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Jacket 20 — December 2002   |   # 20  Contents   |   Homepage   |  Catalog   |

Andrew Duncan

Such that commonly each:

A Various Art and the Cambridge Leisure Centre

This piece is 5,300 words or about twelve printed pages long

What happened in British poetry in the 1950s?

Monkey with gun and book Geoffrey Moore’s British Council pamphlet on British Poetry Now, for 1957, says that ‘For ten years after the war, British poetry seemed to be dead on its feet.’: a remarkable statement for an official publication of the body engaged in promoting British culture; but not necessarily an intemperate or out-of-date one. Surely the era where Kingsley Amis, Donald Davie or Philip Larkin could achieve national eminence has something of the cadaver and of blue-black skin tones about it.
      This confusion about semantics and self-presentation was the fore-shock of a whole new social order, brewed by working-class prosperity and mass higher education, and exploding onto the world scene in the 1960s. Eric Clapton, Eduardo Paolozzi, the New Left, the mini-skirt, Nicholas Roeg, John James, JH Prynne: we are talking about a quantitative and qualitative breakthrough, and the historian is permitted a modest pride. Görtschacher identifies 1959 as the year of take-off: in that year, a huge lump of chaos fell to earth and what was alive died or vanished. Relevantly or not, the poetic establishment in 1958 was dominated by Oxford graduates.
      Life has been hard on successive waves of poets who believed, before the 1960s, that they were demotic, non-moralistic, empirical, technophile, modern, etc. The conservative 1950s deserve some credit for having generated, if only by pent-up rebellion and loss of self-confidence, the radical Sixties and the start in growth of the universities.
      In the early sixties, the paranoid theme (sketched by Moore) was popular; British poetry was obviously dead; but what was new was a joyful optimism, a confidence that a new start was possible and that those present in this room including me are going to get it under way. Americanism is the starting-point for the renewal of 1959, or of 1965, or whenever it was. Outbreaks can be traced, sometimes, to individual teachers, such as Tomlinson at Bristol, who were au fait with the most advanced US poetry. The map of British poetic factions was partly a result of which American models they had chosen to follow.
      There is a whole theology around this, which I find fatiguing, but let’s just note that the stylistic scatter between Ginsberg, Zukofsky, Stevens, Olson, Ashbery or O’Hara produced a whole geography as it re-scattered at the English end. American poetry post the 1950s hasn’t had the same impact at all. The trip to the USA became an essential; Andrew Crozier went, in about 1964, to Buffalo, and rediscovered Carl Rakosi, and persuaded him to come back to poetry; Prynne went to the USA too, hung out with Olson and Ed Dorn, and revolutionised his style.
      There was a touch of the laying on of hands about avant garde poetry at that time, due I think to the extreme scarcity of books and information; if you decide that the official books are talking death, you try to find the True Tradition vested in living people, they become gurus until their lesson has been imparted, and many misrecognitions can occur. Some people decided they were gurus, and this caused damage. This near-Gnostic True Tradition fantasy inspired the whole small press world of the sixties and seventies.

Punting 1       This world had few products more eminent than Grosseteste Review (1967–84), the creation of Tim Longville and John Riley. This began essentially as an English Objectivist magazine, gazing at the USA, and gradually became devoted to something much more local, unidentifiable, and unexpected, something which hadn’t really existed in 1967; and sometimes called the Cambridge Leisure Centre, although that isn’t very appropriate, and ‘English Objectivism’ isn’t wholly descriptive either. Most readers will know this group through A Various Art (1987, edited by Longville and by Andrew Crozier, the publisher of Ferry Press books, who had co-edited The English Intelligencer with Peter Riley), which is useful and widely available. It includes poems by Longville, Crozier, JH Prynne, Roy Fisher, John Seed, John Hall, Anthony Barnett, John James, Douglas Oliver, Peter Philpott, John Riley, David Chaloner, Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Nick Totton, Ralph Hawkins, Iain Sinclair, and Peter Riley. The anthology represents a Timenow of about 1975. This is the British response to the generation of American poets who included Olson, O’Hara, Ashbery, John Wieners and Dorn, as well as to Carl Rakosi and George Oppen, the generation of 1931.
      The appearance of A Various Art created, although slowly, a considerable stir in English poetic circles. It was the acceptable face of the underground. It gave the lie to the mainstream myth that the small press scene consisted only of lumpish primitives, heedless spontaneists, self-alienating rock musicians without guitars; it showed a delicacy, reflexivity, and sensitivity which turned on a whole market sector of intellectuals who had given up on modern poetry. The history of poetry consists, no doubt, much more of the progress of the lie of the cultural managers that the excluded poetry was less intelligent than they were, than of the internal course of poems and poets. But the audience is missing an account of the aesthetics behind that peculiarly light and fastidious style, and of the history which led up to it. No reviewer was available to point out that almost all the poems included had been written before 1975, and that the anthology was a retrospective of an already closed era, whose publishers and magazines had disappeared.
      As James Keery, the best student of the subject, has pointed out, AVA is a counterpart and denying response to Children of Albion, a dreadful 1969 anthology of ‘poetry of the Underground in Britain’, which portrays the same generation of sixties anti-traditionalists, and overlaps with AVA. Crozier’s participation (along with James, Roy Fisher, and Chaloner) in Children of Albion offers a fascinating contrast with his later reputation as someone ‘academic and difficult’ and editor of the ‘hermetic’ A Various Art. However, Crozier hasn’t changed all that much. The new coolness and impromptu animated both anthologies. Horovitz (editor of Albion) strode off to become a kind of Jonathan King figure, peddling no-hope teenagers as if enough youth and ignorance batched together could bring back the sixties. There is a useful analysis ofA Various Art by Allen Fisher (in Reality Studios #10). Allen remarks on shared imagery of blood and light, on the basic aim of originality and unofficiality, the use of sprezzatura (a feigned indifference and negligence of address), the ambiguous relation to a civic discourse. AVA is an incredibly clever selection, made so as to make everyone look the same, and it reads more like a book than an anthology ever can, but I don’t understand quite how this was done, nor why. Evidently this is the way to make anthologies.
      The intelligent writers of the sixties, the ones most directly influenced by pop music, worked out the implications of the new sound; they were especially associated with a firm called Ferry Press, run by Crozier; the most significant names were Crozier, John James, and David Chaloner. These are not difficult writers. Books published by Grosseteste Press included titles by John Riley, Anthony Barnett, David Chaloner, Roy Fisher, Ralph Hawkins, John James, Tim Longville, Douglas Oliver, Peter Philpott, JH Prynne, Peter Riley, Nick Totton, and John Hall; Ferry Press’s books included titles by Peter Baker, Anthony Barnett, Peter Bland, David Chaloner, John Hall, Martin Harrison, John James, Steve Jonas, Douglas Oliver, Peter Philpott, Peter Riley, John Temple, Lewis Warsh, and Nick Wayte.

What happened in British poetry in the 60s?,
or, byways of Balkan ethnography

Walling Sticks Wolfgang Görtschacher’s Little Magazine Profiles 1939–93, the best and most thorough book on modern British poetry, states that there were 2000 poetry magazines in the 1960s. The social basis for this was the giant expansion of higher education from the late Fifties onwards, giving rise to a new literate class of largely working-class origin, unable to identify with the existing literary system, and eager to devise new worlds of its own. This expansion and walk-out gave rise to what Eric Homberger, in his 1977 book The Art of the Real, describes as a ‘balkanized’ environment.
      It also produced a symmetrical reaction of suspicion, exhaustion, and dread on the part of conservative littérateurs who saw their expertise being swamped, and who have periodically issued edicts stating that ‘nothing interesting comes out of the small press scene and consequently I haven’t read any of it.’ I believe 90% of the good poetry comes out of the small press scene. The cultural managers have a myth which is organic, in the sense that it serves to protect their power and prevent knowledge not controlled by them; it is that all new British poetry was post-Ginsberg, i.e. flabby, sloppy, wacky, and kinky. Output has not decreased since 1977, rather the scene has become ever more diverse, and with ever lower visibility and transparency. AVA covers one constellation of poets from the small press scene, out of dozens. The total number of new poetry books and pamphlets published in Britain since 1960 is roughly between 25,000 and 35,000. I can list about 120 names of poets whom I consider significant, but any survey is partly aleatory. There are no wide arms of the sea separating this archipelago from all the others; everything in England is organised in gradual transitions.
      The scene in Scotland and Wales saw a very similar expansion of higher education and of the poetry audience, but preliminary analysis suggests that a formal breakthrough was not attained in the poetry of those countries, because the climate of optimism and expectations of radical change was channelled into nationalism, and this (in a suggested interpretation) pointed the poets backwards, towards identifiably local schools and forms, and towards an imagined community to be addressed in easy and simplified terms. Reverence for the national past was also reverence for the past; the nationalist intellectual atmosphere had a strongly conservative and religious tinge. Ideals of self-realisation and formal experiment were thus blocked by significant factions within a rather small and closely knit poetry audience; the internationalist New Left current in England produced a rather more fertile atmosphere. Due caution makes me add that the most radical poetry from the upland and outland parts may simply be invisible to me.
      Jonathan Green’s fascinating Days in the Life: voices from the English underground 1961–1971 reveals the strong anti-verbal prejudice of key members of the Counter Culture. The new immediacy didn’t work in words, which demand conceptual thought and moreover were more deeply furrowed by the markers of social class. Disliking the message, the formers of taste rejected the messenger. Clothes and music and hair were easier to change and scrub free of the Past (to be exact, of the Fifties and its Tory governments). Instant poetry proved to be instantly forgettable. The new poetry was a lot longer developing than the new dress and the new pop music; it was not therefore any less significant in the long run.
      If you looked at all the poets who began writing in the Sixties, good and bad, you might find that most of them believed in spontaneity and direct address, because that was the flavour of the decade. Nothing distinctive here, and the idea of a ‘Cambridge Style’, i.e. the Ferry and Grosseteste poets, may therefore be unable to float. If everyone’s busily being empty-headed, the most interesting ones will be those with enough work-ethic to actually practise their dance steps — or their poetry, as the case may be. Perhaps the Cambridge scene happened because it was where working-class hedonism met a Hegelian belief in flux. It drew in poets from all over the country. The poets in A Various Art and Grosseteste Review are simply the good poets to have emerged during the Sixties; the cream of a halcyon decade.
      The staple of left wing propaganda or fantasy was no longer an unemployed worker, honest and hard done by, object of pity of a middle-class looker who dominates the design of the imagery without being visible in it. With the Welfare State, career opportunities, full employment, strong unions, and nationalised industries, Socialism had halfway arrived, and to appear miserable was to threaten the case for the full-on Socialist ideal. The central figure is now the working-class dandy, a phrase which brilliantly sums up John James, David Chaloner, Tom Raworth, or Barry MacSweeney (although the best recent clothes poems are by Denise Riley in Mop Mop Georgette). The new figures, drawn directly from life, were just strong, parading, optimistic, rather tetchy people. Wrapped in fab gear, the poetry in question ripples with egalitarian flaunt. This new style king (or queen) wasn’t invented by Ferry Press, or Grosseteste Press, or even in poetry; but could hardly be missing from poetry, as the usual histories make out.
      The arrival of a mass consumer culture preferring fun meant that any presented scene in which people didn’t seem to be having fun, or to be offering it, immediately turned people off. The good life was out there somewhere! The poets of the Fifties had lost touch with fun just because it was a low priority for them. Sex had existed for George Barker and Christopher Logue, but they were off camera. Logue in particular used, then, most of the devices which became clichés in the Sixties: proving, much against my will, that they were good ideas.
      Peter Riley has stated that the Cambridge School came to an end in 1970. This is a reasonable cut-off for the Ferry Press group, but leaves out the rest of non-dead English poetry. Someone curious to grasp the overall shape of modern English poetry would read through the whole Ferry Press list. However, they might be equally well advised to read all the Equipage pamphlets. In terms of Cambridge, A Various Art stops short of the generation who were students in 1968, a landmark year for Left culture; it now seems very eccentric to have left out Denise Riley, Michael Haslam, and Martin Thom. (Nick Totton was included, inexplicably.)

Some convergences

The most obvious mannerism is a constant reference to ‘light’ as a noun endowed with agency. The human figure is constantly reduced to an outline within a visual plane, both accepted and delimited by it. It occurs to me that this derives from Antonioni, whose characters are always dominated and deified by the space around them. Envy of visual art, seen as more opulent, classless, and free, is also a powerful spur.
      But the concern also goes back to Charles Madge (1912–96), the only Left intellectual poet of a previous era, whose rigour and isolation make him the ancestor of this grouping in so many ways: the emergence of three-dimensional space from flat planes was one of his preoccupations. It is linked to the piercing of illusory versions of social process to release more integral and inviting ones; the former appearing as merely a picture. The painting appealed because it seemed to offer a sign surface capturing a complex simultaneity given by the order of things and not by the painter’s ideological burden. The painter was seen as passive and sensitised; the lens of the camera was a more convincing candidate.
      The most pervasive element is direct address. The wisdom about life, which had still formed the poet’s stock in trade in the Fifties, is systematically dissolved, because it was seen to inhere to a bourgeois civilization of fixed social roles and property relations, repressing the individual. The belief that the pre-existent was bad was a commonplace when the pre-existent was a composite of the Tory administrations of 1951–64, Donald Davie, the Empire, the City of London, and what was then called ‘the class system’. The scorn for, and explosion of, existing linguistic tropes, drives everything. The presence of the past, the ‘ruins, churches, and castles’ whose absence disconcerted poets in nineteenth century Australia, was identified with social and religious reaction, with ossified habits of the emotional life, and with timeworn poetic procedures.
      The new poem starts from a linguistic vacuum, trying to translate its energy into a new world of forms. The new poems resemble the view of a camera, which cannot see the past. The contemplative merging of past and present is replaced by simultaneity, a continuous present experienced as an immersing and exciting multiple flow. The containing frame could either be an experiencing self or a place.
      The starting point was perhaps close attention, that is, the imperative taught by academic study of poetry to pupils. Because poetry records consciousness, this became close attention to the mechanisms of consciousness; because poetry records behaviour, this means searching the bases of behaviour. Persisting in this curiosity led, almost inevitably, to philosophy: because a community of philosophers has been asking such questions for centuries, with cumulatively improving methods. Reflexivity is the key word, but this is only an extension of the act of verbalisation: to put any experience into words, you have to ask yourself what it is. Enhancing verbalisation always means enhancing the questions you ask, and enhancing the answers always means discarding the old ones. The real work of the school, a part of their core assets for which we are compulsively attracted to them, is in finding a link between the difficult questions of introspection and existing bodies of knowledge. These seizures are always moments of delight. They are like having a difficult physical problem and finding a branch of mathematics, already mature, which allows you to model the processes.
      In fact, the energy graph sags a bit when the poet is not finding matches between personal experience and formal knowledge. Analysing moments of experience very closely is depressing, so a key move is to depict experience serially: this floods the traditional limits of the poem, and sets up a system with high indeterminacy. The central practice of direct address is a function of this: the poem discards finished knowledge from the past in order to record things that hadn’t happened when the poem started. The classic example of this is John Hall’s book Days, but the device is quite generally used. The promise is to surpass available self-consciousness by making more awareness available, making new patterns visible; excitement flags, of course, when this does not happen. Questioning one’s experience was a symbolic gesture of willingness to take part in a new society; just as the self-satisfied use of finished knowledge, in mainstream poetry, signalled that knowledge was a form of property and status and was not subject to interference.
      Wendy Mulford’s documentary poem (in Ochre 4, 1976) records the events of a day as if through a camera, following the model of Mass Observation’s Day Surveys of the 1930s. The hope is that unconsidered, unedited collection of detail will reveal underlying patterns made invisible by hardened literary procedures. This is bound to remind us of the documentary film movement, perhaps even of when we saw specific films, like Night Mail or Fires Were Started. The real, once found, is supposed to burst and disperse the conventional. Other examples of immediacy are:

What we want indeed! He comes in
and states exactly what he wants,
a bacon sandwich and cup of tea.
      Tho the actual reason I like to come here
is that it offers that strangulated feeling
I get with places stuck in the back streets
of some obscure &
complex provinciality — a certain lift
of amazement that people live and
eat their lives out
so far from hope.

(Peter Riley, from ‘at the café’)

Our loss of courtly grace cohabits
With a loss of hope in the land,
not just the government

(from ‘in the pub’)

This is a crux because, although it appears to be le regard concret, immediacy, in real time, it also strongly enjoins the idea of a moral community, which would govern the design of buildings, the training of workmen, the moral standards of entrepreneurs, etc., and which becomes indignant at the exposure of built squalor. The trope of beautiful countryside being turned into third-rate housing and impoverished communities is found in Georgian poetry; the suppressed origin of English leftist poetry, of course.
      In blatant defiance of the anti-teleological line implied in direct address, the CLC tends to a theological binding of events and their values. In allusion to the Screaming Me-mes often uncovered in modern poets, we could speak of Screaming We-we-weness. This is a direct continuation of the collectivist, moralizing poetry of the past. The Welfare State could only survive if there was a broad communal consensus among taxpayers and voters. The new freedom of individual behaviour was accompanied by a wish to constrain government behaviour, not only preserving a social control board whose balances were complicated and fragile, but making those controls more precise as time went on. The cafés don’t really appear as mysterious objects of enquiry, but as a way in to literary-political tropes of stunning familiarity and patness. The arch tone is a way out of this.

Old Round Church interior       As Roy Fisher has remarked, we live in a country where every meadow, every building, are invisible beneath centuries of moral-literary allegories. It’s startling how few British poems are thoroughly free of the stock figures and design values of nineteenth-century religious prints. The arrival of the camera at least provided, via snapshots but above all through advertisements, a new commonplace imagery.
      The project of investigating the mysteries of consciousness means that poetry is not closed in itself, but shares a great deal with activities such as conceptual art, psychoanalysis, and sociology. The poetry frequently takes in conceptual structures, for example Freud’s, usually as modified by Melanie Klein and the British School of psychoanalysis. The Kleinian art historian Adrian Stokes is a revered background figure.
      It would be easy to write off a school tied to Cambridge as being academic; whereas direct address is the central quality of the poetry in question. The belief that human situations are repetitive enough to allow general, codified, knowledge of them of course contradicts the notion of the ‘continuous present’; repetition, trauma, and illness return. At the same time, this represents the added value hoped to make the recording of everyday life less banal than a soap opera, or than the poetry of Philip Larkin. Perhaps equally important have been Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty; but their emphasis on the mystery of the ordinary surface of experience could fund a lyric-documentary poetry of the everyday.
      The use of deictics follows from the conception of the poem as a system of argument, unveiling the truths found by the phenomenological gaze, unfolded with cumulative force, and offered to the reader for civil examination and perhaps disproof. Assertions are prevented from being apodictic by exposing the deduction chain that leads to them. This mastery of argument belongs especially to Prynne, Andrew Crozier, and Riley D. The apparatus of argument frequently appears, elsewhere, to be a kind of postiche.
      A trademark is the syntactic pronoun: for example, therefore is an implied pronoun, in its there component, which marshals and exposes a whole run of foregoing text as a unit, a quasi-noun. A similar parsing applies toso, or, nor, rather, in special contexts. This implied cumulation, carry-over, contradicts the tenet of the continuous present. It stakes, though, a claim to be superior to anecdotal domestic realism, which is the staple (commercial waste) English poetry.
      The tone is full of puzzles:

The evolution of the principle optic
fibre is far from complete, we know
enough to admit as much, but
prediction is tentative. You see
intermittently through silhouettes
of trees to where across the valley
the darkness relieved along the crests
of the next hills is streaked
with falling stars.

(from High Zero, by Andrew Crozier)

This tone can be arch, infuriating, inexplicit, and baffling. It follows from the unrehearsed approach, discovering things without a preset theme, and from the montage which was mandatory in the 1960s. The idea was to bring in generalised knowledge while still remaining casual. Allen Fisher, in his important review, talks about sprezzatura as a guiding principle. This is a kind of studied negligence. Again, this casualness pervades all the new poetry of the Sixties; the poets in AVA point away from it because of their interest in ideas, which implies a certain connectedness and obstinacy in piling up data; but they would be as terrified as Brian Patten or Adrian Henri of the past-boundness, moralizing, and didacticism found in the academic poets of the 1950s. The archness, like the unruffled procession up the aisle to we, conceals the transition from the particular to the general, an operation which, like a river crossing under fire, frequently turns out badly.
      The admission of systematic knowledge always contained the latent threat that the voice of the self would be disproved and dispersed. This would possibly be the spark for the collapse of the existing social order; the Marxist element in the group never repented. This turn would also restore the malevolent spectator who invisibly structures the shot so as to undermine the figure it makes visible.
      Pessimism about subjectivity is important in the poetry of JH Prynne, Peter Riley, Tom Raworth, and John Wilkinson; more ominously, it is also a reason for rejecting the mainstream of English poetry, identifying it with triviality and inauthenticity. The critique of awareness is also ‘the rejection of the poem expressing the awareness of persons who have not conducted a critique of their awareness’, and the scare-word ‘naive’ is heard a lot hereabouts, in ensuing territorial struggles.
      This leaves unsolved the question of what replaces individual experience as the content of poetry. Is the individual (reading) experience of the poem inauthentic too? If ‘I am authentic’ does not mean ‘I have read Adorno (/Freud/ Heidegger/ The White Stones/ New Musical Express/ Vogue)’, what does it mean? The imperative of close attention makes the entry of philosophy into the secure world of the poet inevitable: a servant which becomes a master, since a philosophical poet who is bad at philosophy is a bad poet. The increased status of the Ferry Press poets since the late 1980s is due, first to the common imperative which makes thousands of people see philosophy as a way of writing sophisticated poetry, secondly to their obvious mastery in finding philosophy which wasn’t out of date and in fitting it into verse without lurches and incongruities.
      The CLC is also the supreme site of modern love poetry and romanticism, particularly in the work of John James, Denise Riley, Andrew Crozier, and Michael Haslam. It represents the moment when the everyday incomprehension of the Absurd lost its despairing affect and became joyful curiosity; as well as the brilliance, fastidiousness, and evanescence of English Sixties pop, the authentic equivalent of Traffic, Cream, The Beatles, and The Small Faces. This could be a point of contradiction, underlining that there never was any constitution to which anyone signed up. But this dual optic seems quite usual, saying for example that ‘delight expressed in advertisements is inauthentic but when I express delight it is authentic’. Is there anyone who would not sign up to this?
      By piecing these foibles together, one can locate a distinctive, caricaturable, CLC tone; immediately recognisable, for example among the student poets in 1970s magazines such as Blueprint, though hard to quantify. It seems otiose to go on and disqualify various poets for not uttering in the Cambridge tone. AVA is an extraordinary anthology because it selects poems to isolate and accentuate certain characteristics, and creates a new appearance.

The resistance to the CLC

The ambition and high quality of the group discussed could hardly go without arousing criticisms. One mental map of poetico-linguistic space shows two significant Left Modernist groupings, one in Cambridge (inspired by Prynne), and one in London (inspired by Eric Mottram). I don’t subscribe to this identification, which is normally followed by a furious denunciation of the Cambridge end for lacking in reverence to the London boys, and being more famous than they are. In a small country with good transport, the city is too leaky to be a closed, self-similar, cultural unit. Yes Virginia, there is a London avant-garde; it is too much like people with bags over their heads banging their heads against the wall and making a lot of noise but making few articulate sounds. Their poetics are too much like someone excitedly playing you an American single they’ve just bought from the shop, and too little like someone making their own music.
      Nonetheless, the rigorous editing of Clarke and Sheppard did produce an interesting collective statement, in the form of Floating Capital: new poetry from London, a sketch of the London scene at the end of the 80s, but strongly reflecting the 1970s, no bad thing. Clarke’s response to the CLC is in this sardonic aside from the recent Obscure Disasters: ‘in summer’s/ gold insularised charges light/ not visions beneath flowering/ meadows surplus to hieratic/ for Byzantine dialectical bombast/ in orange metropolitan prints/ such that commonly each/ lurid in outline embellishment/ misted between pastoral and/ immensity aestheticist tribal delights’ (etc.) Note the parody of deictics.
      The young Marxist poet Andrew Lawson wrote, in Fragmente no.3 (1991) a fascinating essay on A Various Art under the guise of ‘On Modern Pastoral’, which has now become an accepted term, as brilliantly summed up by Denise Riley in her satirical ‘Pastoral’:

Gents in a landscape hang above their lands.
Their long keen shadows trace peninsulas on fields.
Englishness, Welshness, flow blankly out around them.
Hawks in good jackets lean into the wind, shriek ‘lonely I:
This sight is mine, but I can’t think I am.
Those pale blue floods of watered silk have flounced indoors, I hear
their flick of vicious fans. I’ll land and stow my feathered legs
and walk to find a sweet interior of beer’ — These men are right.

More daffodils... Lawson states that ‘Philosophical pastoral, meanwhile, flourished in the small windy city of Cambridge during the late 1960s and 1970s ... The residual desire for community in the Cambridge pastorale is itself a form of nostalgia: for small artisan cultures.’ His position is interesting, but presupposes the superiority of misery over happiness as the subject of poetry. Once you define ‘anxiety’ as a proxy proof that ‘I am intelligent’, you have constructed a game you can rather easily win. The style in question has nothing to do with nymphs and shepherdesses, but instead with 60s pop and up-to-date optimism. In fact, the fineness of Lawson’s objections is due to his proximity to the group, not to a deep gap between him and them. I imagine that his own poems are produced by a small group, of one person, and by artisanal methods, without use of heavy machinery. They are admirable, nonetheless.
      I don’t want to suggest that everyone published by Ferry and Grosseteste is one of the great and the good; on the contrary, an evening spent with the works of Doug Oliver, John Wilkinson, or Veronica Forrest-Thomson might be one to duck out of. I don’t want to claim that the scene around the Grosseteste Review was the only significant and exciting one in the nationwide flowering of poetry which took place in the sixties and early seventies. In other cities in Britain, there were other scenes and other experiments; often, these produced poor results at the beginning but reached the highs as they followed a difficult experimental discipline. The reception, by the editors of the anthology, of poets who emerged in the 1970s is more patchy and more in question, although they succeeded with, for example, John Seed and Ralph Hawkins. The arrival of poets even younger than Ralph and John, and the later careers of the Grosseteste alumni, arouse many and murky issues, which  —   I have earned a rest from for today.

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