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Birkbeck Launch Event 2009: Selected Papers

Editors: Robert Sheppard and Scott Thurston

Andrea Brady, Caroline Bergvall


and Robert Hampson

http://www.gylphi.co.uk/poetry
Birkbeck Launch Event 2009: Selected Papers

Journal of British and Irish


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http://www.gylphi.co.uk/poetry
Birkbeck Launch Event 2009: Selected Papers

Journal of British and Irish

Editors: Robert Sheppard and Scott Thurston

Andrea Brady, Caroline Bergvall


and Robert Hampson

http://www.gylphi.co.uk/poetry
GYLPHI LIMITED

Gylphi Ltd, Registered Offices: PO Box 993, Canterbury, Kent CT1 9EP

Copyright © Robert Sheppard, Caroline Bergvall,


Andrea Brady, Robert Hampson, 2009

Photography by James O Jenkins


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Introduction
The three poet-critics whose talks have been gathered here – Caroline Bergvall,
Andrea Brady and Robert Hampson – are owed a tremendous debt by the Journal
of British and Irish Innovative Poetry for helping to launch the journal on 21
October 2009. A debt is owed also to the Poetics Centre at Birkbeck College,
University of London, which hosted the event, and whose ethos informed it.
William Rowe of the Centre spoke first to pose the questions the speakers had
been invited to respond to: whether there was a canon developing through the
interventions of critics within ‘innovative’ poetry ; whether the word ‘innovative’
was strictly appropriate, given its use in marketing and elsewhere, though Rowe
also acknowledged the Journal editors’ pragmatic, even reluctant, turning to this
often-used term; and what was the role of the academy in the developing study
of this work (whilst acknowledging that even the most independent groups often
share an academic context).
All four are on the editorial board of the Journal.
Before the speakers began I said a few words about the role of the academy in
reflecting and promoting the literary scene and the often uneasy relationship be-
tween poets and the academy. But I also contrasted the relatively impoverished
situation of criticism that pertained when I began PhD study on Roy Fisher and
Lee Harwood in the late 1970s with the contemporary situation, given its many
academic centres, publications, PhD studies – and now a dedicated academic
journal.
During the questions after hearing the talks which follow, I interjected an ex-
temporised remark about the function of the Journal which I would like to record
here. I was not merely responding to the excellent papers which seemed to be
raising hopes for the Journal beyond the usual, but to the barrage of emails on
the British Poets discussion list in the days leading up to the launch, which dem-
onstrated scepticism about what might be called the ‘academicization’ of poetry,
and about the editors’ roles as arbiters of taste. The irony of this is that very
little of the editors’ taste dictates the content of the Journal (it is much more a
collective venture with its system of peer reviewing); indeed, Caroline Bergvall’s
plea that the kinds of writing that have come to be known as ‘performance writ-
ing’ should be covered by the Journal – they already are, of course – can only
be answered by critics offering such work, and we welcome it. My remark was
that as editors we saw the Journal as one institution among other institutions
for the furtherance of the production, dissemination, enjoyment and study of
this work - whether those institutions are what Charles Bernstein calls the ‘pro-
visional institutions’ of reading series or magazines, or more solid affairs, such

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as academic publications or programmes of study in practice-led research, for
example (an area that surfaced in discussion, suggesting how the development
of Creative Writing has impacted upon English Studies in the last few years in
general, and upon the teaching of innovative writing in particular). The Journal
is part of a larger cultural sweep that responds to the contemporary situation of
non-mainstream poetry.

© Robert Sheppard, 2009

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Andrea Brady
It’s a pleasure to be able to join colleagues in celebrating the publication of this
important journal. The remit Will Rowe gave us for this evening is very broad –
‘the necessity or usefulness of academic study of this poetry at this time’! – and
I doubt I’d have anything particularly interesting or illuminating to say on this
general topic. But I hope to use my few minutes to open up some questions
about necessity, usefulness, creative and critical production – or rather to dis-
cuss some of the anxieties that I think are embedded in Will’s proposition, and
also revealed in Robert and Scott’s editorial to the Journal. Finally, I want briefly
to think about the conditions in which those of us engaged as both critics and
makers are now working.
It seems churlish at the moment we’re celebrating the eventual and hard-won
institutional legitimacy of ‘linguistically innovative’ poetry, poetry whose most
obvious feature is often its painfully energetic verbal activity, to propose a visual
turn; but that is how I’d like to begin.
Let’s first have a look at the very intelligently designed logo for the Journal.
It seems to me the word ‘innovative’ is handled with kid-gloves, enclosed in the
scare-quotes of a box within
a box – perhaps an indica-
tion of the instability of that
term, and the dangerous
implications that it might
activate if it were let loose.
‘Poetry’, on the lower right
in bold, has managed to es-
cape from innovation, but
not from the academic dis-
course with which it must share its gently rounded lozenge (held off on the other
side of innovation). Then there are the graphic features, the two bars, which
remind me of that optical illusion in which two lines of equal length actually
appear to be different due to the curvature of one. Is it poetry or innovation that
we overestimate? One of these monoliths is undeniably more massive, leaning or
perhaps toppling onto the smaller, yet more firmly grounded block. Is POETRY
about to crush or be crushed?
I’m going to turn now to a different kind of image regime, symbolized by the
work of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. Burtynsky’s work was the
subject of a 2006 documentary, Manufactured Landscapes. I’d like to offer a
critique of this body of work, which is extremely interesting and technically so-

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Andrea Brady
phisticated, in order to draw out some comparisons between it and the conditions
for the production of both creative and critical writing within the university.
Burtynsky is essentially an Enlightenment landscape artist, interested in
producing large-scale views of desubjectified landscapes. In these images, the
artist’s vantage is always superior, disengaged, and panoptic. The balanced, har-
monious and symmetrical perspective, reminiscent of an Alberti composition or
an early Stuart masque, offers the king’s place to the modern viewer. The lens
confers order and proportion on to the chaos caused by the human deformation
of landscapes. The images are highly rational and free of affect; they are also
almost entirely devoid of improvisation. This is not just a consequence of their
scale, which blots out all ant-like human motion, or the overwhelming monu-
mental stillness of their presentation of constructed and deconstructed objects
(although it is peculiar that a documenter of labour seems to desire to erase
movement, speed and gesture). They are also free of improvisation because, as
the documentary revealed, Burtynsky pays his subjects.
For Burtynsky’s series on the Three Gorges Dam project, a peasant with a don-
key waits like an extra on a film set for his cue to cross the field of the image, and
afterward gets a small fee from the photographer’s assistant. In another scene at
a Chinese factory, workers are asked to move forward to fill up the foreground,
and they run to do so. Are they excited? Or used to moving quickly on command?
Do they know who is looking at them, are they paid extra for their time? The
workers’ contribution to the production of the image is part of their early-morning
muster with their managers in the factory yard.
Despite these revelations, the documentary sheds no light on Burtynsky’s
working methods, his ethics regarding his participants, how he negotiates
permission to work on location (and whether this is with management, local gov-
ernment, etc., or if the workers depicted in his photographs are also consulted).
It tells us nothing about how the subjects of the photographs perceived the
working process, or how they responded to the images. Instead, the documen-
tary mimics Burtynsky’s own view from the gantry. The digital video camera is
a foil to Burtynsky’s film camera. It provides a less brilliant, less symmetrical,
less colourful version of his imagery, using the Wizard of Oz effect – black and
white ordinary reality giving way to the flash of technicolour fantasy – to argue for
Burtynsky’s extraordinary genius. Put more bluntly, the film is completely undia-
lectical: it makes almost no attempt to interview Burtynsky’s subjects; the long
tracking shot with which it opens (which seeks to replicate Burtynsky’s grandeur
of scale by its duration) tops all sound communication among the Chinese work-
ers with the low grind of the apparatus.
Only one worker (in my recollection) is interviewed in the film. And apart from
a brief shot of the upper part of her brow, her eyes cast down onto the abject
repetitiveness of her labour, the camera focuses entirely on the complex automo-
tive activity of her hands. She says that she can produce 400 units of a complex
circuit breaker per day, and has worked at the company happily for six years. I

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get out the calculator: that equates to 748,800 units produced. Where is this
tremendous output going? Who needs it?
Burtynsky is fascinated with this productive capacity, documenting scenes of
nature and urbanity transformed by it, with the crystallization of human labour
power in the built environment. He does not seem interested in the painful and
repetitive physical disciplines of the modern factory; he simply depicts the me-
gamachine at work.
Almost inevitably, Burtynsky turned to China as a state of seemingly limitless
productive capacity. Perhaps the linguistic and ethnic barriers to individual
communication also made it easier to document this scene of fantastic surplus
production without worrying too much about the experience of the individual
workers who are doing it. But Burtynsky is not sadistically interested in produc-
tive capacity alone. Rather, the China sequence depicts the process by which
the order and discipline of production becomes the chaos and disorder of waste
disposal. His series on recycling shows how the Chinese peasantry breaks down,
with little protective equipment or technical support, the commodities produced
by the colour-coded, uniformed and disciplined producers from earlier in the
narrative.

There is no clear allegorical relationship between these images, the film about
the artist, and the relationship between poetry and academic criticism. Bur-
tynsky’s popularity (there are dozens of tv specials about him) might tell us
something about the ornamental function of conceptions of industrial labour
for western post-industrial economies. Rather than analysing that strange
predicament, I want to offer five points of comparison with the subject of our
conversation tonight, in order to raise some questions about what has been
sometimes called ‘the function of criticism’.
1. Burtynsky is interested in the circuit of production, from production,
through to reception and influence. These are also preoccupations of
criticism, and represented in the complex, generous and comprehensive,
if inevitably extremely male, genealogy in the editorial to the Journal.
2. Criticism, like Burtynsky’s images, fetishizes the origins of the artistic
product. It moves from the object in hand, backwards to the moment of
its birth. However, the scene of composition is a forbidden object: ulti-
mately desired, capable of revealing all sorts of esoteric mysteries, but
taboo for the modern critic, who not only knows she cannot replicate the
experience of the producer, but that such experience is not allowed to be
the ultimate determination of the art work’s meaning – or, in some hard-
line criticism, is not allowed any determining function whatsoever.
3. Related to (2), modern critical orthodoxy also stresses the material his-
tory of the art object (including the poem), rather than the individual

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character, thoughts, or experiences of the producer. I imagine that like
the Chinese worker assembling circuit breakers, but also in almost ev-
ery important way unlike her, I feel a mixture of pride and futility in my
work producing objects. Criticism, or a photographer more interested in
dialogue and reciprocity than Burtynsky seems to be, might help to il-
luminate for me the destinies of this work. But it will probably find that
much of my productive capacity goes to waste.
4. Criticism tends to select a vantage point which imposes uniformity, order,
and decodability onto the productive process. There is in academic criti-
cism in particular a clear ‘professionalized’ tendency to assume elevated
and rationalizing perspectives which can take in large-scale historical
and social processes: but also perspectives from which the gestures and
movements of individual actors can still be seen clearly (high-resolution
criticism).
5. The commodity: mining and other kinds of early supply-chain develop-
ment transform the random and gradually organized attributes of nature
into cubic raw materials; these are then processed through the disciplin-
ary regime of the factory into the commodity, which is identifiable as the
condensation of labour in its situation of greatest order, before use and
disposal return it to the chaos of retrieval and finally reintegration into a
(damaged) nature. The poem: transforms random linguistic and histori-
cal events and attributes into discretionary raw materials, whose form,
compaction and rough beauty imply a utility which has not yet been fully
exploited. These are analysed and packaged by critics, sold on to read-
ers and then returned to feed back into the poetic process. But the order
which the critic finds in the artistic object is itself a fiction.

Of course, because of my advanced academic training, I could go on like this for-


ever, generating dubious syllogisms out of films and images and recycling them
back into my own practice like a one-woman Chinese industrial cycle. But I do
think that Burtynsky’s ambivalent relationship to the scene of production, the
desire to master and order it and sometimes even to force it to assemble itself
according to his pictorial requirements, could serve as a caution for criticism.
We might also think about the popularity of his images, in the urban western
art market that thrums with the commodities whose birth he documents. The
mess, discipline, misery, prosperity, boredom, pride, hope and horror of the
construction and deconstruction of modern delights are packaged into an aes-
thetic object, which contains the ethical demands of those scenes of making
and unmaking. As critics, we are also able to transform the personal, social and
political conditions that co-produce the artwork into a scenic background, which
allows the art work to be hung up on the departmental wall, its gross challenge to

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the principles of liberal inquiry and solicitous classroom discussion adequately
framed.
The best criticism is not, like Burtynsky’s images, supreme in its distance and
authoritarian perspective, but engaged, in the muck with the shipwrights and the
ship-breakers. It is not interested in conferring or receiving legitimation, but in
the cut and thrust, the blood and guts, of why writing should matter to anyone.
But universities long ago gave up holding free and public anatomies. The modern
academy promotes a critical discourse based on scientific method: verifiable,
unbiased, methodologically self-reflective, evidence-based.
Stepping down from the gantry, unscrewing the tripod and opening the pin-
hole box, the critic is forced into a relationship of reciprocation and dialogue
with its subject. Criticism allows critics time and space to think; it communi-
cates enthusiasm and intrigue; and it can also serve as a somewhat vicarious
form of protest. It can also feed back into poetic practice. I have built my own
writing on attempts to analyse what’s happening in other people’s poems. Critics
have altered my thinking and my writing. For example, Robin Purves’s searching
essay on a poem of mine, published some years ago in the Edinburgh Review,
pointed out to me in a subtle and intelligent way what I was doing wrong, and
helped me to figure out where I might have to go next. The Journal will hopefully
facilitate such exchange, as the editorial promises ‘to build up a readership for
the journal within the very literary community that is being described’, out of a

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recognition that ‘the lack of development in poetries may proceed from lack of
critical engagement’ with its full tradition.
This is important, because compared to the productive output of the modern
poetry factories, very little criticism of ‘this poetry’ is being written. But what
if the feedback loop becomes a tourniquet, when the readers of criticism are
the community of its producers only? Then we really should answer the familiar
charge that the academy is elitist, that it removes important artistic objects from
the broader circulation in which they might make some difference, or even worse
that it encourages the production of a certain kind of art which can only be loved,
interpreted, used or understood within the academy itself. I hear these concerns
in the editorial’s phrase, which opposes ‘the academic’ to ‘the irreverently rel-
evant’ (making the academic sound both ecclesiastical and impertinent – as the
bishop said to the actress ... ).
There are three ways of responding to this familiar allegation.
First, that it is true.
Second, that the modern university is not an ivory tower in a kingdom far away
from the ‘real world’, but is in fact a service provider whose administrative logic
is these days drawn from industry (as exemplified by the ubiquitous rhetoric of
‘blue-skies thinking’, ‘practice-led research’ – and, yes, ‘innovation’); and that
in this case, requirements to demonstrate ‘impact’ or ‘social cohesion’ transform
genuine engagement between professional academics and a generally conceived

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‘community’ into an assessment criterion in the excellence framework. (Meaning-
ful engagement between these communities must be fanatically pursued, even
in an environment which incentivize ritualistic, fake, or insignificant claims.)
Third, that one of the most inspiring and accurate claims for ‘innovative po-
etry’ might be that it turns its readers into practitioners; there are very few critics
of this work out there who don’t also write poems themselves. In that case, the
feedback loop between producers and critics can be as tight as it likes.
The study and production of creative writing within universities translates the
danger (that producers and consumers are the same, that an extramural audi-
ence is cut off by that identity) into an institutional geography. ‘Practice-led
research’ is not just a term applied by arts research management companies
onto the diverse and still largely autonomous practices of the art college. Its
implications cannot be safely ignored. As a category for assessment in conven-
tional universities, it foregrounds the subsidiary product of the critical article,
the dissertation, the explanation, as the prize, which allows us to include the art
work – temporary, flawed and finally irrelevant – on the departmental census.
Production is linked without delay to marketing and disposal.
Some of my friends believe that these demands by the bureau are justified:
that in exchange for the freedom to make a living as an academic and practicis-
ing poet or artist, or, more accurately, in exchange for our subsidies, we should
be forced to rationalize our practice – to explain, in a ‘narrative’, where the ‘tra-
jectory’ of our art comes from and is going. That any engagement with the wider
community is better than nothing, which is all many of us were doing in the old
days. That the context does not destroy our art.
I hope that this is true, but I am frightened – genuinely and personally fright-
ened – that artwork and criticism produced by people who have learned to cope,
by means of evasion, subterfuge, or a splitting-off of their professional and criti-
cal personas, with the total victory of instrumental reason, will be fundamentally
evasive.
If Burtynsky offers an etymology of the commodity, then the Journal promises
also to provide a space for the contemplation and analysis of the poem’s past and
its future. As Scott and Robert remind us, the past should be contemplated (as is
traditional) for its ability to aid us in repeating (or avoiding repeating) history; the
future is predicted by practitioners’ assessments of their own work and the chal-
lenges it faces. The Journal has the capacity to formalize debates, to force us
down from our bandboxes into substantial and substantiated argument. Ideally
it could also recruit new readers for ‘this poetry’. It won’t solve the problem that
academic criticism is a strangely punitive, elitist, or irrelevant genre; that real
engagement between poets, professional writers and critics, and the community
of general readers is being masqueraded out of existence; and that the gap for
independent thought, negativity and resistance which the universities once held
open is now closing, like an exotic sepulchre in an Indiana Jones movie. But it

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may give us a bit more breathing space, as we search for the mechanism which
would spring us into the fantastic day.

© Andrea Brady, 2009

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Caroline Bergvall
The very existence of this first issue is cause for celebration. The seven articles
it contains are a summary of many of the concerns and ideas that have been
sustained and favoured within this British experimental scene for at least the
past twenty years. The fact that institutional support is now provided for such
a venture at a time when many would instead be shutting down is a sign of the
dedication of the editorial team but also of the healthy growth of our environ-
ment.
As we only have a few minutes each, I want to share a few of my thoughts
regarding some quite specific poetries that seem to me always to need more dis-
cussion than they get, and wish to argue for the development of more continuous
and shared resources around such forms.
Material noise in relation to verbal articulacy has defined my modes of
thinking about writing at its junctures or sutures with media and non-textual
environments. The socio-historical, industrialized noise of the page has ruled my
understanding of the prime location of the poet, even as I wished it to include
audio inscriptions and live readings, and has kept me aware of the authoritative-
ness of publishing. The still high dominance of verbal material over any other
sign system on the poetic page always reminds me that for all the critical and
artistic work done this past century, the ideological basis of visual and other po-
etics are still only reluctantly being factored into the semiotics of the literary.
Which is why the fact that this launch issue of an academic journal should
open with among others a critical piece by Mandy Bloomfield on O’Sullivan’s
visual and textual poetics is extremely encouraging. I want to take it as a sign of
things to come. It sends a signal that the UK has an extremely rich culture of vi-
sual and performance poetics, a culture that has been favoured and sustained for
many years and by among others, by a number of us in this room today in many
different ways (from practice to publishing to criticism to teaching), is starting to
come in from the outer cold and can generate sustained and supported criticism
from younger critics.
Can one hope that this is also opening the door for the recognition and study
of poetic forms that have hitherto had an erratic, marginalized presence within
English. I’m thinking here about the expanded poetics that have emerged for the
past say, twenty years and that are radically redefining the terms by which poetics
overall will function. Some call it ‘expanded writing’, ‘literary arts’, ‘performance
writing’, ‘performative writing’, ‘off-page writing’, etc. They are inseparable from
the changing writing, publishing and dissemination modes through which we’re
encountering text in social culture. As such, they are imprinted alongside so-

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Caroline Bergvall

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cietal shifts to do with knowledge and memory formation, a shift from strictly
instrumental textual mode to more heterographic and often process-led ones.
We know that the very notion of ‘literariness’ implictly historicized the link
between literature and print culture; and that it therefore also implied its poten-
tial endpoint in terms of material culture. Perhaps this is why there is still much
suspicion or impatience with respect to projects where the compositional syntax
involves working text in space or audiophonically or online. Many poets that find
themselves working across media find that this type of work in the end might
fall more easily within the realm of art, or music, than within that of poetry. Fair
enough. There are material and technical demands more readily met by a gallery
and a radio station than a poetry magazine. Who’s to say where and how poetry
will be situated in a few years time? Nevertheless, the detail of work as accom-
plished as that of Aaron Williamson or cris cheek or Fiona Templeton, to mention
but those, who publish books and work the instruments of writing as part of their
live and installed work should not hence escape the attention of our poetics.
Some of this of course problematizes the notion of document in relation to
textuality. Ephemeral or performance artforms have had to deal with this in
relation to video and photographic documentation notably. In a sprawling piece
like Templeton’s You-The City, how can one become certain as to the value at-
tributable to the text itself since it seems here primarily transcribed from vari-
ous instances of production. The photographic document of her piece partially
reads the text too. I expect that Rob Holloway’s soon to be released Permit (from
subpress), the product of years of more or less improvised live works, reworked
for the page, may carry some of the same questions. Redell Olsen’s latest piece
in progress which uses a loud film sequence alongside her live readings will also
beg the question as to the integration of this material into the final, potentially
combined platforms of her choosing.
Projects that make use of film or live bodies or 3D space or audio equipment
as an inherent part of their textual production demand of a critic that they think
about time and space in ways that are currently not familiar to textual poetics. As
is so often the case, the practice leads the way. I think this is the reason why an
electronic writer such as John Cayley has always accompanied his poetic project
with a critical platform. Not because his work needs it but because the work of
poetics demands it. Sound and oralised poetry for instance, with its polemical
connection or disconnection between speaking and communicating, and the ar-
chaic persistence of the oral address in poetry, has spawned a lot of crucial criti-
cism from practitioners, from Peter Middleton, Robert Sheppard via Nathaniel
Mackey, Amanda Stewart, Hazel Smith, Charles Bernstein and Christof Migone
who all address variously the aloudness of the text. Am I suggesting here that we
all need to keep on shaping our own critical methodologies as part of the process
of making poetic work? Perhaps. And perhaps one can also take the cue from a
more collective form of criticism as favoured by the electronic platform, such as
that put together by Birkbeck, Intercapillary Space and Opened for Alice Notley’s

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visit (2008). It presents a vimeo of Notley’s reading, followed by close reading
discussions by approximately 12 poets, through 12 different, embedded vimeo
links. Texts appear in separate frames. This make it a great multi-perceptual
online case-study for poetics research.
One final thought. The medium of course is not the message. The over-reliance
on analysing the media, on the tooling, on the kit, on the procedure, must not
therefore make us overly attentive to the effects of the cogs, and not enough to
what kind of disciplining machines they are letting through. The trasnformation
of art into industry, the intense dislocations and discontinuities of our electronic
multi-medial linkage traffic, the always changeable archiving of our blogging
culture, social fluency through global telephony, all these are the new terms of
access and of collective address that we encounter. Yet, and thinking of this
as from within an Anglo-speaking environment, new layerings of social culture
that run along various lines of mastery of English as 1st, 2nd or no-English are
not fully factored into this. Of course, gendered and sexuated collective revolu-
tions are still not ever fully factored in either. For this reason, the realm of the
performative, of the writerly or poetic speech act and its broader ideological
implications, does remain to me a leading term for thinking about poetics, writ-
ing’s agency and the writer’s own positioning (or identity) in the make-up and
manifestations of intertextual and intermedia or transmedia practices.

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I wish for the Journal that it will cater for media-related poetics as much as
for more established or absorbed modes of working so that the various media of
poetry can be seen in full operation. I hope that it will do so as a British journal
following a long tradition of materialist thinking always does best: by implicating
the machine in the print-out. And by implicating the machine of social identities
as part of what enables or disables poetic activity. Let’s remember that there is
currently a law in the UK that regulates non-EU entry for academics and artists,
which has already caused a lot of damage especially for smaller organizations
who cannot afford the cost of refused visas and cancelled talks. This which wants
to force us to turn in on ourselves, this being refused our guests, those healthy
spanner in our works, this denial of our sharing of specialisms and visions about
our fields, sits hand in hand with an enforced spread of provincialism and the
proliferation of mediatised ignorance. I therefore also wish for the journal that
it can be host to those practices and those poets we may not be able to host in
any other way today.

© Caroline Bergvall, 2009

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Robert Hampson
Robert Hampson
I would like to begin by welcoming the first issue of the Journal of British and
Irish Innovative Poetry, founded and edited by Robert Sheppard and Scott Thur-
ston, which is both a very much needed journal and also, I believe, a very timely
addition to the field. As the editors note, there have been a number of important
books in this area in recent years – including Andrew Mellors’s Late Modernist
Poetry (2005), Ian Davidson’s Ideas of Space in Contemporary Poetry (2006),
Tony Lopez’s Meaning Performance (2007) and John Wilkinson’s The Lyric Touch
(2007) – but there is also a significant amount of doctoral work as well. There
is very clearly a growing research community as well as a rich and vibrant poetic
community.
Robert Sheppard and Scott Thurston have a foot in each of these communi-
ties: they are well-regarded poets who earn their living in the academy. Rob-
ert is Professor of Poetry and Poetics at Edge Hill University, where he has
played a major role in the development of the Creative Writing programme. Scott,
who gained his doctorate in Creative Writing at Edge Hill, now teaches at the
University of Salford. In the last few years, Robert has published an important
critical work, The Poetry of Saying: British Poetry and its Discontents, 1950-
2000 (Liverpool University Press, 2005), which, as he says, represents the
‘critical counter word’ to his development as a poet, and the long-awaited single-
volume Complete Twentieth Century Blues (Salt, 2008), an 11-year project, a
network of interconnected texts, most of which had appeared in different ver-
sions and showings over this period. Scott’s work has appeared in Ken Edwards’s
4 Pack Series, in the first volume Sleight of Foot (1996), and he has two collec-
tions out from Tony Fraser’s Shearsman Press, Hold and Momentum. Hold was
Scott’s first major collection and brought together 10 years of work.
Although both are now firmly established in the North of England, they were
both figures in the London innovative poetry world in the 1980s and 1990s. I
have known both of them, I believe, since they were schoolboys, when they first
started to attend readings in London: it’s pleasing to see how well they have
turned out. I first met Robert at Mike Dobbie’s reading series at the White Swan.
In the 1970s Robert was at East Anglia and was editing a cassette-tape maga-
zine called 1983, a journal called Rock Drill and another journal pages, which
still continues as a blogzine. I certainly met Robert and Scott at Gilbert Adair’s
SubVoicive reading series. They were also both actively involved in Bob Cob-
bing’s New River Project. Scott’s first two books, Poems November 1989–June
1991 and Stateswalks, were both published by Writers Forum; his third, Two
Sequences, by Laurence Upton’s RWC.

27
Robert has made a significant contribution to the development of this field,
not just through his own work as a poet, but also through his work as an editor
and critic. What has been particularly important has been his prolonged attempt
to articulate a poetics through a critical and theoretical engagement with the
work of precursors and contemporaries and his own practice. He has written on
Roy Fisher, Bob Cobbing, Tom Raworth, Lee Harwood and Allen Fisher – and
has edited the Salt Companion to Lee Harwood. In 1991, he and Adrian Clarke
edited Floating Capital: New Poets from London, an important early attempt to
register the 1980s London scene in which both he and Adrian Clarke had de-
veloped. Accordingly, the anthology begins with Cobbing and Allen Fisher – in
recognition of their role as influential precursors, exemplary figures in terms of
their prolific production and their sustained poetic innovation. The anthology
also sought to draw a line beneath the obsession (in 1970s London innovative
poetry) with place and Olsonian open field poetics, and to present a poetics
based on ‘a willingness to deal with the materials that are readily to hand or
impose themselves in the act of writing’. The editors’ ‘Afterword’ also included a
series of ‘operational axioms’ with which I will conclude:
… that poetry must extend the inherited paradigms of ‘poetry’; that
this can be accomplished by delaying, or even attempting to eradi-
cate, a reader’s process of naturalisation; that new forms of poetic
artifice and formalist techniques should be used to defamiliarize the
dominant reality principle in order to operate a critique of it; and that
poetry can use indeterminacy and discontinuity to fragment and re-
constitute text to make new connections so as to inaugurate fresh per-
ceptions, not merely mime the disruption of capitalist production.
This was a brave attempt to articulate a position for the poetry being produced
in London in the 1980s, and the afterword to the anthology is, to that extent, an
important document.
In their editorial to the first issue of the Journal, Robert and Scott write about
the need to historicize the work of the last 30 or more years, and it is for this
reason that I have dwelt on the 1991 anthology. On the one hand, they argue,
there is a need to explore and document what has been achieved so that younger
writers have a sense of the tradition within which they are working and are not
required to constantly re-invent the wheel. For reasons with which we are all
familiar, a lot of the practice of the last 30 or more years has not been recorded;
the debates and discriminations are often part of personal memory rather than
public record. On the other hand, the editors suggest that ‘a lack of development
in these poetries may proceed from the lack of critical engagement bold enough
to declare some practices exhausted’. This more bracing prospect was something
already attempted in Floating Capital, and it is a function that I hope the journal
will be able to fulfil.
© Robert Hampson, 2009

28
William Rowe

29
Robert Sheppard
Scott Thurston
“one of the most
inspiring and
accurate claims for
‘innovative poetry’
might be that it
turns its readers into
practitioners”

“The Journal is part


of a larger cultural
sweep that responds
to the contemporary
situation of non-
mainstream poetry.”
“a very much needed
journal”

“I wish for Gylphi that


it will cater for media-
related poetics as much
as for more established,
or absorbed, modes of
working”
Second Launch Event:
University of Salford
Room 103
Salford M5 4WT
4 pm, 9 December 2009
Featuring: Allen Fisher, Robert
Sheppard and Scott Thurston