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.