journal of british and irish innovative poetry

I recently subscribed to the new Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry edited by Robert Sheppard and Scott Thurston. Over the last week or so I've been reading through it when I've had the chance and enjoying it a great deal. Now other than Robert Sheppard's writing I really have no knowledge of poetics and it's not something I'm practised in notwithstanding the summer's venture in P.Inman's Ad Finitum.

Although, if the quote at the beginning of Robert Sheppard's The Necessity of Poetics from Stephen Romer (copied below) is to be regarded as accurate then it's something I do anyway.

Despite the present prominence of the critic it is to the poet we must turn for poetics. With few exceptions those qualified to theorise about poetry are those who write it. And the most effective poetics take the form of an apologia for one particular style of writing - usually the poet's own. The nature of the apologia can vary enormously - from the brusque practicality of Pound's Don'ts to the introspective pondering of Valery - but they are all stratagems of defence and usually gain in polemical edge for being so. In addition to these qualities we find, in the finest poetics, a profound reserve before the fact of poetry, and a refusal to be dogmatic; after all, the great poems have usually broken laws.
(Romer, S., 1982, "Correctives", PN Review 27: p. 63-64. Cited in Robert Sheppard's The Necessity of Poetics, Pores 1, 2001, from Birkbeck College, London.

At present I'm around halfway through having read the reviews and the first two essays, by Mandy Bloomfield on Maggie O'Sullivan, and Ian Davidson on J. H. Prynne's Refuse Collection. So far it's both exhilarating and concerning to read, for reasons that may shed light on why I took so long to decide to subscribe.

Exhilarating because it's exhilarating to be challenged. It's even more exhilarating to struggle to understand a piece of writing - the poem under discussion, the discussion of the poem, or both - and then begin to realise that actually you do understand. Perhaps that the ideas the author of the essay is exploring are ideas you've had yourself. Exhilarating also because for the most part I don't read journals with this kind of intellectual gravity, and it's a nice surprise not to be treated like an idiot.

Concerning because for all that this is an area of enquiry that interests me, into which I've ventured tentatively on occasion, I have two main specific concerns. First is that I have no interest in making my writing practice academic. As I have said elsewhere recently my work is primarily libidnal, the product of an urge to write. It comes before any theorisation not afterwards. As an aside here I'd like to emphasise that this is not a post-Romantic spontaneous overflow of feeling, or some shamanic 'channelling'. Rather it's an accelerated process of writing and simultaneous editing, which incorporates reflections and experiments on how the poem should appear, what the language should be like, what elements should be used and in what complexity of structure, and so on. Essentially it's not that I write carelessly (though of course sometimes I do), it's that I write quickly.

But back to the point, my second main specific concern is that I still believe poetry should be enjoyable for writer and reader. This of course does not preclude work being extremely challenging or uncomfortable. But there's already such a forbidding superstructure of theory around literature and poetry that to add yet more seems potentially alienating, even self-defeating.

My first concern about making my work academic is a variant of the old complaint that work which is only of interest to initiates, or those who understand the skills required, is not that interesting. I hope it's a little more sophisticated than that, but I'm finding it hard to say how. My second concern about whether work is enjoyable or not is clearly related to this, but I also contains concerns about how approachable something is. Anecdotally I know of friends and family who have been put off some art simply by the way I or others have presented it to them because they have thought that it might be too challenging. But then have found it easier to enjoy or understand than they feared.

The journal is exhilarating also in the sense of finding writers who in some ways, on some topics, seem to think in a similar way to me. And exhilarating from the sense of discovery, having new ideas or ways of looking opened up.

Then as a counterbalance, concerning also because I become aware of how much I'm not an academic. Concerning too because the more you know, the better equipped you are to work without repeating things already done by others, and I constantly come up against how little I know.

But for all that I'd recommend you at least find somewhere to borrow a copy of the journal from. The writing is thoughtful and insightful, and at the same time it's helpful to understand that you're far from the only person to find J. H. Prynne challenging to read, for instance. Although I have my doubts about setting up separate schools of poetry and the resultant sectarian conflicts that can arise, I think it is valuable to be able to bring together thinking about neglected areas of non-mainstream practices. To begin to establish elements of a vocabulary to explain what is happening and why, and to draw parallels with other poetries.

Typically I've made the journal sound more forbidding than it actually is. If you have any interest in contemporary poetry, or in poetics generally, then it's an essential and rewarding read. You'll enjoy it. If you find yourself struggling then stop taking it so seriously and have a break. Like me you can spend the time composing your own parody of whichever essay it happens to be in your head, and come back to the real thing when you feel like it. Above all, as with anything, don't read it out of a sense of duty.

Finally, the last of the launch events for the journal takes places at Salford University on the Crescent on Wednesday 9 December from 4pm. I would be there, but I'll be in work and then at Islington Mill for Lightning Bolt. Actually I suppose I could have a session for my MA that day, but with Lightning Bolt in town that ain't happening. So, University of Salford, Crescent House, Room 103, Salford, M5 4WT on Wednesday 9 December, 4pm. Featuring Christine Kennedy, Allen Fisher and Ian Davidson.


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