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.
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.
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
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…
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.
Shaun Belcher was born Oxford, England in 1959 and brought up on a down-land farm before moving to a council estate in the small town of Didcot in 1966 just as England won the world cup..
He studied fine art at Hornsey College of Art, London from 1979–81 where he sat under a tree with Adrian Mitchell.
Began writing poetry in the mid 1980s and subsequently has been published in a number of small magazines and a poem 'The Ice Horses' was used as the title of the Second Shore Poets Anthology in 1996.(Scottish Cultural Press).
He now lives in Nottingham, England after two years in Edinburgh studying folk culture and several years in the city of expiring dreams working as a minion at the University of Oxford.
He is currently enjoying retirement from 20 years of teaching and hopes to write something on a regular basis again. He has been involved in various literary projects including delivering creative writing workshops in Nottingham prison for the ‘Inside Out’ project.
He supports Arsenal football club.
Favourite colours therefore red and green like his politics.
We have not won the world cup again since 1966 and Shaun Belcher is not as famous as Simon Armitage although his songs are better.