Wednesday, 31 August 2011


One of the things I'm trying to fit in at the moment (and a weekend break gave me a good time to ponder it) is a manifesto for Cake magazine, run by Andrew McMillan and Martha Sprackland. A manifesto is exactly what I need to get down on paper at the moment - not because of self-importance or revolutionary zeal but to help me keep a grip on what the purpose and place of all our various projects is. I hope Andrew and Martha won't mind me putting up a first draft here. I've already made a lot of notes for a second draft, and it will take a rather different tone. Ultimately, I think the oppositional stance in the first one is problematic and that it doesn't quite capture what's going on. It's also too long. Here it is anyway, as something to chew over:

"When Kirsty and I talk about what we’re trying to do with Sidekick Books and Fuselit, and with our own writing, the words I’m most sick of hearing myself repeat are ‘collaborative’ and ‘engage’. These are positive, active, optimistic words that seem to fit the enthusiastic tone I want to strike, but our work is probably better defined by what we’re against.

"We are anti-specialist; that is, against adages like ‘write what you know’ and ‘stick to what you’re best at’, or any philosophy that drives a kind of self-ghettoisation - limiting oneself increasingly to one’s strengths and areas of expertise, creating an environment where the individual avoids straying into a field in which they might be shown to be ignorant or incompetent. In terms of poetry, this means we are against a poetry that only looks inward - towards other poetry - to measure its success, the belief that a poem can be good merely because it is like other good poems, or because it is the next step in an assembled narrative of poetry.

"We are anti-‘universal’. That is, we don’t believe in the concept of a poetry that speaks to everyone. There are some poems that are for some people and other poems that are for other people. Not as clear cut as that, of course, but in general, we distrust attempts towards the definition of a ‘human condition’, or any claim that a poem is characterised by a lack of cultural specificity, entirely inclusive, cleansed of any target demographic.

"We are anti-saviour, or, if you like, pro-ensemble. In other words, we reject the narrative of the genius or fated leader who defines their generation (in marketing terms, ‘the next big thing’) and, by extension, the micro-cast of significants - the artistic hegemony. We believe damage is generally done to our poetic culture by forcing a narrative of progress (replete with ‘key figures’) upon it and by searching for a way to comfortably disregard the contributions of the many in order that that narrative be easily digestible.

"What does all this rejecting add up to? It starts with the principle that the widespread practice of any art is more important to our cultural moral health than the results, that we should encourage engagement (there’s that word) over worship. More people writing is therefore not a bad thing. A lack of visible ‘stand-out’ talents is therefore not a bad thing (and no more an indication of a lack of generational talent as it is an abundance of it). Diversity is to be valued over authority. A masterpiece is just a creation of critics and readers in search of a measuring stick.

"It also shares some of the character of the Scottish informationist movement of the 90s, in that we favour a ‘crossing of wires’. We think poetry should be reaching outwards and across, that good poetry is always defined by its connection to something outside of - as well as within - the poetic canon. We think it should engage (again) freely with all the various strands of other lexicons, jargons, histories and subcultures, rather than striving for a kind of blank-slateness or nothing-and-everything appeal.
"We favour the idea that poems - and people - exist in overlapping groups which we move freely between and among. Thus, a book of poems and illustrations celebrating British birds is designed to exist at an intersection of different groups, to facilitate the flow between them. Fuselit, which started it all, uses a single word as a hub, with the idea that poets and other artists come to us from different directions - their personal pathways crossing at the point where an issue is created. All organisation is, essentially, in flux, and loosely defined, and largely non-hierarchical. Rather than celebrating trends or defining moments in poetry, we believe in placing the emphasis on the individual character of a work in the context in which it appears. A practical example of what this means would be that there is nothing ‘lesser’ or easily dismissible in a strong or interesting poem written by someone who was only testing out poetry before moving onto something else. With Fuselit, we have been very happy to catch these occasional oddities and place them alongside the work of those who go on to publish pamphlets and collections.

"In some ways, it is a response to the dilemma of cultural fragmentation, but while the conservative reaction to the same problem is ultimately backward-looking - a vision of reintegration, repairing of boundaries, pruning back of individualism - ours is an attempt to find some kind of harmony with it. We are frequently presented with the false choice of socialism versus capitalism - either everyone (and no one) is special, or natural selection must weed the weak from the strong. What we suggest instead is that on both a social and artistic level, people’s work must be viewed in terms of these overlapping groups, and the meaning of their work must be understood first in relation to its place in their extended families or spheres, rather than how it fits in with the whole, messy, irreducible formula of a whole generation or era. There is room then for everyone who has a serious commitment to being involved. Members of an audience are, on another night, in another context, the figures on the stage."

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