact linguistic but are in fact social, for example, work which innovates a readership, not through the excesses of the text, but through its techniques in drawing people in. I was interested in considering this in the context of different readerships.

Secondly, I do worry that we're at risk of imagining that innovation can only happen in certain social locations, like Cambridge for example, and how this branch of innovation, might not in fact be innovative and might, in fact, have more to do with ideas of privilege and social identity. Not to knock Cambridge, but if I had one sense of changes since 2000, it would be that the Cambridge scene has now ended. But I do doubt that innovation can be understood now in terms of these locations of practice, and that many institutional locations have in fact developed an institutional idea of innovation which is rather weak and is losing reception.

I think the interest in digital poetics is fascinating, though I think the technologies and their usage are moving faster than many practitioners and so a lot of technically inventive poetry can seem rather hackneyed and its reliance on medium is often to the detriment of the actual content. So I think this could be a dead end, or rather, the means have become the ends.

Innovative poetries in the Black and Asian communities have largely been excluded from recent surveys so British Black surrealism and sci-fi writing have it seems to me been missed and new Muslim writing seems to have been branded as identity writing as if this were somehow old hat and not worth investigating.

I'd point out that the writing that seems to me to be most highly charged right now, seems to have greater social concern about community and meaning, and less to do with political empowerment and political enfranchisement - the politics is there in people like Ronnie McGrath or Sascha Akhtar, but language and community seem more pressured and alive. I think people, young people, seem to be looking at a world devoid of standard models for moral and ethical behaviour, largely disinterested in 19thC political theory and its realisation and more concerned with inventing social constructs within poems, constructs which might transcend national, racial, or
community boundaries. There's a great deal of carnivalesque play, and a lot of persona poems come across my desk.

What I'm seeing is this massive diversity of practices, and a happy coexistence of technical approaches, not a case of either or, more a case of this mode of writing is the most appropriate for this content. If I made one last observation, it's that what's being said is suddenly more vital than how it is being said, and that saying things matters. Maybe it's seeing body bags and kids being shot on the street which has writers searching for ways to explore these tragically commonplace occurrences, I don't know, but I think the locus for new writing may lie firmly outside of institutions in the UK right now, and despite the long term relationships and support structures we've all enjoyed, there's something else happening outside these transatlantic conversations. I'm keen to see what new European migration brings to the mix, too.

But I don't have answers, and most of the material which might provide evidence for these observations hasn't made it to a commercially viable project for me, and that, of course, steers are great deal of my thinking and reading. So it's necessarily limited.

… There's no binary opposition of avant-garde (now surely a historical term) and the mainstream, and there are no power structures that make sense within such a framework. What we have now is a multiplicity of practices and readerships and no real framework for understanding their trajectories, outside of consumption.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Editorial to Pages; fourth series

Welcome to the fourth series of Pages, which I intend to keep focussed upon a single issue.

Under the general title Turning the Pages I am publishing short responses to the following question:

Now. 2007-8. What have been the most significant developments in the alternative British and Irish Poetries (however you define those) over the last 7 years? This can be answered in terms of big picture socio-poetical contexts or in terms of local poetic practices, but please think through both the negative and positive aspects of your chosen sphere. Avoid predictions.

Please do not send unsolicited responses but do re-visit the site and see the latest instalments. I intend to add something every month (subject to responses) but no more than one item a week.

Robert Sheppard