Category: poets (Page 1 of 2)

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.

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.

Coppard returns…

Like a bad penny this story never dies and after I had this photograph taken yesterday I thought similar and did some more digging and found two new articles on ‘Flynn’ and for those less squeamish that comes from the saying ‘in like Flynn’ about Errol Flynn’s legendary bedding of women.

the full story in Coppard link above but here two new takes on the story..

I came from nothing, and it may be I was never anything more than a contrivance for recording emotions I would fain have taken for my own, but could not– life passed me by

From AE Coppard’s semi-autobiographical My Hundredth Tale written c1930

Graham Thomas an English author living in Tokyo has written a very accurate short life of Flynn available here.


Michael Longley and ‘The Fallow Period’

The Candlelight Master

Looking back at those difficult years now, do you feel that the silent
stretches were detrimental to your work?

If I hadn’t been fighting battles on other fronts, I might have been scribbling boring middle-aged verse – like MacNeice who twittered on for a decade until the miraculous final poems. It seems that the Muse favours the young and then, if you can weather the middle stretch’, the pensioners. Silence is part of the enterprise. Most poets write and publish far too much. They forget the agricultural good sense of the fallow period. The Muse despises whingers who bellyache aboutwriter’s block’ and related

One of the best things ever said to me about poetry was John Hewitt’s off-
hand remark: `If you write poetry, it’s your own fault.’

JODY ALLEN RANDOLPH – Michael Longley in Conversation

This interview is taken from PN Review 160, Volume 31 Number 2, November – December 2004.

I was relieved to see that I not the only middle-aged poet who had a fallow period. Until now I thought my future was more akin to a Larkinesque slump as he detailed in the majestic yet sad refrain on this late poem…


by Philip Larkin

Most people know more as they get older:
I give all that the cold shoulder.

I spent my second quarter-century
Losing what I had learnt at university.

And refusing to take in what had happened since.
Now I know none of the names in the public prints,

And am starting to give offence by forgetting faces
And swearing I’ve never been in certain places.

It will be worth it, if in the end I manage
To blank out whatever it is that is doing the damage.

Then there will be nothing I know.
My mind will fold into itself, like fields, like snow.

So maybe like Longley (still alive at 81!) the best is yet to come….or some is yet to come ….

Michael Longley | Authors | The Soho Agency

Burning Books – hiding in plain view?

Last year I did a reading for Nottingham Poetry Festival in which I produced a small ‘polemical’ pamphlet called ‘Burning Books’.

The pamphlet was a one off and most of the poems after ‘outing’ in paper form were then hidden away as ‘too political’ for my readers by myself!

I censored myself which crazy but shows the agonies of being in any way ‘political’ or writing from a stridently working-class viewpoint in the contemporary middle-class ring-fenced world of ‘proper poetry’.

It only now and post Kit de Waal’s article in the Guardian that I realise that in doing so I hiding from my true self.

So here again is the ‘real’ ‘Burning Books’ pre-edit and I stand by these poems…..a lot of pretentious middle-class ‘poets’ will hate it but frankly as I don’t spend much time listening to their whinging I don’t care. I will be ‘re-categorised’ as a ‘performance poet’ I expect and described as having  a ‘chip on my shoulder’ which a frequent method of negating anything which threatens the middle class.

Here a taste of what I talking about…

Proper Poetry

I used to write proper poetry

Not the really proper stuff

You know packed full of classical allusions

Or invented lives based on obscure photographs

No I gave up on proper poetry

Because it is so fucking boring

So I write an occasional diatribe

And raise two fingers to the academy

These are the times for less poets, less experts

Less academics and more UKIP candidates

When a military chaplain’s daughter from Wheatley

Is playing Joan of Arc in the Wars of Brexit

With only God and King Billy to save us.

Download as a pdf here


Substitute : New volume of poems 2018

Sometimes all it needs is a trigger and Kit de Waal’s excellent piece in the Guardian yesterday brought together a lot of things for me that been bubbling under the surface.

Her article ‘Make room for working-class writers‘ touched a nerve…..

read it here

Also she made a comment about how the Proper v Performance Poetry debate basically divides along class lines and that really rang true for me.

It is the reason I leapt to the defence of McNish and Tempest. Adrian Slatcher’s comments about the experience of being a working class writer also hit home.

In 2011 we were both published by SALT as Salt Modern Voices but throughout I felt an outsider at that particular party.

I was reading next to very affluent new poets from privileged backgrounds who frankly I had nothing in common with.

Most of the audience were from their background not mine and in a particularly depressing reading in Oxford I actually felt antagonism for raising my subject in their presence.

A mostly white female middle-class leftist audience did not like to hear about the destruction of the working class communities of Oxford which allowed them to enjoy their academic privileges.

Some inconvenient truths are not wanted even by allegedly left-leaning liberal elites.

Adrian’s very erudite piece on the subject here:

Since then I have noticed that academic poetry and performance poetry have started to separate in a alarming way. This is an outcome of a deliberately devisive education policy by government that increasingly appears to be a ‘pay to play’ approach to education.

If your parents invest a £100 k plus (BA+MA+PHD fees)you will one day get the payback of an academic career before 30 in return . An American privatised model.

These factors stopped me writing..I gave up..I felt nobody cared..that there was no audience for what I did..and I was right….the middle-class ‘proper poetry’ area isn’t interested in me..isn’t interested in the truth of working class lives and experience as a subject.

PN Review and others are not interested in working class experience one iota.

You want to play in the Premiere League magazines better hide all that personal shit and start writing about your foreign holidays, how difficult it is being a middle class person post Brexit or at worst make up shit about Impressionist painter’s wives you have no knowledge about but it feels authentic enough to your equally pretentious and middle-class readers sitting in their sun lounges drinking martinis to swallow.

Poetry for me has always been a means of articulating my anger at the class system in the U.K.

It has always been polemical even when it appears to be purely personal. As Raymond Williams wrote about the Romantics ‘the personal is political’.

So I have the impetus and hopefully in a few weeks a book to go with it…..I feel that inspired. I have been silenced for too long.

I am coming off the subs bench……I may not make the first team but I will put in some hefty tackles especially on Simon Armitage …the David Beckham of poetry;-)


Blurred Fences : Thames Valley Texas

A Christmas Poem in November?

I wrote this poem in 1995 and had omitted the key line about poets for fear of offending my father.

Now he has been gone 13 years so probably safe to reveal what the poem about.

After my father died in 2004 my mother confided to me that he had always ‘feared I was gay’ even when I spent seven years living with a Spanish woman…..such is the rural Oxfordshire psyche I suppose. Anyway here the finally rewritten (a couple of lines) poem about the trials of being a Berkshire Ruralist:-)


Wrestling with a young fir’s stubborn trunk

On an exposed north-facing hillside

Two weeks before Christmas, sleet, wind biting,

The spires of Oxford blurring in the storm

My father’s hands, hard, chapped, red-raw

Bend the tree over until the roots snap.

The red-faced farmer stands, biding his time

Then says ‘Poet is he.. they’re all gay or dead’

Silent we trudge back through rows of young firs

Past a tethered collie, collapsing tin sheds.

At the end of a gravel road worn to clay

We clamber inside my dad’s  builder’s truck

In the cab, steamy with opened flasks

Radio Oxford blaring out the traffic report

He carefully shakes ice off his jacket

As I scrape frozen mud off my boots

Visiting for the day, not dressed for fields

My Levis are slaked with straw and muck.

He sets the windscreen wipers beating

And a ledge of ice builds up on the hood then melts.

Distances open up and close through low cloud

As cooling-tower steam collapses like a veil over our home-town

The Down-land swims like a saucer of cat’s milk in the rain

As I try and grip a hot mug of tea with cold hands.

Still silent my father sips his tea and stares

through the pine trees and away from the farm.

I feel awkward, pick at the flakes of ice on my sleeve

As the motor turns and we lurch down the track.

He has ten years more hard labour to do.

Excavating then replacing soil across this county.

I have ten years of unfulfilled promises and high hopes to go.

Before I crash back into these muddy fields and the land buries him.

Dedicated to Ivo Belcher 1932-2004 and the un-named Fat Farmer with the conservative views 🙂

Contemporary American Poetry – 55 years on

Picked this up in a second hand shop recently. Was first edition (1962) of a book I  had encountered in a travelling shelf of ‘American Poetry’ in my local Didcot library in 1981 when I had returned home after art college.

It (in the flag cover version below) and a book of William Carlos Williams started me writing poetry. I had encountered Hughes and Heaney in contextual studies lectures at art college but these books started me writing.

I had always assumed that W.C.Williams in the book but I was mistaken it has Lowell and the full list below but NO WCW or Elliot or Frost because cut off is 20th century and all were born earlier. Lowell was born in 1917.

The second edition added a few new poets including Ginsberg and Plath as well as some now less well known people. There is an obvious male dominance..Levertov and Rich being notable exceptions but this is a product of the 1950s not today.

For a lone art student at the time this was still a wonderful introduction to people like Creeley, Snyder, Ashbery, O’Hara, Merrill and Snodgrass…

Here the 2nd edition.

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