Tuesday, 25 December 2012

I'm Walking Backwards (but looking forward) for Christmas

Just a quick post to say thank you to everyone for a great year. Sidekick Books has had a tiring but good 2012, putting out the second part of our four-volume tribute to Britain's birds, Birdbook II: Freshwater Habitats, and the long-awaited print version of Simon Barraclough's Hitchcock tribute Psycho Poetica.

Fuselit Amazon will be out next year too, and I look forward to choosing the work for its successor, Fossil. If you've sent us work, I'll be in touch.

Whether you've written for us, illustrated for us, bought books, come to readings, evangelised about our strange schemes online or simply investigated the dark world of Dr Fulminare in passing, we appreciate it and will continue to provide characteristically Sidekick weirdness in 2013.

K x

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Birdbook Launch, 17 December!

It's on! Sidekick Books' Birdbook II: Freshwater Habitats will officially take flight at 7.30pm on Monday 17 December at Paper Dress Boutique and Bar, Shoreditch!

We'll be having short readings from a flock of the poets involved in the project, along with projections of the beautiful artwork representing each of these incredible freshwater birds. We're looking forward to meeting the talented writers and artists who have made this book such a treat to produce.

Nearest tubes are Shoreditch High St (Overground)Liverpool Street and Old Street, and stacks of buses go to the area.

Ah yes, and the Facebook event is here!

We'd love to say hello, so if you're in London at that time, come on down and have a flutter!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Fuselit in 2013

This is just a note to say that our mission to make Fuselit a twice-yearly event has thus far stumbled, as we've been thoroughly caught up with our work over at Sidekick Books, events surrounding our own poetry collections (both published by Salt this year), our day jobs and, oh, all sorts really!

But fear not; the Fuselit tradition will continue, and Amazon might be our most ambitious issue yet. If it does have to settle into more of an annual rhythm, so be it!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Binders Full of Women!

Sophie Mayer and Sarah Crewe, the all-editing, all-curating creators of the Pussy Riot anthology Catechism, have only gone and made sexy great binders full of poetry by women! If you need an excuse for a hearty dose of feminism and all-round love, the proceeds go to Rape Crisis UK and the Michael Causer Foundation. Pick up your binder today!

In case the title of this project rings no bells, here's a little something about Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Kirsty's book is loose - catch it quick!

Never Never Never Come Back is out now from Salt Publishing! Available initially in a limited hardback run, with gorgeous hotfoiling under a dust jacket featuring artwork by the very talented Matt Latchford.

Here's the spiel!

Don’t go over the hill, or look too long into the well, or go carousing with strangers, or you’ll never never never come back. With the haunting quality of nursery rhymes but the complexity of a dark and smoky wine, these poems brood on absence and abandonment, outcasts and anomalies, monstrosity and mistakes.

At the heart of the collection are a suite of tightly focused, often impressionistic character studies ranging from cannibals to schoolgirls, but Irving also finds space in the shadows for desperate love songs to pilots and robots, satiric odes to tyrants and deft engagements with popular and literary culture. Whether turning the features of a pinball table into an emotional debris field or recounting unnerving sexual encounters, these are rich and rangy poems of a defiantly unusual character that linger in the mind as much for their controlled dissonances as their uncompromising subject matter.

Huge thanks to Salt Publishing's Chris Hamilton-Emery and my editor Roddy Lumsden. I could not be more stoked.

Stay tuned for launch details!

For review copies, contact me at kirsten.irving@gmail.com.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot

In protest at the disproportionate and injust incarceration of three members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, and as a gesture of solidarity with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, the magnificent English PEN have released Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot. Commissioned, curated and edited by UK poets Mark Burnhope, Sarah Crewe and Sophie Mayer, this collection has drawn together a huge range of writers, asked them to pen responses to the situation and then encouraged said poets to pose in balaclavas in support of perhaps the three most famous devotchkas out there right now. The resulting anthology has been flagged up by the US Poetry Foundation and The Guardian, and continues to grow in stature and support. With contributions from as far afield as Kenya and Austria, Catechism has become a borderless project, uniting poets from across the globe. Indeed, many translators have stepped up to provide Russian versions of the poems. A group of the poets involved conducted a protest outside the Russian Embassy in London on 1 October, on what was originally scheduled as the girls' appeal date (since moved to 10 October). You can see videos of that protest here, as captured by contributor S. J. Fowler:


New Pussy Riot poems are being posted on the English PEN website every day. Catechism is available in e-book format for a donation and in sexy hard copy for a mere £7.95 plus p&p. You can also follow English PEN on Twitter (@englishpen) and search by the hashtag #freepussyriot for further updates on the case.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Fuselit announces new issue word!

That's right! We'd like your poetry, prose, artwork, music, spoken word, collage, and any form of art that can fit into an A6 format without significant loss of life or limb, on the subject of...FOSSIL!
As ever, PLEASE READ OUR GUIDELINES CAREFULLY! They are there to help! Look forward to seeing what you unearth!

Friday, 31 August 2012

Birdbook II/Coin Opera II update!

So a brief update is very much in order on our next two books, Birdbook II: Freshwater habitats and Coin Opera II. To accompany this, I've tried to find an image that captures both projects.

Birdbook II is very nearly ready to go printerwards. We've received a foreword from the fantastic Tim Birkhead, proofing has been done and it's just minor tweaks to go. For the uninitiated, this is the second book in a series of four, in which we aim to gather one poem and one illustration for every species of British bird. Each book covers a group of habitats. Volume II is looking great, helped in no small part by the return of Lois Cordelia, who has once again provided her beautiful artwork for the cover.

Coin Opera II, our second anthology of poetic tributes to computer games, is looking good too. With cover art by the very talented Mike Stone and a whole bundle of computer game-themed formal Easter eggs (including what may be the world's first set of 'boss' poems), this is going to be a mighty power-up from our initial micro-anthology, back in 2009. A foreword from Uncanny X Men writer and video games journalist Kieron Gillen, a spot more collaging and rearranging, a good old proof and it'll be off to press before you can say Hadouken.

More updates to come. Stay tuned!

Don't forget you can follow us on Twitter.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

YPN August Challenge draws to a close

The final of my 15 simple/weird formal exercises is up on Young Poets' Network today and the deadline for mini-collection submissions is tomorrow!

Here, then, to recap are the 15 challenges, with examples by yours truly:

1. Bookshelf Poem
2. Squid Poem
3. Censorship Poem
4. Helicopter Poem
5. Skeleton Poem
6. Jungle Trail Poem
7. Hollywood Remake Poem
8. U-Boat Poem
9. DVD Extra Poem
10. Manga Poem
11. Scoop! Poem
12. Google Search Poem
13. Vampire Aubade
14. Earthquake Poem
15: Chinese Whisper Poem

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Poets for Pussy Riot

Both Kirsty and I will be reading at this next week in support of the imprisoned members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot.

Poets for Pussy Riot
Wednesday August 29th 2012  - 7pm until late - Free entrance
at the Rich mix arts centre, main space venue,
35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA             020 7613 7498      
With the news that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich of the Russian punk collective, Pussy Riot, were sentenced to two years in prison for a wholly necessary and valid political protest, contemporary poets in London will come together in a unique evening of readings, featuring original poetry and text, as well as the words of Pussy Riot themselves. This event is an act of solidarity through the medium of poetry - a celebration of the courage and spirit of fellow writers of this generation, writing for real political change in a country that needs it.
Featuring readings from over 30 poets including Tim Atkins, David Berridge, Becky Cremin, Kirsty Irving, Francesca Lisette, Chris McCabe, Reza Mohammadi, Sandeep Parmar, Tom Raworth, Jack Underwood, James Wilkes and many others. 
Email: steven@sjfowlerpoetry.com for further details

Friday, 17 August 2012

Self-esteem tips from beautiful rich people

I've been out of the loop musically for a while now, so forgive me picking up on a two-year-old song, but what spell has Katy Perry cast over the internet that I can't find a single angry review of 'Firework'?

Perry seems to have rehabilitated herself since the days of 'I Kissed A Girl' (slammed by Gossip singer Beth Ditto as a "boner dyke anthem") and the ridiculously-defended 'UR So Gay', and decided that the real PR gold lies in Aguilera Hills. Xtina's 2002 song 'Beautiful' basically did 'Firework' with a stronger vocal range eight years prior to Perry's effort.

Let's compare the two videos:

Beautiful (2002)
Negative female body image (skinny girl examining self in mirror)
Negative male body image (skinny boy lifting weights, surrounded by pictures of muscular men)
Gay kiss
Suggested transgender issues (not clear whether the cross-dressing guy is meant to be a transvestite or a transgender woman)

Firework (2010)
Negative female body image (girl at pool party afraid to take off robe around her skinny friends)
Childhood cancer (how a bouncy pop song is supposed to help you cope with that, I ain't sure)
Gay kiss
White gay getting mugged by group of mixed-race men (hmm, really breaking down the barriers here) and using - get this - magic tricks to see them off. Sound advice for urban dwellers.

So I guess let's start with the kiss in each case. I was never a Christina fan and lyrically 'Beautiful' is still cloying and self-helpy in that all-American way, but hell, at least it was written by someone who understood what it was like to be gay. At the time, the video did piss some people off, for no reason other than that the kiss between two men was passionate and sustained. Aguilera has not been averse to the odd faux-gay stunt (snogging Madonna onstage with Britney while wearing a sexy wedding frock was particularly cynical), but this, as saccharine as it was, felt sincere. Aguilera herself never comes into contact with the characters, singing from a bare room while the action goes on outside.

In contrast, the characters in Perry's video, watched over by their firework-boobed guardian angel, seem chucked in to show that KATY PERRY CARES ABOUT UGLY PEOPLE AND CANCER CHILDREN. All they need is her singing and pyrotechnics to teach them not to care that people want to kill them, or leukaemia wants to kill them, or that muggers want to kill them, or that they want to kill themselves. Don't be a downer! Come and boogie your knife wounds away!

Perhaps if Perry herself had at least appeared in the video without a trace of makeup, it would have been a start towards sincerity or solidarity with the girl suffering low self-esteem, but no, she's painted, coiffed and gowned, placed above them all as a guidance figure and ultimately assuming a role of superiority in magically granting them the self-confidence to rise above their situation. It's dishonest. Life, our bodies and our minds simply do not work like that.

Money does, though, and brand awareness. And yes, both parties can be accused of this. Xtina got to reinvent the 'Dirrrty' version of herself with a serious ballad, just as Perry got to sing a clubworthy tune to try and get the gay community back on side after her unapologetic blunders. 'Firework' is more obviously cynical though, trying to crowbar serious issues into a jaunty soundtrack from an outsider's perspective. Gaga's 'Born This Way' did a similar thing, the difference being that that was worked more as a defiant call to arms than hurling a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul at people in varying states of despair. 'Born This Way' and 'Beautiful' are, crucially, sung from a first-person perspective, placing empathy high on the agenda, not forgetting our problems with a big bowl of strawberry ice cream.

Following Ditto's criticism, Katy Perry said that it was "tacky" to criticise someone else's music. It's not. That's how progress is made. It's tacky to colonise the suffering of other people in a 2-D way in order to make money.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Poetry Parnassus and the Paradox of International Poetry

Today we have a guest article by Andrea T. Judge, the incoming reviews editor over at the Sidekick Books site. Take it away, Andrea:

It hasn’t been long since Poetry Parnassus. The event took place between the 26th of June and the 1st of July, as part of the Cultural Olympiads, and it brought together more than two-hundred poets from all over the world for readings and debates. The scale of the project, even in retrospect, is staggering.

The event having lasted a week, and myself being constrained by the nagging trifle of having a job, I was only able to attend the events on the weekend, which disqualifies me from writing a proper review. This is just as well, because what I am interested in discussing here is not Poetry Parnassus itself as much as some aspects (and problems) of international poetry as they emerged from the festival.

I should start by saying that I thought the field day was a resounding success. The organisers did a superb job in bringing together a group of diverse and fantastic poets, including some real stars (my jaw pretty much dropped when I saw Gioconda Belli on the roster). All of the readings I attended were very interesting, and those I didn’t sounded just as promising. As importantly, the event offered myriad opportunities to pick up books of international poetry and find out information about literature from abroad, often by speaking with the foreign artists and/or editors in person. Myself, I walked away with a collection of contemporary Polish poetry and a pamphlet by a Persian author, two books that I look forward to reading in the coming days. So even though my arguments later in this article may seem critical of the festival, my final position should be clear from the start: great job, and do it again as soon as possible.

With these indispensable disclaimers out of the way, I was a little puzzled by certain of the invitations, particularly in light of what they meant in an event that declared itself as primarily international. Being interested above all in the European poetry scene, I did not look into many of the poets from North America, South America, or Africa (I’m aware that these represented the majority of the festival’s readers and I must stress once more that this article does not intend to review the festival as a whole). What struck me about the selection of the European poets was the fact that so many of them were already international by default. The choices always seemed to fall on poets who were fluent in English, professional translators from or into English, and often having lived away from their home country.

The prime example of this was Ilya Kaminsky. When I entered the site of the event, I found a list of poets by nationality. I immediately scrolled down to the link for Russia, as I am head-over-heels in love with the contemporary poetry scene from this country, and I was linked to Kaminsky’s bio. I had never heard of him before and I am unfamiliar with his work. A little reading told me that he was born in Odessa (which is in Ukraine, not in Russia, and that country has not been Russian since the fall of the Soviet Union), that he moved to the United States when he was sixteen, and that he writes in English. Presently he is, I quote from the bio, “professor of Contemporary World Poetry in the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing at the University of San Diego”.

I mean no disrespect to the man, but he doesn’t strike me as the quintessentially Russian poet. When interviewed by SJ Fowler for the festival, he spoke of Horace, Borges, and Whitman, and he answered the question “What are your thoughts on contemporary Russian poetry?” by discussing the merits of people like Mandelstam, Mayakovsky and Kharms, all of whom died decades before today’s most interesting Russian poets were even born (for a comparison, imagine answering a similar question on contemporary English poetry by talking of Yeats and Eliot). He also said, when asked about the extent to which he represents his country and culture, that: “Poets are not born in a country. They are born in childhood.” This may be true, but it skirts the important question of how being born in a particular country enriches, limits, colours or otherwise affects a poet’s work. This is how contemporary St Petersburg poet Darja Suchovej writes of buying a present for a friend (the translation is my own, and so is the transcription of the name, which I’m sure I messed up):

Recently the Ozegov vocabulary was released,
the last edition, there’s a dream,
acquiring it in some alley,
among other things because you can’t find a word
in the old one with either 
гз or жз; in the four
volumes of the eighties’ edition, likewise:
and in the older pages yet of the Pushkin-Tongue
vocabulary (four volumes in turn)
there isn’t flatiron, computer, refrigera-
tor, and distributor, and dialer,
nor even leader. But it’s clear with the
xa, the нa, the e
End of the quotes. We had some canapé. We ate
them, without thinking, together with vodka.

This is the type of uniquely national flavour which makes it so rewarding to investigate poetic scenes outside of our own, and it is unquestionably related to the environments where the artist was raised.

The case of other attendants was similar, if not quite as extreme. Elisa Biagini, from Italy, is a translator from English and an expert in American poetry. She has lived and taught in the US (though now she resides in Florence), and she writes in English as well as in Italian. Evelyn Schlag, from Austria, studied German and English literature and writes novels set in places like Quebec, where characters meet American poets like Elizabeth Bishop. Valérie Rouzeau, from France, is a famous translator of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. So is Eli Tolaretxipi, from Spain, except that her specialty is on Plath and Bishop rather than Plath and Hughes (in her interview she cites four writers/poets, two of whom wrote in English, one in Swedish and only one in Spanish, and answers a question about her national poetic identity by saying that “rather than a country a poet has a home which can be anywhere”, which, again, misses the opportunity). Ironically, the poet whom I most readily associated with a European culture was Ryoko Sekiguchi, who represented Japan, but who lives in Paris and is a major voice in French poetry (I assume she must have a certain status in Japan as well, but I only know her work in French).

This is not to slight any of the above poets, much less the event’s organisers. I am not suggesting that these artists are not representative of their countries or that they were poorly selected. Rather, the argument goes the other way round – firstly, and as Fowler’s interviews suggest, these are poets whom by virtue of their international background are more likely to reject or downplay the role of nationality in writing than to foreground it. There is nothing wrong with this in principle, but in context of this festival, it left me with a bit of an unsated hunger. How does the rise of Silvio Berlusconi’s televisual, hegemonic politics-of-communication affect the Italian language and what can poetry do about it? How did the Spanish language respond to and reflect the shift in the perception of homosexuality that took place in Spain over the last decade? What is the attitude of the Russian poetic scene towards all these new Romantic poets who are dying young, like Boris Rizhy, Igor Davletsin, or Dmitrij Bannikov? Could the increasingly academic nature of poetry in France somehow be reflective of the left-wing’s struggles to communicate with its base, thus favouring the rise of populist right-wing parties, and if so, what is to be done? These are all important questions which cannot simply be discarded by saying, as one poet did, that “a woman has no country” (this being a quote by Virginia Woolf, it was also rather wastefully made, which perhaps exemplifies my point – you don’t need to invite an international poet to London if you want to hear people quoting Woolf).

Secondly, to continue my argument, it may be objected that I am putting the cart before the horse. It is easier to communicate with poets from an international background, so naturally they would be the first to attend such events, right? This is true, but it only highlights the difficulty (and the real challenge) of dealing with international poetry – that it is interesting precisely to the extent that it is difficult to mediate with it. A festival such as Poetry Parnassus, despite some of its more grandiloquent terms (the “World Poetry Summit”? Seriously?) is, in this particular sense, hindered by its own size. While it is a great chance to meet individual foreign poets and be exposed to their work, it simultaneously risks projecting an anglocentric understanding of global poetry – which is the trap one must try to avoid. It is true that most poets today speak English anyway because, well, most people speak English. The question that is worth exploring, however, is what can be done with other languages that can’t be done with English. For all the commendable good will of the Parnassus, the great paradox of international poetry remains that the best people to ask are those who are most inapt to answer.

Friday, 3 August 2012

International Alternative Press Festival

This Saturday, The Camden School of Enlightenment is coming to the International Alternative Press Festival, at London's Conway Hall. The show's at 1:45 sharp and will include your dearly beloved editors, Jon and Kirsty, on the interface between poetry and computer games. It will also feature
Abi Palmer, with a new What's New, Pussycat? update on her favourite compulsive amazon.com cat calendar critic. Tony Hickson, former paparazzo, knife-thrower and star of Byker Grove, will offer true stories and lifestyle tips. I shall be talking about Sir Henry Newbolt: Victorian balladeer, naval weaponry designer and menage-a-trois-er.

The festival is on Saturday and Sunday 4th-5th August, and other spoken word events include
  • live storysketching
  • Listen Softly, an afternoon of storytelling with words and handmade fabrics, presented by Ceri May
  • left-field poetry collective Vintage Poison, maybe in collaboration with Michael Horovitz
  • Structo magazine's So Bad it's Good - Adventures in Terrible Writing
There will also be workshops on felt-making, set design, linoprinting and bookbinding. And then, of course, there are all the weird and wonderful comics and artworks that are the main point of the festival. Come and have fun!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

August Writing Challenge on YPN

Back in April, I wrote a series of 15 simple formal ideas (some original, some derivative) with example pieces for National Poetry Writing Month. This month, the Young Poets Network is going to be publishing one every two days as a prompt for young writers, with an accompanying mini-anthology contest.

Day 1, together with a fuller explanation, is up here.

Poetry International Web Profile

This month, I'm featured on Poetry International Web alongside two other poets - Shazea Quraishi from Pakistan (now living in London), and the UK's Helen Ivory.

Here is the feature profile, in which I am generously described thusly:

His accomplishments include not only the writing of formal, voraciously experimental, precociously accomplished poetry but (along with his partner, Kirsten Irving) a boundary-breaking small magazine and a standard-setting small press – and an array of websites built by him to support all this activity.

They've also put up three poems: The Procedure (from School of Forgery), Eisenstangen (a version of Rilke's Der Panther)  and Meat.

A short piece on Rimbaud's unhealthy influence on me

I was commissioned by new literary journal B O D Y to write a short article on a poem that has had a particular impact or influence on me/my writing. Here is the resulting article. I call Rimbaud a "sexy, amoral Tintin". With nits.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Ethiopian Poetry Event!

This Sunday 15 July at 4pm, join us at the Ethiopian Community in Britain, 2A Lithos Road, London NW3 6EF for a celebration of Ethiopian poetry!

Hot on the heels of triumphant performances at Poetry Parnassus, a second chance to see the fantastic Lemn Sissay and Bewketu Seyum, as well as many other fantastic performers. Jon and me are joining in the fun too.

Hope to see you there!

Back in early June, I launched School of Forgery alongside John Clegg's Antler, also out from Salt. Owing to an unfortunate concatenation of events, John arrived at the launch with very few copies of his book, and I gallantly deferred the chance to take home my own so that he might sell as many as possible on the night.

Earlier this week my own copy finally turned up, and while I'd say I'm probably too close to John now for a full review to be carried out with the requisite lack of bias, I did want to take a moment to say how much I like Antler and how, even against the backdrop of a steady flow of distinctive and excellent poetry volumes onto my exhausted bookshelves, it stands out as a genuinely characterful debut.

As the blurb hints at, Clegg mixes "genuine and imaginary anthropology", and the join between those aspects of his work that are essentially tall tales or fabulation and those that the results of diligent research is practically invisible. So too is the transition between tightly controlled traditional form and ranging free verse, the former being done so softly and unostentatiously. A quick march through some of the titles (Moss, Nightgrass, Wounded Musk Ox, Kayaks, Meteor, Dill, Mosquito) reads like a sort of ingredients list - words as ancient elements, boiled down tinctures, excavated knucklebones and panned nuggets, bottled and labelled for cautious use in the creation of spells and medicines. Plus there's the over-arching sensation of the poet's joyous obsessiveness, like a child collecting shells or insects, in everything he writes about.

So yeah, yeah, I recommend it.

I have a new poem, Terrifying Angels, in the latest issue of Poetry Review. Following the departure of Fiona Sampson, who helmed the magazine for a number of years, the magazine is entering a phase of having guest editors at least until some time in 2013. I have to say, it already feels much fresher for it. This issue, edited by the estimable George Szirtes (he and I have briefly been on bad terms in the past but I've always admired both his poetry and his dedication to the cause), is themed around branching out to include poetries not comfortably included within the 'mainstream' bracket, hence the subtitle: 'mapping the delta'. Szirtes' introduction reflects my own feelings about where how I'd like to see future dialogues progress:

"But I know where the less explored areas are. They are less explored maybe because they seem more difficult, more the possession of one particular tribe ... I admire much about these 'tribes' and wanted to invite writers to open them up through a sense of shareable enthusiasm, to tell us why they matter and to show us not so much the fascination of the difficult, but the fascination of poetry as a whole: the full delta."

As well as some very good articles by Emily Critchley, Daljit Nagra and Adam Piette, there's a rich crop of poetry presented, incorporating a wider-than-usual variety of styles. It's always great to see poets we've published in (and first discovered through) Fuselit hitting the big time, so I'm particularly pleased that poems by Christian Ward and Joe Dresner have been included.

With the next two issues being edited by Charles Boyle of CB Editions, and Bernadine Evaristo respectively, I'm feeling very optimistic about the future of Britain's flagship poetry journal.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Poetry Parnassus and raining poems!

Those of you in and around London shouldn't miss this week's MASSIVE festivities at Poetry Parnassus at the Southbank Centre.

Poets from nearly every Olympic country, huge names, workshops, debates, readings galore and a rain of thousands of bilingual poems are just some of the amazing events set up to celebrate a year of international coming together in London.

Already I've met poets from the Netherlands, Italy, Chile, Hong Kong, South Africa, you name it!

I'll be reading at Maintenant's celebration of the experimental and avant-garde, organised by the ever-energetic mass-interviewer S.J. Fowler, on Saturday at 7pm, which should be awesome.

There are events going on throughout the week until 1 July. Come on down and experience something new - it promises to be something very special indeed. There really will be something for everybody, and I know there are many readers I may never get the chance to see again.

Main site

Follow @wetblackbough and @Anna_Selby on Twitter, or search #poetryparnassus.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Big news!

For those who don't yet know, last week Jon received an Eric Gregory award for his work on School of Forgery! He got to go to a lovely awards bash thrown by the Society of Authors and read the following night with the other winners, Joey Connolly, Holly Corfield Carr, Caleb Klaces, Rachael Nicholas and Phoebe Power.

In other news, this weekend, Sidekick Books have an hour's slot at Roddy Lumsden and Emily Hasler's New Poets Festival! It's being held, like everything in the world ever right now, in central London, so if you're about, please do come on down to discover a treasure trove of fresh writers.

Friday 22nd June - Join BroadCast at The Betsey Trotwood (map) for the launch of the festival, followed by part 4 of the 28 Project - Opposites Attract, which sees 14 pairs of poets reading new complementary poems based on opposing ideas.

With: Colette Sensier / Edward Mackay, Holly Hopkins / Sophia Blackwell, Hannah Lowe / Wayne Holloway-Smith, James Goodman / Nick Makoha, Mark Burnhope / Andrew McMillan, Martha Sprackland / Eloise Stonborough, Aime Williams / John Canfield, Nia Davies / Charlotte Geater, Vidyan Ravinthiran / Ben Rogers, Sophie Collins / Dai George, Dan Barrow / Tom Gilliver, Kayo Chingonyi / Amy Evans, Penny Boxall / Alice Lees and hosts Roddy Lumsden / Emily Hasler.

Launch drinks from 6.30. Readings from 7.45.

Saturday 23rd June - Today's events are at The Blue Lion pub (map) and feature largely poets from outside of London. Plenty of breaks between sections.

Times as follows (all approximate):

3.15-4 Showcase from Cake Magazine with Andrew McMillan, Martha Sprackland and others

4.15 Vidyan Ravinthiran / Mark Burnhope

5.00 – Kim Moore / Caleb Klaces

6 - 6.30 - TBC

6.45 – 7.45 Showcase from Stop Sharpening Your Knives poets with Emily Berry, Sam Riviere, Jack Underwood and others.

8.00 Kiki Petrosino / Andrew Jamison

9 Liz Berry / Kate Kilalea

Sunday 24th June - Back at The Betsey Trotwood. Plenty of breaks between sections. Times as follows (all approximate):

3.15 Showcase from Sidekick Books with Kirsten Irving, Jon Stone, Samuel Prince, Ian McLachlan and Abigail Parry

4.20 Chrissy Williams presents Poets of the Unexpected, with Holly Pester, Lorraine Mariner and Tom Chivers

5.20 Niall Campbell / Colette Sensier

6.10 Showcase from Penned in the Margins featuring James Wilkes, Sarah Hesketh and Michael Egan

7.15 Free for all – various readers present their favourite poems by new UK poets.

8.15 Kayo Chingonyi / Dai George

9 Helen Mort / Sarah Howe

Prices: Friday: £5; Sat / Sun: each £8 (£18 for three day ticket, £14 for Sat & Sun ticket). Bargain!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

For you, Tommy

On a recent trip to the British Film Institute, I recently came across this final scene, cut from every single British First World War film or television miniseries ever made.

(A cafe)

This Schnaps is really not very good at all sir. I don't know why we came all the way to Berlin for it.
Nor do I, Sherborne. But I promised, just before we went over the top that last time, that when the war was over we'd go for a Schnapps in Berlin, and I am a man of my word.
Ah yes, now I remember. Sorry if I seem a little distant, and I apologise in advance, in case I lose the thread and glaze over once or twice.

Understood. It's a pity none of the men made it.

God bless them. Braithwaite, with his "ee by gum". Atkins, charming the prostitutes with his pearly cap and his cheeky Lambeth Walk. Taffy and McTavish, making fun of each other in between saving each other's lives.

That's the wonderful thing about the Staffordshires. It's an equal opportunities regiment. We make sure we represent every identifiable regional character, and for a regiment nominally recruited from a single English county that's no easy trick.

It just got so wearing, watching them die one by one like that.

Although it did, ultimately, give me a rare chance to show my heart of gold. I'd been saving it up for just before the last one finally passed out.

That's true. Even by January 1915, you'd already been hardened and brutalised. Why was that?
I don't like to talk about it.
[after glazing over momentarily] Oh, one final thing sir: how did we win this war?

Pluck and general Britishness of course.

I appreciate that, sir, but we spent the whole time doing one of two things. Either we'd sit in the trench, sometimes go on patrol, and get picked off one by one. Or we'd all rush out of the trench blowing whistles, and get mown down like dandelions. I rather hoped that the Germans might rush out of their trench for a change, and give us a go at mowing them down, but it never happened. It didn't seem to be going our way at all.
Funny thing there. The two Germans we finally saw and captured at the end, because they'd run out of bullets...
Fritz and Kaiser Bill?
Yes, them. Well, they really were the only two Germans in the whole thing. Now, how about we get back to Blighty and marry each other's sisters?

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Team Up & DIY: One Day Workshop

On Saturday 9th June, Kirsty and I will be running a one-off workshop at the Poetry School called Team Up & DIY. The double focus is on collaborative texts and then publishing and publicising the result of your efforts. This latter part will be drawing on our long and harrowing experience with amateur printing, binding, sourcing materials, building websites and fainting at the cost of posting parcels of literary goodness to Singapore. But the first part, the collaborative part, will be interesting too. We'll be looking at a wide variety of (in some cases, arguably) dual-authored texts, including the potential for collaborating with dead poets, and carrying out an exercise with participants on the day that will involve them teaming up together.

Hopefully see some of you there!

Booking and further info here.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Poetry Rodeos and Forged Antlers!

Two events you should know about, for they are exciting!

Nine Arches Press team up with Sidekick to bring you Poetry Rodeo on Thursday 17 May. Spellbook and Birdbook stars Edward McKay and Nia Davies join 9A's Alistair Noon and Andrew Frolish at the Big Green Bookshop, Wood Green (gorgeous shop - check it out) for a night of poetic fantastitude.

Click the image below for el event page:

Secondly, for those in London on 8 June, Sidekick's own Jon Stone is launching his PBS-recommended first collection (YEAH!) School of Forgery, alongside the magnificent John Clegg, whose first collection, Antler, is a source of great toe-tapping excitement in the Sidekick camp. Check out their wistful author shots!

Where? The New Moon, London EC3V 0DN, from 7pm. Click the image below for the event page!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Fuselit: Amazon submissions closed

Our initial Amazon deadline announcement was a smidge discreet, so harumph! harumph!

Fuselit Amazon closed submissions on 30 April. I'm currently working through the many emails and as ever, it's been great to see such a variety of takes on the spurword. If you've sent me a submission and I've not yet been in touch, that will happen within the next few weeks.

We're now taking a submissions break for about four months while we get cracking not just on putting Amazon together, but also on Sidekick Books projects (there are many and lo, they are exciting), teaching a course on collaboration and self publishing called Team Up and DIY at the Poetry School, London, and our first collections, out now (Jon) and soon (me) from Salt Publishing!

For non-submissions questions, the quickest way to get a response is by prodding me at kirsten.irving@gmail.com. Please don't send submissions here - it won't look good.

We'll announce the next word in September. Meanwhile, keep experimenting!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Pluralism versus Selectivity

Buried beneath the chalk-dry tone of this William Wootten article in the TLS, there's fighting talk. Wootten compares Alverez' The New Poetry to the recent Identity Parade and Salt Book of Younger Poets (both edited by Roddy Lumsden) and finds "a colossal failure of nerve" in Lumsden's choice to pack out both books with a broad spread of poets, rather than choose a dozen or so and make the case for them being the front-runners of their generation. The problem with such plurality, he seems to be saying, is that the reader is left with an overcrowded buffet to choose from, with far too much on offer for any sensible debate to begin. The success of poetry in the 1960s, when the Alverez anthology was published, was partly, he writes, due to "the fostering of strong and discriminating tastes and dispositions ... It was they who gave reasons why contemporary poetry might actually matter."

A few remarks on that argument. First of all, the metaphor of the man walking down the middle of the road comes to mind. Identity Parade in particular, alongside The Best British Poetry 2011 (also Lumsden-edited) has more than once been lambasted for having included the wrong poets and passed over others whose inclusion in any generational anthology should be a given. Wootten need not be worried that Lumsden's tastes don't offend anyone, or that he fails to be selective.

Moreover, a representative sample has to be representative. The size of the sample in relation to the population matters. If an editor or publisher is to in any way carry off the claim that their book is a generational anthology, even tentatively, it has to convince its readers that it covers a fair bit of the ground.

I don't think this is actually possible with British poetry today, except by means of the mega-anthology. Sure, you could select your 20 or so luminaries and write a fiercely combative introduction that puts them at the centre of everything that's happening, but no sensible person would waste time entertaining the thought that you were right. They might read your book, and they might even say you've articulated your views forcefully, but unless there were some reason they were in your thrall, and in your thrall alone, they would then re-subject themselves to the vast arena of poetry beyond your wagon-circle and never find themselves thinking: "But how would I refute x's case for those 20?"

Wootten's romanticised 'moment' where "contemporary poetry and its values were treated as a singular artistic arena whose various styles and champions could be debated, intelligently and passionately if not always in ways capable of clear resolution" certainly sounds attractive. But is that what we'd get if publishers started putting out anthologies defined by their editors' deeply entrenched positions? I really, really doubt it. We aren't anywhere near ready for it. For there to be healthy debate, there has to be a well of common understanding, a shared sense of the starting point and of the stakes. We don't have that. We have such a spectrum of expertise, individualism and ignorance when it comes to poetry that you're more likely to have a conversation where neither of you has heard of the poets the other wants to namecheck than you are one where two champions of disparate styles can cross swords. And I mean 'we' here both in the sense of the general public and literary types, both of whom I know equally well (ie. not very well at all).

Maybe if I put it like this then: Wootten is asking for work to commence on the penthouse while Lumsden is still embroiled in the effort of firming the foundations. We need to draw everyone together on the same footing before we can have the grand debates. In some sense, yes, that is a backwards step for poetic culture, but only because the poetic culture of the past was at all times dominated by the upper echelons of society. Wootten is living in a sort of a dream world where a wild and boisterous declaration of poetic/editorial intent can stir or boil the blood of the average reader, rather than merely carry the faint whiff of trying too hard.

The article also includes the oft-used phrase "competent but unexceptional poets", which is usually a shorthand for a general complaint that there aren't enough poets on high pedestals, who can be seen for miles around. No one's ever made a great case for why we need these pedestalled poets, and no one has, to my knowledge, made a strong case for any poet of the modern era deserving this position, and that's why we are where we are now. But I don't entirely dislike where we are now.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

School of Forgery

School of Forgery, by yours truly, is out now and available to buy. It's published by Salt, and is the culmination of my last - oh, I don't know - four or five years of writing activity. But it doesn't just hoover up my various outpourings and stuff them into one handsome hard-cover; it's a book with its own identity, structure and unhealthy preoccupations. Anything which didn't fit has been left over for later. Essentially, the major theme is the relationship between invention and fakery, or falseness, and there's a huge influence of Japanese subculture on the various poems. The contents are divided into 'Originals' and 'Fakes'. There are pieces inspired by, about, screwing with or riffing on Seven Samurai, The Avengers (that's the British version), Bleach, Naoki Urasawa's Pluto, mustard, Nell Gwynn, plastic surgery, octopuses, ginger, witches' familiars, Battle of the Planets, Tom Jones, MI6, Celan and more besides.

It's a Poetry Book Society summer recommendation, and if there's one couplet in the book that describes the whole affair, I'd say it's this:
And some of it will be intelligence.
And some of it you'll think makes too much sense.
The best (ie. most ethical) place to buy it is from Salt's website. It's available from Amazon as well, but Salt are a small publisher for whom every sale counts, and more money goes to them if you buy straight from them. Plus they'll probably get it to you much faster.

News of a joint launch with fellow Salt poet John Clegg to follow.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Submissions deadline for Fuselit 18: Amazon

The final deadline for submissions to Fuselit 18: Amazon, previously unset, is now 30th April. After this, Fuselit will be on a submissions holiday until September, when we will open up for submissions for issue 19 (spur-word to be announced).

Monday, 9 April 2012

Poetry and Tribalism (Mirror post!)

'Tribalism' is, of course, a negative term, a word we use to criticise. We scorn it, want to be done with it, and yet it seems to perfectly describe a kind of attitude that few human beings avoid entirely. We identify ourselves as being part of a certain group, and round others up, usually without their permission, into contrasting groups which we define ourselves against. It afflicts British poetry culture, at least to an extent I see played out in various public and private interactions, and it could do, I think, with some objective analysis, as well as further discussion.

The three main tribes I'm referring to are: the mainstream, the spoken word scene (alternatively, performance poetry, slam or stand-up poetry) and the avant-garde (alternatively, non-mainstream or innovative poetry). Some of these terms are hotly debated, rejected or modified for clarity, but in order to get on with an article like this, I simply have to use them loosely. Via Facebook, internet forums, articles and pub conversations, I've experienced various discussions of the differences or lack thereof between the three, but these discussions tend to take place between like-minded people. I rarely see a proponent of the avant-garde square off against a regular from London's spoken word scene, for example. If parts of this post therefore seem to labour a screamingly obvious point, it's because I am addressing myself to myriad different viewpoints which, to my mind, seldom agree on what is and is not obvious.

So I'm going to try to pull some threads together. First of all, let's consider some positive (and crude) generalisations, just to get our bearings:
  • The spoken word scene is grass roots poetry, increasingly popular and well-attended, priding itself on being inclusive, non-elitist and politically engaged. Spoken-word artists eschew obscurity to address topics directly and passionately through stage performance and are active in overturning the popular image of poetry as fusty and self-obsessed. The scene has its roots in the centuries-old traditions of tavern performance and oral storytelling.
  • Avant-garde poetry emphasises radical thinking, playfulness and the critical importance of language. Its principle belief is that powerful institutions and the outdated ideals that sustain them can only be challenged by revolutionising and reenergising language itself, by undermining and overturning the registers and modes of exchange that reinforce current orthodoxies. It embraces feminism and minority poetics and seeks to dispel myths about poetry that limit its scope and reach, including the idea that poems should be understood merely as self-expression or versified narratives.
  • 'Mainstream' poetry is not so much a scene or movement as it is a catch-all term for the most widely acclaimed poets of all stripes, as well as the numerous others whose work bears a familial resemblance to these 'leaders in the field'. Its style is defined only by whatever is popular and enduring, and shifts over time. If there is a modus operandi at all, it is one of inclusivity through emphasis on the individual poetic 'voice', rather than any particular style or school of thought. Good mainstream poetry avoids both elitism and populism, attempting to meet readers half way, the idea being that good poetry needs to be challenging but also that poets must make every effort to engage their audience.
All three tend to give primacy to reader pleasure, but the latter two tend (to differing extents) to anticipate or require a certain hunger or adventurousness from the reader.

Now let's look at the harsher negative stereotypes of each which are sometimes bandied about:
  • Spoken word is the domain of aspiring comedians, hip-hop artists and rabble-rousers who like a more pliant audience, shoehorning jokes and tirades into the loosest of verse structures. It's the medium of choice for those who make little effort to refine their poetic craft and lack the patience for poetry's more subtle effects, making much of the output derivative and rambling.
  • Avant-garde poetry, despite its pretensions, is dominated by middle class white academics who have failed to break into the mainstream and now disingenuously associate incomprehensibility and opaqueness in poetry with daring and cleverness. The literary equivalent of Brit Art, it's Emperor's New Clothes syndrome writ large; endless pontificating on random assemblages of text using plenty of jargon in order to prove you're part of the club.
  • Mainstream poetry is a small enclave of largely white, upper middle class men who live comfortably enough to obsess mostly over trivial things and ignore most politics, look down on popular culture and compete for status in a classical canon, taking care to avoid offending too many sensibilities or challenging too many orthodoxies. Because of their (unearned) power and prestige, they are in a position to pick and choose the next generation of 'mainstream' poets from those whose beliefs and writing styles flatter their own, and, of course, from the creative writing courses they run.

There is at least a kernel of truth in all of these descriptions. There's also much in the latter three that is informed by snobbery in its various forms, and by the problem of accessibility/simplicity versus difficulty/obscurity in art, which seems to result in deeply entrenched positions. I'd like to think most people agree that both difficult and accessible writing can be democratic and a force for good, and that each can respectively feel pointlessly obtuse or artless if handled poorly. The debate that rages seems to be about where we can draw the lines, although the most heated remarks are often so hopelessly broad-brush that the debate never really gets going.

It's very likely that there are poets operating in each of the three spheres I identify who feel they are there because the other two won't have them, or because they believe their own particular scene grants them access to the widest and most diverse audience. That experience is highly subjective though. Most poets looking to carve out an audience will undergo a process of gradual refinement, improvement and compromise that finds them gravitating towards one or the other, depending on how their personal judgement evolves.

As an example, my own work fits mostly in the mainstream bracket, and it's likely that I've consciously made an effort to reconcile my ambitions to the dominant forms and aesthetics in that area. But I've also attempted to find my footing in some spoken word arenas, and a portion of my work has always seemed to be more in keeping with avant-garde fashions (albeit I don't see it as being in any way out of step with my other poems). This has led to me to some vexing and seemingly nonsensical considerations: this old sestina that guarantees a laugh when read aloud, should I discard it utterly or keep it around as a surefire crowd-pleaser? How many collage poems do I dare slip into a submission for a mainstream poetry magazine? Which poems from my pamphlet can I safely perform without being dismissed as a dull page poet?

Coming out of this, my own subjective experience is that the spoken word scene is the most difficult to engage with. I've found that it demands a kind of force of personality that I don't have and don't want to have, and that my tastes are generally out of kilter with most of the audience. The world of avant-garde seems to line up more with the kind of work I want to write, but also seems to demand a degree of familiarity with certain niche poetics and a strong academic leaning, neither of which I possess. Therefore, for me, the mainstream has probably offered the shortest distance to travel in order to find the right fit, as far as I can find the right fit anywhere.

But that's, as I say, simply my own experience. I don't believe the case has been proven that any one of these three is fundamentally more embracing of all styles and approaches than the others. People being people, the process of becoming included, of working out where you fit in, requires a negotiation that challenges and tempers some egos while inflaming others (particularly where the 'fit' is near instantaneous). People being people, those most comfortable and most settled in their space can become arrogant and lazy. Arguably, this is most achingly obvious in the mainstream world, because of its relative apportionment of status and power. The same names are recycled by prize committees and editors stricken with nearly identical preferences. We don't need to believe the rumours of flagrant nepotism; flawed human nature is explanation enough. Without an unaffiliated, independent critical culture or scrutiny from an external source (in other words, without constant prodding, nit-picking, niggling and badgering) people of influence settle into a clan-like arrangement. Hence Ted Hughes Prize winner Lavinia Greenlaw tellingly remarking that the shortlist she was on looked like "a family photo" last month. The belief that, say, that Sean O'Brien or Robin Robertson has produced yet another outstanding collection is genuine and uncynical - it's simply based on a lack of consistent exposure to contrary views and tastes, and susceptibility to the 'aura' of a poet who has made their name.

It's worth noting, though, that the spoken word and avant-garde scenes suffer from the same human fallibilities, albeit theirs are less visible and (because they do not have access to the same resources) less disagreeable. "Avantpo criticism," as one poet describes it on Facebook, "is somewhere between an echo-chamber and a circlejerk", and when one starts drawing lines between poets based on book endorsements, namechecks in essays, guest editorships of underground magazines and the like, the web of affiliations quickly becomes apparent. Similarly, many spoken word nights feature a carousel of familiar names, something particularly notable when performances are televised or otherwise of a higher profile.

Conversely, it seems at first glance like all the rancour is directed towards the mainstream from the two 'outskirter' tribes. You almost feel sorry for mainstream poetry when you see it described, on the one hand, as needlessly complex and unintelligible by some spoken word advocates, and on the other dismissed as "the simple plundering of domesticated interiority for its symbolic potential" in a letter to the Cambridge Review. It seems to catch the brunt simply for being in the middle. Only Don Paterson hits back, and then only in the direction of the avant-garde, branding it "that peculiar and persistent brand of late romantic expressionism, almost always involving the deliberate or inept foregrounding of form and strategy over content - almost in a proud demonstration of their anti-naturalism".

But from a position of privilege, the persistent foregrounding of mainstream poets in broadsheets and government-funded bodies is counter-aggression enough, particularly when you have Carol Ann Duffy making remarks like "there's little competitiveness in the poetry world", self-evidently reducing 'the poetry world' to the mainstream only. Niall O'Sullivan, host of Poetry Unplugged, is judicious in remarking that he bears no ill will towards the mainstream prize circuit "as long as those involved don’t utter the usual lines about how they honestly tried to simply choose the best collection". But they do, and this is a problem.

The antipathy, therefore, is roughly constant across the three tribes. So, I would say, is the propensity for a lack of objectivity. And is there roughly equal potential for strong and innovative poetry in each? I would say there is. Is there roughly equal likelihood of tiredness and mediocrity being mistaken for consistency? Yes. Are there always overrated poets? Absolutely. Sean O'Brien, Keston Sutherland and Kate Tempest, respectively, are not so far in front of the bulk of their contemporaries as their reputations suggest.

There is one distinction that is worth deeper consideration, though, and which may reveal a fundamental cause (or reinforcer, at least) of the tribalistic attitudes. While mainstream poetry undoubtedly revolves around a system of meritocracy, ostensibly rewarding poets proportionately to their work's value, both the spoken word and avant garde scenes seem to operate more in the spirit of a collective, where active and frequent participation puts you on the same level as most of your peers. In terms of organisation structure, it's like comparing a pyramid to an even plain with the odd spike. I've picked up this impression from various sources, but just to give a couple of recent examples, this interview in The Morning Star describes the moment a first-time reader is announced at Poetry Unplugged:
"... the host hollers: 'Next up, a Poetry Unplugged virgin!' and a roar of approval spreads throughout the intimate audience, a cheer louder than anyone would rightfully expect to emanate from 50 people." 
In the case of the avant-garde, this article by Alec Newman (editor of Knives, Forks and Spoons Press) in the Cordite review paints a picture of publishers that "cooperate in the dissemination of our titles [...] share our experiences, our strengths & our resources, and [...] quite often publish the same poets in the same month in order to bring them to the widest possible audience."

That's not to say there aren't aspects of meritocracy alive and well in the imaginations of both avant-garde and spoken word artists. Avant-gardists in particular seem at times to propose an alternative narrative of recent poetic history that is just as figurehead-heavy as the mainstream's, while spoken word is prone to the populist argument: whosoever draws the biggest crowd is the most deserving (in this sense, populism is just the other side of the coin to elitism; both entertain a kind of artistic social Darwinism, whereby the desired outcome is that the very few are raised onto pedestals for mass dissemination and the rest fall away, even if that ultimately restricts choice and opportunity).

But the mainstream, for the most part, lacks the counterbalance of a collective spirit. Poets are gracious and generous, but there is an expectation that beginners must start at the bottom of a long ladder and spend a long time fruitlessly clambering. There is expectation also of reverence toward those higher up the food chain than you (not to mention argy-bargy when it comes to the exact order of that food chain), and a deal of agitation about the 'excessive' amount of poetry being written. Here's Hugo Williams, on judging the Forward Prize in 2010:
"But an awful lot of them seemed to be published just because they existed, really. [147 collections is] too big a number of books in one year in one country to put out. I think it's something to do with the democratisation of everything – that everyone's got a right to get a book out ... I've got the feeling that sometimes it's more about desire than worth."
When we ask ourselves why British poetic culture isn't a continuum of styles, but seems to be regarded in terms of these three reductive pigeon-holes, it's perhaps this difference of approach that gives us the answer. The mainstream, which is at the centre, is not porous enough. Poets from either end of the spectrum do not drift into or through it in a way that would completely disrupt any attempt to differentiate and stigmatise.

Do I think the mainstream needs to lose its meritocratic attitudes then? Partly, but not entirely. An absolute lack of selectivity across the board would do more harm than good. It's been expressed to me that a serious problem among avant-gardists is that if you have the right attitude, the right chops, you're in, and there's no further editing of your poems or demands made of you as a writer. Discussion and debate about the relative merits of art and artists in any medium seems to me not just a healthy but an essential thing, but when it comes to a poem like Hot White Andy by Keston Sutherland, lauded by some as one of the best poems of the 21st century, I've read much intelligent analysis but nothing that even attempts to explain what it does that other, comparatively similar-looking texts do not. All poetry suffers from the problem of seeming to be, at first idle glance, indistinct and samey, which is why articulating distinctive qualities and features is essential. This articulation begins in blurbs and cover quotes and memorable remarks, and includes reviews and essays. One of the great flaws in our poetic culture, across the whole spectrum, is that it tends towards addressing inner circles and the converted, rather than attempting the more onerous task of engaging the sceptic. The avant-garde, on present evaluation, suffers even more heavily from this affliction, and the spoken word scene is almost totally lacking in written analysis, outside of the odd site like Sabotage Reviews.

This aspect of mainstream poetry's self-coverage, then, is one I find flawed but crucially important to any healthy poetic culture.

I also think the collective spirit can be over-emphasised to the extent that it becomes less, not more democratic. I had a brief exchange with Niall O'Sullivan on this in the comments section of the post I previously linked to where he usefully described the conflict between the inclusivity of folk cultures and the capitalist/corporate encouragement of solipsistic individualism:
"Mainstream poetry is all about the audience as a passive receiver, especially to the point where the poet often instructs the audience not to applaud until the very end. Inclusive tropes and turns of phrase are dismissed as cliche. 
"Originality and individualism are as much a part of capitalism and consumerism as they are a part of mainstream poetry and this is why I’m not that surprised to find a lack of engagement with the current social movements within it. It channels the university lecture where a few short questions are allowed at the end rather than the boisterous trade union gathering or the revivalist church service."
I partly agree with Niall here, but I also want to defend the university lecture model as an alternative and necessary means of including as many people as possible in progressive discourse. Popular rhetoric is simultaneously empowering and alienating. Many people exercise their social conscience by behaving sceptically towards mass sentiment and fashionable anti-establishment feeling, preferring to reach their own conclusions and to not to be grouped together with others whose views are broadly similar but not quite the same. Although there are toxic kinds of individualism, finding one's own way is also a kind of empowerment, one that is more familiar to many of us than the process of becoming part of a popular movement.

Without getting too sidetracked, the point here is simple: everyone arguing or conversing with each other in an unstructured way can lead to the most simplistic arguments and loudest voices being foregrounded. Affording a temporary elevated status to a poet (or lecturer), as the person addressing an audience, who are there to listen is, in theory at least, a recognition of the time and care they have put into what they are reciting - by definition more time and care than can be put into an immediate reaction. This permits a greater wealth of nuanced and intelligent viewpoints to be shared.

Let me try to further break this down: there is an irreconcilable disagreement, as I see it, between those who say, "If anyone can be a poet or writer indiscriminately, then it all becomes worthless - only a few will ever be worth listening to" and those who argue that any amount of selectivity is non-democratic and necessarily endorsing of the current regime (ie. those at the top of any social order will oppose change). There has to be a path between those extremes which aims to justly reward any artist who is willing to commit, continually improve, and not avoid their social responsibilities. Mainstream poetry does not achieve this - it is too married to a certain family of styles, too non-fluid to recognise its own deficiencies - but some of the framework is there, and it's a framework that needs to be preserved and built upon.

What this all comes down to is, you might think, rather bland: all three 'tribes' I have identified are important to British poetic culture and ideally should form a continuous, non-staggered spectrum. There is far too much of a tendency towards dismissiveness across the board, and too little effort made to properly recognise the merits of one another. Our collective responsibility, I think, is to change the mainstream without destroying it - or worse, replacing it with something similarly flawed.