Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"...who is 1989, and what do they want with us..."
- Sean Bonney & Jeff Hilson ('r.i.p. his gripping hands', Maintenant: the Camarade project (The Red Ceilings Press, 2011)

Notes on old new little presses part eight
& parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, nine
Image left: limited edition LOLLIPOP flyer (Bill Griffiths, 2000)
One quiet evening a year or so ago there was a thunderous crash from the living room which had me expecting some domestic disaster of worrying proportion. What happened was the entire collection of Bill Griffiths works I'd separated from bookshelf of zines, comics, small presses etc, and piled far too high, crashed to the floor in what Bill himself once entitled 'Spook Call' in a poem.

Concertinaed on the rug and relatively undamaged were conventional Griffiths' perfect bounds, Writers Forums, Bill's own Amra imprints which came in different shapes, sizes, and bindings, including the few visual collaborations I'd done with him.

Bill Griffiths had been very active in the Association of Little Presses (ALP) as cataloguer and archivist, moving the project online as administrator - a role continued to date by Peter Manson. A glance at imprints currently featured @lollipop reveals meeting point between 20th century British 'revival' presses affiliated from days of ALP and newer UK poetry small publishers.

Bad Press, Grasp Press, if p then q, Oystercatcher Press, for example, have added their imprints. 'Innovative', 'experimental', 'contemporary', 'cutting edge' are some small press self-definitions to entice attention and sales.

So has 'alternative' poetry or 'unconforming' writing become a perfect-trim, print-on-demand modernist small press orthodoxy in advanced capitalist countries? If avant-garde has been observed as new 'official verse culture' of experimental Scandinavian poetry what about contemporary work published in other European and Baltic countries? What about new kids on poetry block UK? There are newer presses that have not engaged with Lollipop's 'Listing'. Likeliest reason is newer publishers on many local scenes are unaware of this particular collectivity of interest and purpose.

But in the light of emerging old new little presses; object installation and art writing - the question of a break with the recent past and need to investigate unexplored terrains of both the electronic and the concretised - may be reasons for the setting up of parallel UK initiatives like Openned UK Poetry list, Small Press Catalogue and United Small Press Co-op (USPCO). Most presses now have websites/blogs with paypal facility to sell wares online, at home and overseas.

Due to an appointment mix-up other week I drifted into Glades' Waterstone's. It is rare for me to handle brand new books commodified for the consumer in Bromley's shopping mall but I did spy a couple of Salt books. I fantasized 1960s I-SPY BOOKS in circulation. Spotting a bookstore Salt would 'Score 20'. A Reality Street 'Score 40'.

Ebury Press, a Random House imprint (Score 10), have recently produced The 20th Century in Poetry commissioned for publishers by Sunday Times rich-listed
forest conservationist, Felix Dennis. Felix Dennis was my early '70ies Brit comix publisher who experienced something like a twenty-first century Paulian conversion to poetry (yeah, that is meant to read 'Paulian' not 'Paulin'). Felix Dennis is also something of a conservationist when it comes to traditional poetic forms.

Maybe there isn't a literary mainstream anymore, just a bunch of slipstreams-in-the-making with one or two aiming to look a bit mainstream or old guard. The 20th is a dust-jacketed hardback literary history book rather than a poetry anthology. It's a bookshelf tome. Joyce, Pound, Eliot, Bunting, Gascoyne, Edwins' Morgan & Muir, Adrienne Rich, John Kinsella, British Laureates, and a few Beats are generously represented. Yet presentation browse-read content within volume looks and feels commodified
for nostalgic appeal to international English-language poetry before millennium.

Felix Dennis with customary intelligence and good taste has left editorial selection to literary experts
Simon Rae and Michael Hulse. But edited sections denote modern cultural history rather than modern 20th century chronological poetry or poetics. Inevitable accusations of exclusion are met by Rae and Hulse with scholarly regret [...] for the excellent poets and poetry we were still unable to include. This editorial apologia is compromised when Noël Coward verse and an early Bob Dylan song lyric are reproduced on page as poetry. Both are excellent as twentieth century legends but their poetics may best lay in performance.

So try re-reading marketed seasonal object in bookstore as fetishistic compromise instead. Why not go whole hog and imagine even more pop poetry with printed song lyrics in The 20th. Half-a-dozen, say,
Horovitz-inspired Albion council estate rap 'n' dubstepping great-grands. Imagine "difficult" with at least one Cambridge poet to prove modern English-language poetry can be excellent and complex. And one or two Brit 'revivalists' shaking up poetry-on-the-page. And an 'index of first lines' that includes Bob Cobbing's YARR YAUP YARK YOWL YAP. And a few interpretive English translations of Greek, Roman classicists, Anglo-Saxon poets' narratives plus a couple of Western European decadents yeah why not. And finish off with full-color image of a Maggie O'Sullivan mixed media assemblage gracing back cover.

In reality just one Bill Griffiths' inclusion may have stopped me wishing book gift would come crashing down from a Christmas tree, breaking its spine & falling into linguistically innovative non-recyclable board and uncommodifiable paper dustwrap disassemblage.
Finished notes planned for inclusion in Songs Our Teachers Learn Us, or, Lessons To Be Taught sequence.

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