Even the Bad Times are Good: Rupert Loydell & Robert Sheppard

RL: I've (finally) re-read When Bad Times Made for Good Poetry and if you're still up for it, perhaps we can start a conversation-cum-interview about some of the issues it does and doesn't raise?

RS: Of course, although the issues it doesn't raise might be either for another day, another book, or another writer!

Firstly, I wanted to ask if you would consider the 'episodes' in your book the most important episodes in 'the history of the poetics of innovation' as your subtitle suggests, or simply episodes you were personally involved or aware of at the time?

The book is episodic in structure, in that it is a miscellany of previously published and un-published pieces, and that is one meaning of the word (which avoids a sequentially oriented term such as 'chapter' or one like 'article' which implies complete narrative discontinuity). I try to avoid locutions like 'the most important' because to truly make such a claim requires what we used to call 'perfect knowledge' in A Level Economics. In short, the episodes are various in scope. I write about Tom Raworth, Allen Fisher and Maggie O'Sullivan because they are extraordinary writers and deserve whatever elucidation I can offer to assist other readers to approach their difficulties of text and poetics. Iain Sinclair is culturally visible and requires critical mediation. There are other episodes - the long one on the 'creative environment' of London in the mid-1980s, the one on the Poetry Society's manifesto, and the account of the circumstances of Ken Edwards' talk 'The WE Expression' - in which I hope I bring to readers who weren't there a sense of what it was like to be a part of a particular field of literary production, to use the sociological language I utilise in the book, a field which was crossed by both important figures (as writers, publishers, practitioners of poetics), and lesser-known characters. In fact, one of the things that surprised me in writing the piece that documents Bob Cobbing's London creative environment, Writers Forum, New River Project, - I'd made a decision to account for all the named agents in detailed footnotes - is how many of the people around at that time - poets, musicians, actors and others - have had distinguished careers since. Very few people simply went off the radar, though some changed course. I abandoned academic protocol and went personal (using diary fragments, etc.) because I felt that was the best way. A couple of thoughts on that: I wish I'd kept accurate notes at the time. Secondly: I was writing The Given
at the same time, my attempt at an anti-autobiography, parts of which cover the same years, so I was awash with episodic memory.  

I understand poetics is not a term only to do with poetry, but I wonder if you would concede that Iain Sinclair's importance to poetics, and indeed as a writer is more to do with his prose [although this obviously blurs into prose poetry at times] and as an
editor and enabler?

I think that's true, but before White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings
poetry was his main occupation, which is why I look at the poems of the early 1980s in the book: that extraordinary period when he published in editions of less than 20; the poems seem to form themselves from the wounds of Thatcherism! The second essay on Sinclair deals with the documentary prose, particularly the parts where he deals with the poetry world. I think his mythologizing of individuals within this (which I criticise both here and in my book Iain Sinclair) is one reason why I felt drawn to try to be as inclusive as possible about the creative environments I witnessed myself. Indeed, you raise the word 'poetics', which is a theme of many of the episodes. By poetics I mean the speculative writerly discourse, baggy and unruly, that writers use to conceptualise their past, present and (most importantly) future writings. It's the heart of my teaching and the life-force of my own writing. And I think Sinclair's failure to describe poetics (his own or others') in favour of impressionistic character-studies, is regrettable. I recognise the power of his writing: after all, I took the title of the book from one of his poems of the early 1980s. I recognise my complicity in this, too; I've used a quote of his that mythologises me a bit as a blurb for Berlin Bursts, the poetry book that was published simultaneously with Bad Times by Shearsman! Liverpool hasn't noticed me! But I'm bigger than Ringo!

Conductors of Chaos in many ways seemed a summary of something gone and dealt with. Would you agree that it wasn't a particularly readable or enjoyable book, more a thorn in the side of mainstream poetry, a kind of agent provocateur?

Seemed? You mean at the time, 1996? It summarised a little (there were those excerpts from neglected modernists). Isn't this Sinclair as 'enabler'? All anthologies play catch up. Perhaps a tangent: Sinclair gets rolled out to talk about the poetry scene sometimes, such as on a recent BBC radio programme on Bob Cobbing, but it is interesting how little I ever came across him in that environment. He wasn't an eye/ear witness often. In fact, given that, it is surprising that he found new voices such as Caroline Bergvall or Aaron Williamson for that anthology; their appearance probably owes to Catling's influence. It's quite readable. Only recently has Sinclair perceived the importance of Ken Edwards (one of Sinclair's books of the year) or John Seed (included in City of Disappearances
), for example, both mentioned in my book (indeed, both dedicatees of it: I dedicate it to the few people who turned up to my Sub Voicive reading in December 1985! The first work after my post-modernist breakthrough! Fit though few.) Sinclair is both sustained and handicapped by his practice of walking out into the culture (literally, often) to see what he finds.

My personal experience of 70s and early 80s London and poetry is very different to the world discussed and described in your book. Did you consider writing more of a survey of innovative poetries at the time?

Last point first. My previous volume The Poetry of Saying
attempted an historical academic account of some innovative practices (defined technically, linguistically and ethically) whereas Bad Times approaches this episodically (and also is more aimed at the poetry 'scene' itself than at university library shelves where the earlier book languishes). There is some (deliberate) overlap. I can only do what I can do. There are writers I admire but about whom I could say nothing very useful. All that stuff I read in translation, for instance. At one time I might have attempted a 'survey'; such a venture seems to me fit for an edited volume by many hands these days. Reading Andrew Duncan puts me off panoptic narratives. My only response to your experience is: write your own account. Perhaps what's needed is: Maximum Accounts: Minimum Surveys (to paraphrase Emperor Rosko on Radio Luxembourg French in the late 1960s). I've just read both Pasternak's Safe Conduct and Shklovsky's Mayakovsky and his Circle (for different reasons, and not thinking of them together) and was fascinated by the overlap, and the one convergence when both writers meet over the corpse of their mutual friend, about whom they held differing, but reverent, views.

I came to poetry through the likes of Ted Hughes'
Crow sequence (which I saw him read in Hammersmith, the same week as Ivor Cutler performed there!) and picking up remaindered anthologies and early editions of Slow Dancer magazine in an Oxford Street bookshop. Gavin Selerie's Azimuth, which I bought in the Riverside Studios bookshop, was very important to me; so was seeing Peter Redgrove and others read in Holland Park, and Tom Pickard and Robert Creeley at Riverside Studios.
    In retrospect, I think there's an argument that innovative poetries were just as dependent on some of these other strands of poetry and other activities such as improvised and other performances at the London Musician's Collective premises, zine culture (perhaps with a nod to Tom Vague and the Rough Trade shops), performance poetry descending from the likes of both Adrian Mitchell and the Liverpool Poets but also reggae and dub (which then mutates into rap) centred perhaps in Notting Hill and Brixton. I might add post-punk in general, which for my money actually did something lyrically and musically with some of the possibilities punk offered, more mainstream poets such as Ken Smith, and the political sloganeering and pamphleteering (which I regard as really interesting textual and publishing activities) of Crass and similar politically motivated groups within the anarchist and post-punk world.
    This might not be your London, and your book couldn't possibly have included all of my list, but I wondered if you'd care to comment? Might the rhizomean idea that you used in
Twentieth Century Blues be an appropriate model when considering the networks of poetic innovation?

See? You're starting to offer your account, geographically to the west of where I was, and maybe slightly earlier or more extensive in time. (I'm not a Londoner, lived there 1982-1997.) What is interesting is not the divergence but its opposite: Gavin Selerie, the musicians of the LMC, Pickard and Creeley, these cross the accounts I've put together. Slow Dancer
I remember well, Ken Smith I knew later, oddly, and he didn't seem 'mainstream' in the early 80s. I ought to write on him; he's nearly been forgotten (as he feared at the time, I'm told). I saw (and at the time admired) Peter Redgrove, actually reading at the Poetry Society at what must have been the time of the biggest turmoil. I was too shy to approach him, but stayed (at the bar) talking to Cobbing and Upton. There was a factional friction in the room I didn't understand (and I hope Redgrove didn't either). Again, I wish I'd kept detailed accounts, as perhaps you have. Was this the night I picked up/was picked up by a drunk woman on Earls Court station who'd been to a party thrown by the Heavy Metal Kids, and we returned to her flat to find it full of dope-smoking heads? (I made my retreat hastily and caught the Brighton train, then running all night.) Punk passed me by. I was busy (still) reading Marcuse's Essay on Liberation.  
   Rhizomatic criticism? Yes, indeed, if it were possible. Not so much rhizomatic as prismatic. Again, I think multiple views are needed. I've talked to Robert Hampson about this, and I think we concluded a web resource would be ideal to capture these histories and memories. Gavin Selerie is alert to the need to document the London scene beyond my parameters - and we've corresponded and chatted about this. He has images, too, as does Paul A. Green. Geraldine Monk sent me other photos taken on the same day as the cover image of Cobbing and O'Sullivan at the LMC. It's different today. I was talking about this to Tim Atkins who was reading at Edge Hill the day before yesterday. You can't read in public these days without being recorded. Back then, people couldn't afford film for cameras. Tape recorders broke and nobody could fix them.

I've asked you and others this question before, but I'm going to ask it again: Why on earth was so much energy spent trying to subvert and claim The Poetry Society for innovative poetries? Why expect an establishment mainstream group to be doing anything interesting and worthwhile? Wouldn't it have been easier to leave well alone and get on with it elsewhere, perhaps supporting some of the alternative bookshops and organisations that could have done with audiences and sales of books and refreshments? Was there any logic to trying to reposition both the Society and experimental poetry in the way that was attempted?

No, you've not asked me quite this question before, but it's an interesting one. Given the alternative society/ies documented in Bomb Culture
and elsewhere, why did they bother? There must have been a logic, but what was it? The answer has to lie in looking carefully at the contemporary situation. Our view is misted by the failure of events at Earls Court, but what if they'd succeeded? In my short story writing phase a few years ago I considered writing an alternative history in which radical poetry is culturally validated: I plotted a scene in which Lawrence Upton is discovered in a hammock in the high rise studios-cum-offices of the Institute of Advanced Poetics. (He'd recognise the comic allusion to his visit to Sweden in the 1970s when he discovered a very comfortably funded avant-garde artist in a similar attitude, by the way!) Imagine if we'd treated Roy Fisher as well as we ought; he might have won the Nobel Prize alongside TranstrÜmer this year. They are very similar poets in many ways. Imagine╔
   The 1960s ended in or about 1973 or 1974, didn't they? I'm not thinking about Dark Side of the Moon
or T-Rex but the buffers of the oil crisis of 1973. Again, the ravages of Thatcherism or the faceless contempt of Cameron, mask the fact that something commonly perceptible was shifting economically at that point. Things looked a little meaner. That had effects. Fulcrum and other presses had folded, Better Books was gone, had been re-absorbed by Collins. Where else was there a premises to use with a fit for purpose performance space in London? Underground magazines folded, the alternative poetry magazines became little magazines again, purely literary. Here was a subsidised journal for the taking. The Society was less a mainstream institution at that time than a moribund shell. Some of these factors point to the narrowing of opportunities; others represent the sharpening of foci, as in the creative work of many of the participants at Earls Court. Perhaps both.
   If we take Peter Barry's Poetry Wars
as the data and speculate a little, we can see that the entryism at Earls Court was gradual and probably not pre-meditated, but there had been a growing movement towards consolidation via the Association of Little Presses which had been promoting independent publishing (or perhaps it's better to think of it as interdependent publishing, remembering tales of Raworth rushing round to literally borrow print from Asa Benveniste, for example!). ALP was particularly interested in schemes of distribution of poetry books; it's not hard to see that the Society could have potentially organised and funded this - and did, for a while. There was room for a print room that many presses could use, without having to borrow type! Poets Conference (an unofficial Trades Union), chiefly organised, like ALP, by Cobbing, kept poetry reading organisers on their toes. The Society administered the then-important Poetry Secretariats that ensured payment and subsidy for poetry reading, which might surprise younger poets used to door money (or less). Again, the attractions of Arts Council money are obvious, and the poets (rightly or wrongly) saw access to this as almost a right. Poets Conference voted Adrian Mitchell as their candidate for poet laureate and 'conveners' Bob and George MacBeth were received gracefully by poetically-informed civil servants at Downing Street, Bob once told me. Receiving such a reception alone must have felt like being at the heart of things.
   The Society was also national news. It was a NATIONAL poetry centre and they must have eyed it like freedom fighters coveting the radio station (which is not to pass over the premises' disrepair). One of the surprises about Peter's book is the extent of press coverage and publicity they were getting. They must have believed that if you have control of the content of the Poetry Review you could influence its already existing readership, and detourn poetry as a whole. (Today Poetry Review speciously calls itself THE 'poetry journal of record'.) You were potentially breaking out of the narrowing circle of the underground into the mainstream, which you would then transform by education, faster than by other means. (In fact, subscribers unsubscribed, as we say today.) This was an era in which Cobbing, for one, was working a lot in schools. School textbooks and anthologies carried poems by Cobbing, Harwood, Paul Evans, etc., so there were encouraging signs in the culture at large. The Education Office of the Society might have seemed a body worth infiltrating. The early seventies must have seemed like a tipping point. Added to that, self-delusion and a few pints in the bar (another pull, it could stay open all night if need be!) and they were onto a winner, but they were caught off-guard by events. Rather than tell that story again, I concentrate in my piece in Bad Times on the forgotten, unreleased manifesto, which is unashamedly utopian in its desire for imaginative thinking to spread right through society, in its belief that poetry is one instrument of society's liberation. The 'logic to the attempted repositioning', to use your phrase, Rupert, is contained in this manifesto (mainly the work of Nuttall I'd guess, and reprinted entire in Peter Barry's book). They were talking to the nation (they thought). Or they could have been. If Kenneth Goldsmith can read in the White House, then Cobbing could have read at Number 10. Actually, when he performed before Edward Heath at a concert he turned his back on him. Most of these people could not have maintained the kinds of necessary bureaucratic compromises learned by other kinds of arts organisers.
   In short: this must have felt like a period of narrowing opportunity, coupled with perceptibly emboldened ambition and the Poetry Society would have seemed replete with resources, physical and financial to effect large-scale societal change, not just in poetry.

Of course, you're right about my point of view being influenced by now, but to me the 70s was about a repositioning of power, not attempts to take over. Of course some bands signed up to EMI, but at the time after punk there genuinely were new record labels springing up. It seemed to me the fruition of the more idealistic 60s, a time when utopian vision had to deal with business in some way; there was - finally! - an understanding that books and records didn't magically appear in the ether, they were produced objects that had to be distributed and sold. Of course,
Oz, International Times and many other magazines had set a precedent. To me, coming late to the small press party, there was still a euphoria in the air; possibilities were available - Stride itself was started as a result of that, and Stride cassettes was part of the DIY cassette scene that happened in the early 80s, an early way of cheap music and poetry distribution.

Wasn't it also about storming the reality studios? Your 1970s are the punk late 1970s, when all of this was over (bar the final fighting). As I say in the book, I was lucky in catching some of the late euphoria myself when I was still quite young - I was 20 in 1975 - and absorbed that DIY ethos well: in the 1970s I was publishing 1983 - the date sounded futuristic at the time, and nodded to Hendrix and Hugh Hopper!- a technologically up-to-date cassette tape magazine that published Harwood, Griffiths, Paul Evans and Stefan Themerson, among others, the latter an important figure in showing that innovation had a history (at the time I knew him I hadn't clocked he'd been a friend of Schwitters).

I guess my question arises out of genuine bemusement: why take over or subvert something when you can do it so much better yourself! The Poetry Society has always been Londoncentric, and its allegiances to arts council funding and the bigger poetry presses (through the Poetry Book Society) then and now mean it was unlikely to ally itself with experimental and alternative poetries. It was and is too invested in the mainstream. The best we can have hoped for might be the all-inclusive magazine editions that Robert Potts edited. I suspect many innovative poets remain resistant to this, as we both know many poets consider the way they write the only way to write╔
I've documented elsewhere my amazement at poets' abilities to discard the likes of Faber in one go, or whole poetic movements in a single statement. One hopes that there are more accepting and catholic critics and writers around nowadays, without wishing for uncritical readers and writers.

Very briefly (we must move on from this subject!) there was both the sense that new and independent things could happen within the society. Cobbing already owned the means of production for Writers Forum (the office duplicator) but other presses did make use of the print room (Bill Griffiths' Pirate Press, for example). Remember, the radical poets arrived one by one and I don't think they were conscious until it happened that they were taking it over. And they did for a while. The 'Manifesto' is catholic, recognising the varieties of contemporary poetry, though the Poetry Review
didn't. You're right that a National centre should publish an all-inclusive review. Potts did, and what happened? He was replaced. It's no wonder innovative poets respond in the ways you suppose; 'mainstream' poets do too. Mutual incomprehension. I am less likely to issue death-threats to the mainstream these days: I enjoyed doing so through my New Statesman reviews of the 1980s - but that seems a long time ago. Nowadays, I don't systematically study the 'mainstream'; my last pronouncements were in The Poetry of Saying where I look at the rainbow alliances of millennial anthologies that declared all poetry wars over and everyone the winners: in a sociologically-defined catholicity that included (as far as I could see) representatives of most groupings, but not of what has come to be collected under that term 'linguistically innovative'.

Allen Fisher appears twice in your book, but despite much critical attention, his own public placement over the years as an artist, poet and educator, and the fairly recent publication of his major sequences, he is perhaps one of the most off-the-radar innovative poets in terms of the general public or poetry readers. Any ideas why this is? I personally find his poetry intriguing and musical, if not transparent in terms of 'meaning' or 'content'. Does Allen prefer being a cult author do you think?

No, he's not a cult author, by my understanding: that would entail a following of hip insiders deliberately excluding the squares! It's not a coterie either, which would imply a limited following by judicious admirers. I think it's more fragmented than that. Rather like the work itself. And maybe that's the problem, if there is one: the vastness of the oeuvre with its many scattered procedures. There's a tendency for big projects to go unnoticed. (I should know.) There are no hit singles. But there is still something radical about montage as effect
. Whereas the technique is over-familiar, its more radical results are less assimilable. RanciĆre, as I note in my response to Raworth's processes in Bad Times, says we should 'put disorder back into montage' (i.e. channel-flipping just doesn't do it) and I think Raworth and Fisher have already done that: montage in their hands is an inherent challenge to perceptual coherence and narrative modes. Fisher aims for (re-)narrational effects through non-narrative means, which is an exacting poetics. Younger writers apply collage lightly and with a consistency of voice which Allen's work also eschews. Maybe there's something in that? Domesticated collage against its undomesticated varieties? Farther out than Allen: I'm more surprised by the lack of interest in Adrian Clarke, though I recognise the work appears rebarbative toward the reader. Everything torques. He's re-defined the oeuvre in his appropriately titled Drastic Measures by revising his old sequences down to one book. (Get it everybody: it's out from Veer.) Ulli Freer has a poetic practice of unceasing process that seems to escape documentation, through flurries of pamphlets and carefully choreographed ritualised performances.
I wondered if you'd care to expand upon the point you make, and which we might include ourselves as part of, about innovative poets moving into education as lecturers and teachers. Do you think this will have a knock on effect in terms of processes, breadth of reading, critical readings and poetics? Do you feel that as a responsibility, perhaps even a weight? Or just as a personal challenge? Do you think this infiltration (if that's not too loaded a word) has happened in a similar way to what has previously occurred in the USA? Is it perhaps disappointing that we have embraced institutional academia instead of perhaps building upon the idealism and utopian visions of the 60s and 70s? Or are we realists or, playing devil's advocate, simply better placed to promote and contextualise our own work whilst paying the mortgage?

There are a lot of questions there, regarding the positions we both find ourselves in, you at Falmouth and me at Edge Hill. It's already had effects, hasn't it, this slipping in through the gates of the academy (and perhaps it has happened in a way not dissimilar to the seeping entryism at the Poetry Society)? A lot of emerging writers are products of writing courses and this is encouraging. A lot of interesting writing is taught and reciprocally interesting writing produced. I feel it as a pleasure that poets (Thurston, cris cheek, Michael Egan, Joanne Ashcroft, Andrew Taylor, Cliff Yates, Matt Fallaize, Alice Lenkiewicz, Mark Smith, and other good writers less visible, like Tony Cullen and Deborah Walsh, as well as fiction writers like Carol Fenlon, Claire Massey, Carys Bray and the late Lisa Ratcliffe) have passed through my tutelage, but I feel my position as a pressure too. You talk about teaching but research is a big part of my work and the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry
and the critical books we are discussing here, and even this interview, are parts of my research 'output' - as are my creative works. I gave a blinder of a reading from Berlin Bursts at the Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool last Sunday, and that's a part of research. My collaborations with Patricia and Pete Clarke (and you!) are too. What do I do that isn't research? Unless you can keep the work visible and viable as art and not as 'practice-led research' you're no good to your students and no good to yourself. (I'm beginning to feel a certain revulsion to that term and towards phrases like 'the creative industries' which is a PR fiction - they are creeping into our professional discourse.) I've written on creative writing pedagogy, chiefly on the necessity of poetics as a speculative student-centred activity, but also on my teaching of innovative writing, but I don't have a very worked-out theory of what I intend to achieve within academia (although I've achieved a lot). I'm proud of the work I did on the Research Benchmarks the HE Committee of the National Association of Writers in Education put together, for example. But perhaps (and here I'm responding to the challenge of Richard Maggraf Turley's introduction to his new edited volume The Writer in the Academy) the economic challenges and pressures on the subject over the next few years will bring to the fore the friction mounting between supposed vocational orientations in the subject and art's claims to operate as a critique of society (often by developing forms that directly contest what that legitimising society holds dear). The clash between idealism and drab utilitarianism may still lie ahead. After all, creative writing as an emergent academic discipline has been obsessed with self-definition until now. What do you think?

Yes, it's all research, but sometimes the institution, or specific institutions, may not wish to see it as such. Despite sterling work done by many, including yourself, there is no automatic acceptance of creative work as research. It still has to be
framed as research; I don't know how you write, but I don't set myself a theoretical problem to solve each time I write a poem or group of texts. The REF (the governement's Research Excllence Framework) may accept one thing, Falmouth may demand another. I've been investigating this framing recently, with regard to my own output - and indeed considering interviews such as this, as well as those where I have been interviewed, along with my critical writing, as proof of research, although I would prefer to see them as poetics. I am perhaps fortunate in that although Falmouth is trying to become more of a research institute it is also very much a teaching institution. I still greatly enjoy my teaching; I have never particularly enjoyed what we might traditionally think of as academic writing.
   With reference to this, and looking back to the time your book covers, what do you see as the product of the 70s and 80s poetics and poetry you document in your book? What individuals, schools or ideas particularly interest you in the 21st century?

This May, I was talking to the author of excellent 9 line sonnets Richard Parker (before his Crater Press won the Michael Marks award) and I was telling him that, in my opinion, he was living through a golden age of avant-garde poetry. He seemed not aware of this. Holly Pester told me when I met her for the first time last week that she liked the historicising of Bad Times and I said I hoped younger writers would record their activities. Tim Atkins was saying a couple of days ago that there is a poetry reading on nearly every night in London now - and Manchester seems particularly active with The Other Room (run by three fine poets: Scott Thurston, James Davies and the underrated Tom Jenks, whose A Priori is both conceptual and funny). I went to the Conversify Conference in Edinburgh during September and encountered not only active younger poets (Jow Lindsay/Francis Crot/Joe Walton and Posy Rider/Samantha Walton, neither of whom seem the least discombobulated by their dispersion of authorial identity) but young academics too (Greg Thomas, Juha Virtanen and Lila Matsumoto), which is gratifying to me as poet, critic and editor. Luke Roberts, Justin Katko, Steve Wiley and Emily Critchley are all active poet/critics. Michael Zand's lion arrived fully-formed out of the blue at Edinburgh. Sean Bonney (whose recent work, Happiness and The Commons is staggeringly good as well as raising uneasy questions) was a plenary speaker. (I've written a response to this, a poem-poetics essay or 'manyfesto' as I've called it.) Put with Jeff Hilson's work (In the Assarts) and Tim Atkins' 'Petrarch' project (itself a creative writing PhD, note) his two new books look splendid and part of something bigger.   
   But this doesn't begin to detail the works I'm assembling in a box and about which I felt I might write a survey essay (but which I'm doing here instead, I think). Watch out for David Toms (a great reader), Rachel Warriner and Jimmy Cummins in Ireland. Chris McCabe's Zeppelins
, and Neil Addison's Apocapulco can stand up for Liverpool, along with Michael Egan's Steak and Stations and his many other booklets. Simon Perril's Nitrate is an excellent take on film history. ZoĹ Skoulding is giving psychogeography a run for its money in Remains of a Future City (my favourite title for a book ever!), and Nathan Thompson is promising work in this area too. Rhys Trimble combines Welsh bardic performance with experimental procedures quite engagingly. Philip Terry's Dante project in progress is more than promising, as is the rollercoaster prose of Tim Allen's Settings. Thurston's Internal Rhyme is by contrast precise, austere and open. S.J. Fowler's multitude of books awaits me, as does Nat Raha's first volume from Veer. Now I've got to put them all back in the box! This is no scientific selection (I'm aware of younger writers in Sussex and Cambridge I haven't sampled yet, and I'm eagerly awaiting Peter Manson's MallarmÄ versions) and I haven't read all of them in any great detail. But I'm excited by this. I need to follow up Sophie Robinson more than I have.
   Sophie Robinson appears in two excellent anthologies I think are treasure troves, full of previously un-encountered goodies: Jeff Hilson's The Reality Street Book of Sonnets
and Carrie Etter's Infinite Difference from Shearsman. (The attractions of the innovative sonnet have been absorbing me for a while, not least of all as a writer; I reckon over 130 of my poems take on the sonnet frame in some way.)
   Older writers, of course, still produce exciting work (Geraldine Monk's Ghosts and Other Sonnets
has found its way into this box of mine, with its exacting hauntings and for its having opted for the 'innovative' sonnet craze of our day, which I've written about on Pages). Lee Harwood is writing so much less these days, but when poems do appear they are among his best, 'The Books' for example, which was published in Poetry Wales. Roy Fisher's Standard Midland is a slim volume but has a range leading from the opening meditation on how early man treated death equivocally through to the defamiliarised prose of 'Stops and Stations' which I spoke of at his 80th birthday celebration (the text was published on Eyewear). Some of his best works, actually.
   I've been casting eyes at the newcomers, not just to write about them, but to allow myself to be potentially influenced by their directions as a writer. Also to see if there's a zeitgeist. (There's certainly a more balanced gender mix these days, as I explain in the introduction to Bad Times
, which is a very male book.) Clearly, the syntactic play of the language poets has been a road not taken by many. There's a feeling that the wit of Berrigan and O'Hara, Bernadette Mayer and Alice Notley, are important again, and maybe lyric experimentalists like Waldrop and Armantrout rather than Bernstein and Andrews are revered (though there is a strong experimental streak, a draw towards figures like Peter Inman and Craig Dworkin, in the Manchester groupings; there are more writers there than I've listed). All these things are the legacy of earlier work, both British and foreign, but I am both heartened when I see these younger writers working as critics on the poetry of the past (Thomas and Wiley are both working on Cobbing, and included in a special edition of the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry Scott and I are editing), but also slightly disheartened by what seems elsewhere like a wilful uninterest in the history of alternative British poetries by some writers (such as I predict in my final piece in Bad Times, and to which the book is hopefully a corrective). Or they are looking to American work only as if none the things we talked about earlier mattered. Less sympathetically, it's easier to isolate one's genius than to have to admit that the thing has been done before and done better. But maybe this is an evolutionary protection for young writers, I don't know.
   Speaking of groups and Craig Dworkin, I've been paying some attention to 'conceptual writing' in the US, particularly in the anthology Against Expression
, edited by Dworkin and Goldsmith. As an anthology - in terms of introductions, headnotes and references to further reading - it is exemplary, but these things also indicate what might be weaknesses in the selected work: the concepts and contexts are often more interesting than the actual texts. Of course, that is mainly the point; the work has a 'thinkership' rather than a readership, as Kenneth Goldsmith says. Modes of expression are replaced by plundership (to add my own neologism). We re-write - no, type - the New York Times in uniform print, we alphabeticalise the Bible, we erase text to leave only the punctuation, the brand names, the instances of the use of 'I'. More controversially, we re-narrate the raw testimony of sex offenders (while nodding towards Reznikoff's Testimony), we inventorise our possessions or locations, our speech, our food intake (as in the famous Perec piece). We let computer flarf pour out as 'poems'. We let the computer write random poems with randomised names attached to them (the infamous 7000 page pdf called Issue 1 which contains a 'poem' of mine by the way; I get the point: we read the poems in the light of the names. Certainly I've re-claimed 'my' poem and I don't experience the outrage of many of the involuntary 'contributors'! Indeed, Todd Thorpe in his refreshing review of Complete Twentieth Century Blues on Jacket likens my work to Robert Fitterman's and others' and I'm willing to see the resemblance if not complete identification). Appropriately, this account is half-description, half-parody. I know you are keen on David Shields' Reality Hunger which proselytises (via appropriated text) for appropriation as an aesthetic. I picked up David Toop's Ocean of Sound the other day and was interested in how he was noting a similar poetics in the mid-1990s. So it's not new that there's nothing new under the sun! A fact that Against Expression emphasises, of course, with its own selective appropriations of Beckett and Roussel.
   I've never been more excited and more bored by an anthology than this (but I find my excitement ignored by the assumptions of the anthology, my boredom theorised or re-functioned as 'the new interest', as it were)! (That's the opening of another review I need not write.)
   I'm currently working towards writing a study of the forms of recent innovative poetries (mainly British but with some international poets), which is underlined by a conception of form itself, that emphasises form not as a vessel to contain its contents, but as a readerly process of forming which is already meaningful, and which brings the text into existence. My approach derives from my axiomatic contention that poetry is the investigation of complex contemporary realities through the means (meanings) of form, embodied in identifiable forms and acts of forming. This implies a test which writing must pass in order to 'work': how much does its form trans
-form? By this standard some of the inventorising gestures of conceptual writing don't work. The reaction against the syntactic play of the language poets (as noted of British writers too, above) has resulted in an interest in flatness and un-transformation. (Goldsmith reads at the White House; Bruce Andrews never would have.) But many texts do transform their occasions (despite themselves even; Goldsmith talks about the moments beauty and value break through the monotony, a clinamen moment in his theorising which threatens, perhaps by design, to undo itself). The sheer exhaustibility and audacity of Goldsmith's own work, for example, along with his cogent poetics, is touching in some curious way. The racial-political pressure of M. NourbeSe Philip's Zong! is chilling (though it is interesting to compare this with D.S. Marriott's take on the 'Zong affair' in another fine book missed out from my list above, The Bloods. He can form forms!) Peter Jaeger's Rapid Eye Movement (in excerpt in the anthology but available as a beautifully designed Reality Street volume) takes on the discourses of dream both objectively and subjectively in two language flows (top and bottom of the page). The anagrammatic play of K. Silem Mohammad's Sonnagrams, formed out of the forms of Shakespeare's Sonnets (they are in metre and rhyme!), is astounding (but he is aware of being 'poised at an interestingly liminal point between traditionally formal and experimentally procedural conceptions of constraint'). All of these seem transformative texts to me.
   The death of conceptual writing (as I'm sure such writers will agree) was inscribed early, a built-in obsolescence embodied by Darren Wershler's millennial The Tapeworm Foundry
, which is (judging from the anthology) largely a list of alternative 'and/or' conceptual experiments that renders the execution of the ideas redundant but nevertheless makes a transformative text out of the exhaustive and even exterminatory processes of his own accumulation and annunciation: 'author a sound poem consisting solely of noises made by a spin dryer full of glass eyeballs'. That's lovely! These formally transformative works seem to me to be - well - original and creative. I reserve my right to read them against their explicit poetics. My theorising of poetics allows for the element of unknowing or plain self-deception in the things writers tell themselves and each other.
   Actually I like Goldsmith's notion of 'uncreative writing', though, as an antidote to some of the expressive and therapeutic exercises perpetrated in the name of creative writing but it could also, as I'm pretty sure he'd admit, become yet another optional fixture of that pedagogy if 'conceptual writing' appears as Week 12 of an otherwise standard writing module, much as 'free verse' still does in some of the worst poetry writing courses. I'm increasingly teaching this work but I'll be severe on lists of abandoned clothes or accounts of how many pints of lager students can drink in a week! Forms and forming: trans-form-ation, that's my current mantra.

Phew! Quite a list there. Firstly, your response to
Against Expression is very similar to mine. It's an exciting anthology, but it's mainly the concepts and processes which intrigue me, not the products of them, the texts themselves. It's stating the obvious to say all processes and concepts are only tools for composition, not (necessarily) answers in themselves.
   I'm very interested in David Shields' book, yes - mainly prompted by the way it appears that in music (much as has previously happened to poetry) cultural value has become separated from monetary value. I'm drawn to the late fiction of David Markson and that of other writers who are taking ideas of collage and/or cut-up, the selection and juxtaposition of others' texts, to produce new ones. I've been reading Mark Amerika and others who are approaching this more from the musical idea of remixing: somebody else's version of the original idea. My favourite text of his is a remix of Ad Reinhardt, which managed to re-present the painter's ideas as well as Amerika's whilst discussing 'Why Video Games Suck'. DJ Spooky has written well theoretically about the remix too. More and more I want work to do far more than flag up the way it's made, which I do sometimes find linguistically innovative  poetry does. The Norton anthology
American Hybrid was ultimately disappointing, but it clearly  flags up ways that experimental poetries have fed back into the mainstream. I find myself more and more drawn to authors like Harvey Hix, who I correspond with a little, who clearly have a foot on both sides of the big divide. (He's also very good at finding hybrid forms of creative writing and research - his recent book, Lines of Inquiry, is a fine example of this.) Yes, I'm bored by the mainstream, but I also get pretty bored with the more esoteric textual experiments going on. Cole Swensen, one of the editors of American Hybrid, is one of my current favourite authors. I love the way each of her books works through a different theme or subject, and how she manages to use a multitude of compositional approaches within each of her sequences or series.
   The recent anthology
Smartarse which I edited, is one attempt to gather together some examples of hybridity. In a rather tongue-in-cheek way I describe it as 'post-confessional narrative poetry', but I am genuinely interested in how we can tell stories about ourselves without lapsing into either confession or traditional storytelling. I looked to younger American authors such as Dean Young, Alex Lemon, Josh Bell and Bob Hicok (who is in the anthology) for inspiration and example. Out of the poets I selected I'm pleased to see Nathan Thompson is on both our radar screens. I still regard Martin Stannard as very neglected poet (mainly, I suspect, because he won't toe any party lines), and for me Luke Kennard manages to combine stand-up, surrealism and experiment into something very new and very approachable. He's one of the few writers I know who make me laugh out loud. Steve Spence is an interesting product of both Tony Lopez's Plymouth MA poetry courses (as I am) and The Language Club (which includes Tim Allen and Norman Jope), and I think his two recent books are outstanding. I certainly admire Carrie Etter as a writer and teacher, but many of the names you mention are totally unknown to me, and I am going to go away and seek them out.
The Reality Street Book of Sonnets is indicative, for me, of a current interest in the renewal of traditional forms. My students who take my Poetry & Form unit are drawn to ways of writing where they can see a lineage and understand the reinvigoration of a form. They understand all forms are constructs, but they still like having a form to start with when they come to write. The sonnet is always popular, and I have also had a very good response to prose poems from Ann Killough's Beloved Idea where she explores the idea of metaphor at some length. Rusty Morrison's The True Keeps Calm Biding Its Story is an interesting and inspiring exploration of fragmentary communication using an idea and form rooted in the telegram, an outdated means of communication if ever there was one. I'm interested too in what Tony Lopez is doing with his collaged prose, which gets rawer and rawer as each book gets published. I haven't got a handle on it yet, but it's engrossing.
   I continue to read David Miller's
Spiritual Letters project with interest as he continues to try and answer the question of how one writes of faith, doubt and belief in the 21st Century; S.A. Stepanek's Three, Breathing, a long poem published by Wave Books, is another attempt to answer the same question. David Grubb's work in this area also continues to intrigue me, sometimes despite critical reservations I hold - I find myself moved anyway.
   The prose poem continues to intrigue me, as does collaborative writing. I've just published a new chapbook with Paul Sutton, which draws on film and the concept of place, and Nathan Thompson is editing the third collaboration we have undertaken ready for future publication. I remain very interested in ekphrasis and how we might write about the visual arts. John Taggart's Rothko sequences remain an inspiration and delight in this area. I confess though that at the moment I find myself far more interested in creative non-fiction, and contemporary music & writing about music than much current poetry, mainstream or otherwise. Perhaps working through your list will give me some new ways of thinking about things, and rekindle my enthusiasm? I hope so.

Who knows? That looks like a pretty sound list. Miller, yes. Markson I should look at, if only from my Malcolm Lowry obsession. It's funny. It's a bit like our maps of London: they are geo-centric. My list has a number of North West names on it; yours has a South Western bias. Nathan's on both lists not just because he's a promising writer, but because he commutes between the two areas (via Jersey!). More seriously: it's great to see it. And good to see your own various creative projects - the prose poem, collaboration, writing about aesthetic visuality - flagged up there (whether they end up being 'research' or not). I'm particularly interested in your collaborations (particularly as we did one!). What is your poetics of collaboration?

Collaboration, for me, usually combines a process with a dynamic that arises from constantly being surprised where the collaborator takes the sequence or series. Sheila Murphy gave a fantastic talk at an Arvon residential we ran together about trusting the process and the other person[s] involved. It's difficult to talk about the idea of a third voice resulting from two poets collaborating without sounding mystical, and disappointing that most theory concerning collaboration comes out of business models rather than creative practice.
   I've undertaken 16 written collaborations since 2000, not including writing /visual arts crossovers or painting projects, so it's a major part of my output these days. I'm simply the sort of person who enjoys setting something up and following it through, and one way of getting to know other writers is to work with them. The initial work simply gets done, and then debate happens around editing, shaping and publishing.
   I did approach a publisher regarding doing some sort of selected collaborations book, but they decided the texts weren't experimental enough for their list! Maybe it's best to leave it in pamphlet & chapbook form, or scattered throughout cyberspace.
   Of course, my poetics of collaboration might also be seen to include technologies themselves, usually email as a way to facilitate the collaboration. Many of the sequences are also subject driven, for instance the recent
Voiceover (Riverine) with Paul Sutton deals with films, cities, psychogeography and rivers as both a subject but also as questions: how do we remember films, how do imaginary and real cities compare, how do films change our perception of a city? And, of course, how exactly do we write about those things - is there a 'suitable' form to be found or invented? How do two versions of the same place - namely Paul's version and my version - co-exist in the same poem?
   These are of course questions that arise from the work rather than precede it. The work doesn't necessarily answer them. Does your work emerge from subject matter or does that emerge as you grapple with a form? I know you sometimes allude to images or other writers?

I've mentioned the prose piece dedicated to Sean Bonney that I read at the Bluecoat last week. It's 'based' on Milton's first sonnet 'To a Nightingale' and I plan to use all 24 of his sonnets in some way. I'm toying with the title (ripped off from the Chapman Brothers I know) 'Bad Poems (or Sonnets) for Bad People'. I have a number of conflicting poetics problems: how to put disorder back into collage, whether to make rebellion slow and thoughtful, how to listen to the world as an aesthetic, how to progress the polystylistic, polyformalist work I seem to have pursued in recent sequences, while trying to return to centripetal, entropic forms (after the centrifugal lyricism of Berlin Bursts
), how to encode human unfinish in new ways. How to deal with the structural immiseration engineered by the present government. (I've heard a number of younger writers, who can't remember the 1970s and 1980s, saying that perhaps this will be an era when bad times will again make for good poetry. In that modern parlance, I'd say to them: be careful what you wish for. I want - unjustifiable utopianism is seeping through, I know - good poems (or Bad Poems even, given my possible title) to make good times.
   However, as I wrote in my latest journal entry: 'These poetics
ideas are not ideas for poems.' I seem to be producing a series of 'anti-biographical' texts, and I have just finished another of those, but that's looking back. I've just finished, or think I've finished, my 'fictional poems' (the supposed effusions of the bi-lingual, dual-oeuvred Belgian poet RenÄ Van Valckenborch) and would like another shot at that particular idea (with another Creature), as well as picking up on some of the ideas he had. To let myself be 'influenced' by his poetics, by his conceptualisations of space, for example. (That may sound absurd but it doesn't to me: the project was partly about writing what I would not have done over my own signature.) But I'm very perverse about poetics ideas (a perversity I've taken cognizance of in my critical work on poetics, even in my remarks about the conceptualists earlier): one day I write something about eschewing the autobiographical or conceptualise 'becoming as invisible as a professional translator', as David Lehman says of Ashbery, and the next day I do the opposite! I give up sonnets and then start a new sequence. Issuing permissions to continue through negatives. Textual disobedience.
    ę Rupert Loydell & Robert Sheppard 2012