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The Poetry of Saying: British Poetry and its Discontents, 1950-2000

Volume: 45
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Poetry of Saying
    Book Description:

    In The Poetry of Saying Robert Sheppard explores an array of ‘experimental’ writers and styles of writing many of which have never secured a large audience in Britain, but which are often fascinatingly innovative. As a published poet in this tradition, Sheppard provides a detailed and thought provoking account of the development of the British poetry movement from the 1950s. As well as analysing the work of individual poets such as Roy Fisher, Lee Harwood and Tom Raworth The Poetry of Saying also examines the influence of the Poetry Society and poetry magazines on the evolution of British poetry throughout this period. The overriding virtue of the poetry of this period is its diversity, a fact that Sheppard has not ignored. As well as providing a fascinating into the work of these poets, The Poetry of Saying offers an ‘insider’s’ commentary on the social, political and historical background during this exciting period in British poetry.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-380-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Technique: Dialogue: Saying
    (pp. 1-19)

    While this work offers a unifying theory of the poetry studied, I am cautioned by what has become increasingly clear to me after writing about (and writing) this verse for the last twenty years: the overriding virtue of its diversity. I am aware, therefore, that any theoretical approach needs to emphasize the particularity of this heterodoxy, to allow its otherness to speak.

    This is partly whyThe Poetry of Sayingis also a history. The story of this poetry has hardly begun to be told, particularly given the influence of an alternative narrative of a poetic orthodoxy that has dominated...

  7. 1 The Movement Poets and the Movement Orthodoxy in the 1950s and 1960s
    (pp. 20-34)

    The official literary history of the period 1950–2000 has also been the history of its most strident poetry anthologies. Their introductions supply a set of criteria for a uniform reading or re-reading of their selective contents, and some (in the words of one I shall examine in Chapter 5) claim to discern ‘decisive shifts of sensibility’.¹ Often they present themselves as the petulant heirs to, and revisionists of, a previous anthology, with claims for a monolithic or diverse poetic of the decade or a particular generation. Some of these anthologies were produced in cheap editions by Penguin Books, which...

  8. 2 The British Poetry Revival 1960–1978
    (pp. 35-76)

    While some conventional accounts of British poetry have colluded with Morrison and Motion’s contention that the 1960s and 1970s formed a ‘stretch … when very little – in England at any rate – seemed to be happening’,² this study offers the counter-view, presented by Ken Edwards above, and spelt out in oppositional terms by another poet-critic, Gavin Selerie:

    As various reviewers have pointed out, the 1960s and 1970s actually witnessed an explosion of poetic activity, which was in itself a reaction against the full commonsense politeness of the ‘Movement’ poets of the 1950s. After a period dominated by such figures as Philip...

  9. 3 Starting to Make the World: The Poetry of Roy Fisher in the 1960s and 1970s
    (pp. 77-102)

    In Roy Fisher’s first sustained success, the poetry and prose sequenceCity, there is constant interplay between an elaborate fictiveness and a denotative realism, but whenever that realism seems the easiest course, he often opts for those techniques of defamiliarization, which I have already established as a basic strategy of the British Poetry Revival. Indeed,City, published in 1961 by Migrant Press, though considerably revised in 1963, is one of its first flowerings.¹

    Cityconsists of 10 poems and 16 prose passages ranging from a paragraph to a page. If Fisher had yet to perfect his means – some of the...

  10. 4 Keeping the Doors Open: the Poetry of Lee Harwood in the 1960s and 1970s
    (pp. 103-124)

    Lee Harwood’s first book-length publication in Britain wasThe White Room(1968), published by Fulcrum Press. The first section, ‘Early Poems 1964–1965’ contains ‘Cable Street’ and some poems reprinted from the 1965 Writers Forum pamphlet,title illegible. The section collecting the poems fromThe Man with Blue Eyes, his award-winning New York publication, opens with Harwood’s first mature poem, ‘As Your Eyes are Blue’, dating from 1965; while it is influenced by the New York school of Ashbery and O’Hara, a good many of the salient features of Harwood’s subsequent work are also displayed here. In a recent short...

  11. 5 The Persistence of the Movement Orthodoxy in the 1980s and 1990s
    (pp. 125-141)

    The anthology which claimed to succeed Alvarez’sThe New PoetrywasThe Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetryof 1982, edited by the criticpoets Blake Morrison and Andrew Motion. Despite the bland inclusiveness of the title, it admits to being self-consciously ‘didactic’, and claims to exemplify the work and literary taste of a particular ‘poetic generation’.¹ Older writers, and those included in Alvarez’s collection, have been excluded. Its introduction several times draws comparisons withThe New Poetry, which is characterized as ‘the last serious anthology of British poetry’ (CBP, p. 11). Taking over Alvarez’s notion, but not his metaphor, of...

  12. 6 Linguistically Innovative Poetry 1978–2000
    (pp. 142-170)

    During the 1990s the clumsy term Linguistically Innovative Poetry began to be used of much of the alternative British work of the era. It encompasses a poetic of increased indeterminacy and discontinuity, the use of techniques of disruption and of creative linkage, though its differences with thecreativework of the British Poetry Revival do not constitute an absolute break. However, the increased willingness of emerging poets to operate theoretically, in terms of post-structuralist and other theory, to even expound poetics more coherently, was in marked contrast to an earlier lack of such discourse. Ultimately, the definition of ‘linguistically innovative’...

  13. 7 What Was To One Side or Not Real: The Poetry of Tom Raworth 1970–1991
    (pp. 171-193)

    In 1989 Tom Raworth commented on the focus and purpose of his poetry:

    At the back there is always the hope that there are other people … other minds, who will recognize something that they thought was to one side or not real. I hope that my poems will show them that it is real, that it does exist.¹

    The implications of this poetics will be felt throughout this chapter, which traces Raworth’s career as it navigates both the years of the British Poetry Revival and of Linguistically Innovative Poetry; his work has been of importance to both groupings. Marjorie...

  14. 8 Creative Linkage in the Work of Allen Fisher, Adrian Clarke and Ulli Freer during the 1980s and 1990s
    (pp. 194-213)

    Since modernism, linkage – what Raworth calls ‘connectives’ – has been an essential issue for any art which achieves formal defamiliarization and deautomatization through effects of fragmentation. Indeterminacy and discontinuity have long provided descriptions of radical art, as in Umberto Eco’s poetics of the open work.¹ However, Gilbert Adair, in the short document which furnished the term Linguistically Innovative Poetry, points out that because, for example, ‘advertisements are ample in “discontinuities”’, the term is not neutral and can only be used of British Poetry if it expresses ‘positivities’.² He says, usefully, ‘Cutting across formations categorized as discrete, “discontinuity” is so only if...

  15. 9 The Ballet of the Speech Organs: The Poetry of Bob Cobbing 1965–2000
    (pp. 214-232)

    Bob Cobbing, who died in 2002, was a senior and major exponent of the international concrete poetry movement, but he was a visual artist before he was a poet. His earliest duplicator print of 1942 presages his later work and his interest in the mechanics and accidents of office, rather than fine art, printing.¹ However it was not until 1964, after some years of involvement in the literary underground, as recorded in Chapter 2, that Cobbing came to maturity with the alliterative sequenceABC in Sound.By this time the awareness he had gained of the international concrete poetry movement...

  16. 10 Be come, Be spoke, Be eared: The Poetics of Transformation and Embodied Utterance in the work of Maggie O’Sullivan during the 1980s and 1990s
    (pp. 233-250)

    A poetry reading or performance by Maggie O’Sullivan can baffle or delight, baffleanddelight. The steady stream of words, delivered with careful attention to their rhythmic weight, to their alliterative connections, seemingly at the expense of their meanings, can be a difficult experience to relate to, for those not used to it. In ‘A Love Letter’, Adrian Clarke becomes Roland Barthes’ blissful reader, finding himself desired by a text from her 1993 Reality Street book,In the House of the Shaman. He explains:

    For those of us who have attended any of her readings, these pages summon Maggie – never...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-268)
  18. Index
    (pp. 269-278)