Author: shaun belcher (Page 1 of 17)

Poet, painter and songwriter originally from Oxfordshire now living in Nottingham.

Auto-Respond Rejection letter

As an Old White Whale with no previous history of publishing in the mindset of anybody under 40 I have found getting poems out there not easy. Poetry publishing has always been a closed shop but now it beyond difficult..this is not that far from very similar auto-responds I’ve been sent lately. They seem to have a pro-forma letter so it seemed reasonable to reply in kind.

The current state of ‘highly curated’ young persons poetry reminds me very much of the art scene in 2000 onwards when artists lost power to curators big time .

The same happening now because a glut of University educated wannabe poets means the actual power is now in the hands of the ‘editors’ of academic based small ‘presses’ that actually curating the scene in order to build their personal careers.

Introducing David Bell : Poet Laureate of Fauxetry

David Bell or Ern Malley Youtribe Star

For those of you not au fait with my previous personality shifts may I remind you I have been a dead country star and a cartoon dog and also many years ago (briefly)
I sent out music tapes as songwriter David Bell only to have a famed critic (remains anonymous) ring my mother about David Bell only for her to almost hang up at which point I wish she had as the call wasn’t a positive response.

So a long gone alter ego re-emerges as I consider the fairly tribal nature of modern British poetry.

Having retired I have taken some time to see how the land lies now and whilst some things have changed for the better e.g. diversity and representation others have got remarkably worse.

In 1992 I briefly worked at the Poetry Library and then there was a shared sense of who the best writers were and what groups they formed. This just before Tim Berners-Lee blew a world wide hole in all that. Even living in Edinburgh for two years did not radically alter my sense of poetry apart from vastly increasing my appreciation of contemporary Scottish writing.

In 1996 I returned to Oxford and the poetry world map then was easy to draw. There were the Oxbridge dominated lists like Faber and Cape and Oxford Poets OUP even. They pretty much defined the ‘big boys and girls’ to an extant they no longer do. OUP was killed off and most decent poets found new homes with the major minors (then and now) Carcanet and Bloodaxe.

Everybody else from whichever tribe was marginalised …LBGT representation then was confined to Jeremy Reed and Kathy Acker and apart from Walcott/Agard and a young Zephaniah/LKJ and my friend Javaid’s sister Moniza BAME literature was also under-represented. The margins was just that, catered for by magazines and small presses like left of centre Angel Exhaust on the post NY school side and Agenda on the rightist conservative side.

These are very big generalisations but you get my drift.

By 2002 when I moved to Nottingham both my workplace and the poetry world had come to be dominated by the shiny screen. The greatest influence on poetry post 1996 was Windows OS. The rest is history or more importantly herstory.

Then a second revolution hit poetry and one it still not fully adapted to.

Youtribe and phones shooting video changed ‘profitable’ poetry from a page based literary art to a screen based performance art and Slam broke the fences on the old reservations down for a while. Since then the big publishers have assimilated and absorbed it and now pump it out in alarming quantities to boost their diversity and profits almost equally.

For a good proportion of new wannabee poets their introduction to poetry is via the slam/video scene it takes a few years for the paper based version to finally sink in if ever. Good poets emerge but so do a lot of very bad ones.

There are now ridiculous amounts of poetry everywhere and everybody is a poet. Indeed being a performance poet these days is just a step to being a media personality like Kate Tempest who I just read is now a novelist comparable to Dickens! A blurb written by her agent no doubt as we all live in shallow not hard times.

Most of this ‘poetry’ is not poetry but words on a page sometimes formally interesting or crafted but mostly formless selfie induced snapshots of people’s psychic state or feelings shared ad infinitum on the social media platform of choice. Small presses have grown up based solely on the income streams that gratifying these performance poets ‘need to be seen’ have now created.

Want to be a poet sign here, pay at the door, let me edit you until publishable and then I take half your royalties. Just look good on camera we will do the rest…

But exponetial growth and rising profits does not equal quality no more than every boy in a bedroom with a guitar equalled The Beatles.

The hardest part of returning to ‘scope’ ( a stupid word learnt in my academic daze) the Mod/Brit/Poet scene is the sheer unadulterated amount of fucking awful poetry flowing off the POD small presses. If only quantity meant quality then I and Martin Stannard and other old white men like us would have nothing to moan about. (Just spiking the expected you dont understand the younger generation quips sadly as a teacher for 20 years I probably do).

At its worse selfie poetry or FAUXETRY is an adjunct to ACE funded wellbeing and has a role to play in rehabilitation, mental health services and general social interaction for a good cause BUT it does not produce that much well written poetry from whatever silo be it
Working Classist/Feminist/Trans/Scottishist/Classicist/ Socialist/Rightist/Vagrant/ neo Caribbean/ Northern Populist/ Nordic
(ok I made a lot of these up)

To then try and place oneself in one of these tribes even harder.

Back in 1992 it was easy Simon Smith not only rejected my poems for Angel Exhaust but told me in person I had no grasp of what he and his cohort were doing which amused me at the time as he was an academic librarian and I had been a radical art student but hey ho horses for courses. So I was not a modernist.

Wearing a centrist nice working class poetry cap I briefly played second fiddle to Simon Armitage until I grew so fucking bored of the whole Poetry Review younger generation hype that I gave up completely. I moved to Scotland and got published which apposite as most Scots were at that point way ahead of the English poetry scene. There was nothing of the quality of Chapman/Edinburgh review down south. Ambit was as close as you got but that was pretty not political.

So this leads to David Bell who I am going to resurrect in a totally contrived way to publish my post NY school tendencies which pre Simon Armitage were always there along with a wilful tendency to write archaic Elizabethan prose when mood took me. I was post-modernist before term struck. Which maybe why the firmly modernist inspired Cambridge crowd around Angel Exhaust never really got me.

Other wilful inventions include an entire volume of poetry in pigeon Scots which went down like the titanic in Scotland at the time…maybe publishing that now under a Scottish pseudonym would be (in)appropriate.

Maybe David Bell was born in Ullapool….who knows.

At this rate I soon have more identities than Pessoa who actually one of my progenitors in the first place.

So ladies and gentlemen…the original Poet Laureate of Fauxetry.

David Bell.

Och aye.

Poetry Reviews: Sandbags against the flood

Back in 1996 at the height of my poetry career (in Scotland not here!) I reviewed for the great Lines Review I not seen this in years but here a John Glenday and Richard Price review.

I posting as I starting to get my pencils sharpened for some more reviewing after a break of 30 odd years.

I feel like an undercover ‘sleeper’ activated behind iron curtain in a Len Deighton novel. I have returned to Poetryland with fake ID and a Walther PPK hidden in my Jacket (Poetry ref there peeps)..just so you know


I just read some of this volume at the Open Book reading is Thames Valley Texas (updates at link above or direct here

This is a kind of auto-biography of myself and my hometown of Didcot where I lived for a good part of 30 years. The title is a reference to the love of country music that my family had instilled in me from a young age and the experience of hearing Dolly Parton at full volume drifting across the estate from the working-men’s club on a saturday night.

If I cannot get a publisher to take this chapbook length collection on I will try and publish as a Horsehoe Press pamphlet.

Potentially in future I would like to publish the poems alongside a sequence of photographs I took in 2011-12 for a multimedia project called TRACK which almost but not quite became a PHD in 2018…

New Poems: Dead Centre

POW camp and housing


If England was a target and you were looking at cross hairs
In the centre of the cross hairs would probably be Didcot
The most normal town in England according to the pollsters
The 11th worst place to live according to crap towns

My home town, the town my family still live in, die in
A town that should not really be there, a ghost town
Only there because the residents of Abingdon and Oxford
refused the nasty dirty mess that they called a railway

So Brunel bent the line through a village called Didcot
They been taking other people’s shit there ever since
First it was provisions for the railway and a huge depot
Logistics was invented there to provide fodder for horses

Didcot has been a place to move stuff through and to ever since
From the army barracks, to the brand new Tesco mega storerooms
Where my family froze in huge freezers as warehouse operatives
Work for people with nowhere to go or reaching the end of the line

It’s the town people joke about, Didcot Parkway, gets its mentions
A place to glide through on the way to better destinations
Poets and novelists mention it in passing never stopped there
Never ventured off the trains to actually see it, a place holder

A place fit for commuters and immigrants, CHAVs and drug dealers
No place that anybody wants to live in for long, or stay forever
M parents grave is situated 500 yards from their council house
Now partitioned and resold built on a prisoner of war camp.

Thousands of lifetimes wiped away now and brushed into the past
Like the post-war immigrants who found a home there that could last
From Poland and Italy, Germany, Slovakia and the death camps
They preferred the dead centre of everything to anywhere else

They escaped the cross hairs and started again.
Built new lives and blessed every day that was normal

Thrived and felt safe.
Normal. Ignored. No longer a target. Dead centre. 

Levelling Down – Diversity and Poetry

In a recent tweet or does one say Xeet recently I touched on the state of poetry and the diversification agendas which affecting the production and dissemination of poetry.

Levelling up should mean an equal levelling up in terms of diversity.

I just read this interesting article which suggests that this is far from the case.

In fact as I suspected with my recent re-engagement with the great and good of poetry the funding as always is being tipped into the usual pockets mostly ex-University ex creative-writing course graduates who are the major engine of change in all fields of literature as the world copes with the mass-production of a huge amount of OK writers and the very occasional genius.

In most cases the cleverest have just moved to where the money is ticked the boxes they need to and carried on.

In terms of levelling in any case there has never been in poetry a overwhelming central powerhouse. London has the big novel publishers but are we forgetting all the great regional iniatives like Morden Tower and Bloodaxe or Carcanet they always up north and there long been a Scottish Poetry Library and now there (part of new agenda no doubt) a Manchester Poetry Library although Manchester will soon be only reachable by steam train if government has its way.

This is how bad it got:
While its budget for the next spending round (2023-26) will increase by 2%, the DCMS has instructed that all of it – some £43.5m – must be spent on delivering the government’s levelling up agenda. That is, redistributing funding outside London, where possible specifically targeting 109 prescribed ‘levelling up for culture places’ across the country. 

In fact as kevin points out :

In addition, to further redress the funding balance between London and the regions, London’s National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) will receive £24m less, a reduction of 15% over the next four years.

If this money was cut from past their sell-by date white middle class institutions like the gloriously bad Poetry Society and its absurd Poetry Competition that would be a good thing but no that money will be scraped from the little guys in Peckham and Bounds Green. Levelling up never touches those highest up the ladder. It the ones at bottom that drown as always.

The racial diversity Catch 22 of sending all the money to regions that in a majority of cases have a smaller BAME population than London is brilliantly analysed by Kevin Osborne. I am not going to restate what he puts much more eloquently.

If only people like Kevin had their hands on the levers of power we’d all be in a better place and maybe we wouldn’t need levelling up down or sideways in the first place.

I apologise for stealing his graphic but it too good not to use…


ACE is robbing Peter to pay Paul (sorry biblical metaphor) but true.
This Boris Johnson fuelled Regional Levelling UP Gravy Train hits the buffers circa the next general election .

The fount of all knowledge and the root of all evil:

More than 1,700 organisations applied to become part of the 2023–26 portfolio. Of these, 990 were successful and set to receive a share of £446mn over three years. This includes 276 organisations joining ACE’s portfolio for the first time. Of the 990 organisations, 950 have been awarded NPO status. The remaining 40 organisations have been designated ‘investment principles support organisations’ (IPSOs). IPSOs are required to provide creative and cultural activity that delivers against ACE’s investment principles, set out in its strategy for 2020–30: ‘Let’s Create’.

The 2023–26 portfolio will replace ACE’s 2018–22 portfolio, which ends on 31 March 2023. The 2018–22 portfolio was originally due to end on 31 March 2022, however ACE granted a one-year extension for 2022/23 as part of its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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