Peter Riley on Oystercatchers

Lovely review by Peter Riley of an excellent English poetry press in the Fortnightly Review. Opening paras below, read the whole thing here:

Peter Hughes and Oystercatcher Press.

By Peter Riley.

Peter Hughes.

THE LATEST ISSUES from Oystercatcher Press1 have arrived. They are Cloud Breaking Sun by John James and When blue light falls 32 by Carol Watts.  Oystercatcher is a small press run by the poet Peter Hughes, and his particular way of finding audacity and liberality complementary impresses itself on both his poetry and the press he runs. He has a regular column headed “small press” on the Poetry Book Society’s website3 in which he says such things as–

Of course, some poems pulsate and wriggle more than others. They force vocabulary from disparate discourses into the same pen, juxtapose contradictory tones and undermine expectations. Some readers respond enthusiastically when these kinds of challenges are cranked up. Some readers get very irritated and have to go for a lie down in a darkened room.4

So his position is clear as an exponent of the innovative or radical end of the poetry scale. But what he says bears no burden of militant endeavour – the characteristically wry tone denies it. There is no campaign afoot here, no pioneer corps slash and burn, and consequently no programmed narrowness. It is more like a cultivated inclination which becomes a conviction, with a lot of leeway allowing widely different approaches. That at any rate is how the press is run. Its very name contributes to this sense of civilian endeavour. Some small poetry presses have for a long time paraded their negativity and virulent oppositionality by choosing names as off-putting as possible. There was one called Strange Faeces in the 1970s, and if you search for it I’m sure you’d find one called Unspeakably Awful Poetry or Rubbish Productions. Indeed so-called rubbish theory is taken seriously by those poets who see the purpose of their art as essentially destructive. Peter Hughes lives on the top of a cliff on the Norfolk coast and oystercatchers must be a common sight there. The fact that it is a rather comical-looking and a noisy bird is certainly relevant. It is possible to maintain distinctly radical beliefs, political and cultural, without classifying the contemplation of sea hill or plain as “pastoral” betrayal. [ctd…]

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