Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Down Time

You’ll have noticed from my recent blogs and Facebook rants, should you be ‘my friend’, that I’ve been a bit pissed off recently. I don’t want to delve too deeply into the whys and wherefores (hence the title of this post), beyond saying that I’m fed up with several things at the minute, one of which, sadly, is poetry. I feel the urge to take a step back, to get some air.

A while ago, Clare Pollard talked about the ‘overwhelming’ British poetry scene. She noted how it got her down: ‘millions of us, all frantically posting and waving and shouting ‘read me’’, suggesting sometimes she needs to remind herself why poetry is important, finding more and more that that importance, that urgency, stems from poetry written by those whose nations’ stability and freedoms are somewhat more precarious than our own.

While I’m all for blogging, networking and self-promotion, I have now reached a point where I really don’t want to hear about poetic in-fights and squabbles every time I go online. I don’t care who rejected you. I don’t care if you’ve set up a new magazine and are looking for talented new voices. I don’t care if you’re organising a workshop for young adults in Bognor Regis. At least not all the bloody time. And it is just about every time I go online that I see nihilistic PR or emotional rants, themselves often followed by a torrent of cynical cat-fighting and fakery. I’m certainly complicit – be it within the poetry community or not – in what Clare describes as the thousands of voices ‘jostling for position’. It’s all gotten very rat-racey; pandering, I think, too much to the dominant paradigm of consumer capitalism, a paradigm that is surely, in its current guise, at or close to a snapping point.

I’ve sensed my own work becoming more politicised lately, only I’m reluctant to push it any further in that direction for the time being because I’m aware of how hypocritical I come across. Take the above: you’ll doubtless see me promoting my upcoming reading in Norwich, or the workshop I’m running in August for the SeaChange project, or something else to do with poetry and books at some point in the coming days, weeks and months. Fine. Fine for me and fine for all the other jostlers, all of us trying to arse-kiss our way onto Faber’s list.

But I’m not writing the type of poetry that I think this country needs. I talked recently to a close friend who is not caught up in this bizarre world (a world, coincidentally, that my own publisher labelled equally as odd, stating that if people acted in such strange ways in any other profession, their colleagues would tell them to fuck off) who recited Adrian Mitchell’s (in[?])famous quote on poetry and its (often lacklustre) audience: ‘Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.’ While he admires my poetry and has enjoyed some of the other performances he’s seen and things he’s read, his opinion still stands. And it is hard to argue with.

So what type of poetry do I think this country needs? Well, for a start I think it needs the courage of projects like The Dark Mountain Project. It also needs the ingenuity of things like 81 Austerities (with perhaps a little less irony), and it certainly needs more of the attitude and honesty of bands like Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun. But a list of upgrades and refinements isn’t going to do much. For now, I’m going to take a back seat and brood a while. If there’s one concrete reason why people still choose to ignore poetry, I think, frankly, Mitchell has already nailed it: a lot of it is dull and is wholly disengaged with the world outside of that which it purports to shine a light on.

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