That Old New British Poetry Scene

Matières001

Came across an interesting piece by Kent Johnson on the new British Poetry scene on the digital emunction site — with the discussion that follows as interesting as what started it. At the same time it gave me a certain sense of déjà-vu, as if the US (& other places too) always-already-again had to (re)discover only to immediately forget the fact that excellent, experimental, avant, post-avant — or whatever adjectival moniker you like to stick to — poetry is & has been happening in the UK. Which made me think of a book the English poet, translator and film maker Paul Buck & I put together many years ago — in 1984, to be exact. A book that was probably the very first anthology of the poetry of those generations that Kent’s newer list are the descendants of, going as it does from Bunting to Prynne to Mottram & on to the then younger generation of Griffiths, Fisher, MacSweeney, Sinclair, etc. (See full list of contributors below).

When we did the book there was no way an English publisher was going to touch it with a ten-foot pole, & as we couldn’t find a US publisher, we prepared from the start a bilingual edition to be published in France where it was scheduled to come out in change sauvage, a new series to be edited by Jean-Pierre Faye for Christian Bourgois Editeur. Just as we were ready to send the final ms., Bourgois decided unilaterally (the only way publishers make decisions, me thinks), to stop publishing any poetry under whatever guise. After a few months of flottement, as the French are wont to say, Jacques Darras, poet, translator & editor of Trois Cailloux / In’hui, offered to publish the book as a Trois Cailloux volume — which he eventually did, though as an issue of his magazine In’hui (#19, to be exact), not as an independent book, which meant that this 400-page anthology came out without the authors’ names on the book & disappeared a few months later from the shelves when it was replaced by the next issue of the mag magazine.

I think of that large effort by Buck & myself as a ghost book, a disappeared book — especially as the anthology was never so much as acknowledged as a forerunner by anthologies covering similar territory years later, such as the new british poetry edited by Allnutt, d’Aguiar, Edwards & Mottram in 1988 as a Paladin Original;  conductors of chaos edited by Iain Sinclair for Picador in 1996; other, edited by Richard Caddell and Peter Quartermain for  Wesleyan UP in 1999;  or Keith Tuma’s 2001  Anthology of Twentieth Century British and Irish Poetry, Oxford UP, 2001. The only acknowledgment it got in this country was an enthusiastic review by Robert Kelly sometime in the late eighties.

The introduction is one of the few pieces I wrote in French; an English translation by Peter Cockelbergh should be coming out in a feature on my work in an upcoming issue of Jacket. Meanwhile, here’s the list of poets that appeared in matières d’angleterre. (Click on the image & you’ll get a more readable list). If time & the scanner permit, I may post some of the work from the anthology itself in the coming days and weeks.

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3 opinions on “That Old New British Poetry Scene”

  1. dear Pierre, thanks for the memory! And the link to the Kent Johnson & co discussion was instructive… i caught it just as i was writing s/thing for alan halsey on related themes… Incidentally, this might amuse you : Paul B wrote me at the time you were editing the french anthol that tho he wd have liked me in the book it was thought i was taken care of by the australians! –wch was rather like tim longville’s comment that he wd have liked to consider me for the Paladin volume he edited with andrew C but, ‘youre an Australian now?” –and, –it always comes in threes doesnt it– in ’76 Tom Shapcott here almost didnt include me in the Australian/American anthology because i was english, non?! Wch maybe explains a little the confusion i carry abt identity and representation! (just kidding!), Kris Hemensley

  2. Pierre:

    You don’t happen to have a second copy of this laying around, do you? Such an incredible table of contents.

    rich …

    1. Rich — unhappily not — & the only one I saw recently on ABE comes from France & would cost some $70 — I’ve been playing with the idea of trying to get a new edition published here in the US, but haven’t had the time to actually do anything about it — Pierre

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