Tell me about your background. Where were you born and brought up? Do you come from a
I was born in Leicester in 1959. My Dad had admin jobs in hosiery factories and my Mum
worked on the pharmacy counter at Boots. I guess you would call us lower middle-class but I'm
not sure how useful that is. It's always tempting for an English person to talk about background
in terms of class and geography but I actually think it's a more a case of being born into a
particular set of cultural, political and social circumstances that are historically derived or maybe
even a particular perspective on history. Another way of putting this is to say that you're
born into an idea of the past, present and future that you get from your parents. Now I don't
think this is true for everybody but I do think its highly relevant to those like me whose
parents lived through the Second World War. My father was born in 1912 and served in the
RAF in the Middle East and my mother was born in 1930 and so passed her formative
years during the war.
I think what both my parents carried with them was what one might call the period code of
mid-century. They had been born and brought up in a world that seemed very stable which had
been irrevocably changed by the war. In a sense, that was ok because there was going to be a
glorious victory which I think people thought would somehow reaffirm everything. But of course
it didn't and then there was a tremendous feeling of disappointment and, for men coming back
from the war, disenchantment and alienation. I think we're always taught to look on the
postwar period as one of tremendous optimism and reform but it seems to me that there was this
other feeling there as well. It's not something that's particularly visible in English culture and
it's perhaps best caught in the American film The Best Years of Our Lives about the
fortunes of three returning servicemen and their struggles to get back to ordinary life. I
think a lot of people of my parents' generation were completely unprepared psychologically
for the fact that after a war nothing can ever be the same again and were perhaps even genuinely
shocked that many other people actually actively embraced opportunities for radical change.
What I'm trying to say is that my background has been tremendously defined by being,
in a curious kind of way, a child of the mid-century although I was actually born much
later. I'm sure it's this part of my inheritance that drives my continual return to ideas
of England, Englishness and nation generally. Like Sean O'Brien at his best I'm fascinated with
trying to describe what might be termed an emotional history of England - although I don't share
Sean's political anger.
I also think that Leicester and perhaps the Midlands as a whole has had an influence on me
although again this is nothing to do with classical ideas of place or anything like that. In
terms of the national consciousness, places like Leicester don't exist. They're kind of invisible
in ways that London or Leeds or Edinburgh aren't. Leicester and the Midlands as a whole
can't be identified with, say, the hierarchies and masonic social power structures of the
South-East or the community solidarities of the North. Most importantly, Leicester has always
been relatively prosperous which has certainly cushioned it from wider trends in the last thirty
years or so.
What I'm getting round to saying is that if you're from a place that everywhere else thinks is
nowhere then it gives you a healthy scepticism about place and rootedness. It would perhaps be
wrong to generalise too self-confidently on this point but if you come from a place that has a
lack of identity forced on it from the outside this gives us the freedom to imagine, to create, to
mix and match. Leicester's cultural contribution hasn't been enormous but it has been
consistently distinctive. C.P. Snow and Joe Orton were born and brought up there and the city's
always had this habit of producing innovative rock groups - Family in the 1970s and Yeah Yeah
Noh in the 1980s - who mixed up all sorts of styles before this was commonplace.
My family certainly isn't literary but it is cultured in an old-fashioned sort of way. I
was brought up to value literacy and what I suppose you would call the canon. But I
also met up with a group of very precocious readers, listeners and viewers when I went to
grammar school. By the time we were 17 or 18 we very well acquainted with Bruckner, Mahler,
Wagner and Beethoven and we'd probably all read Ulysses and Lawrence and Pirandello and
all sorts of stuff. This was, of course, all a massive reaction to the school's pseudo public school
sports culture. Even so, I always had a slightly different take on things and, looking back on
it now, I was strongly attracted to all things camp at an early age. I was listening to Bowie, T.
Rex and the New York Dolls and early Roxy Music when all my friends were listening to Deep
Purple or Genesis or, even worse, Lindisfarne! I was also heavily into jazz, everything from
Albert Ayler to Fats Waller. Maybe it's all to do with being an only child - you have to
make yourself up as you go along. My mother was a great moviegoer and taught me to value
cinema in all its forms. I'm glad that I don't turn my nose up at Hollywood musicals.
When did you start writing poetry? What were the books/events that most influenced your
beginning as a writer? What sort of poetry did you begin writing - what were its main themes and
I wrote extensively as a child and teenager, poems in school magazines etc but the further I went in education the possibility of writing seemed to recede. I started again in earnest during a long
spell of unemployment at the beginning of the 1980s just after graduating from university.
Basically, I needed something to occupy me which was cheap! What I started writing was prose
and looking back I think I had some great plan to be England's next great avant garde novelist.
But I guess I discovered I didn't really have the interest so then I began writing short stories and
had a few published in forgotten little magazines like Contraflow and Fisheye.
I got a small grant from Leicester City Council and self-published a small collection of
stories called The Disgraceful Farce of Louis Armstong's Funeral. This would be around 1984.
I still have some copies available if anyone's interested. I sold this door to door in the
university parts of the city until I broke even and that seemed to be that. I was already writing
poetry by then which seemed to be the ideal medium for me.
I'd bought the Morrison/Motion anthology and was kind of working out from various places
in that in terms of my own writing but I was also reading all sorts of poetry in a rather haphazard
way - Neruda, Carolyn Forche, Rilke, Hesse. As that suggests, I was probably reading more
classics than I was contemporary. Eliot, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Laforgue have always been
and probably always will be if not touchstones then subjects of enduring fascination. It's funny
looking back and realising how ignorant I was of what was going on but I guess most people are
the same when they start out. I started sending out poems to magazines and making all the
classic mistakes - not getting hold of copies first to see what they like etc etc - but eventually I
started getting a few things published. I had an early poem accepted in Poetry Review, and some
in early issues of Geoff Hattersley's excellent magazine The Wide Skirt but I think the thing
that really boosted my confidence was having four poems accepted for a magazine called
Prospice which edited from Stoke by Roger Elkin and J C R Green. In fact, thinking about it
now, Prospice was probably quite close to the ideal poetry magazine. It was a well produced,
glossy, perfect bound volume and was obviously edited by people who could think a bit. It had
a good mix of poetry, prose and criticism and was international in outlook in an entirely
unselfconscious way. Anyway, Roger Elkin wrote me a very nice letter explaining what he liked
about the poems and why he thought they worked and that was so encouraging. More
importantly, perhaps, he asked me to review for them and having done a few for them, I plucked
up courage to pester Poetry Review and other places.
I think one book that influenced me enormously was Douglas Dunn's Terry Street. I think this
book has been tremendously misconstrued over the years. I'm writing about it extensively for
my doctorate at the moment and it seems to me to be infinitely valuable in what it teaches (a)
about how to write poetry that is in the widest sense responsible and engaged and (b) how a kind
of problematised and conflicted realism can be enormously fruitful. I'd also just moved to
Leeds with my wife-to-be and we were living in an area very like Terry Street. Our house was
on a corner and I would sit in the kitchen window in the evenings writing and looking out and
observing and, of course, I was seeing all the sorts of things that Dunn describes. The difference
was that I was more detached because not being working-class myself I didn't have any
expectations of how working-class people should live so I wasn't bringing the kind of residual
moral disgust to my poems that Dunn brings to many of the Terry Street pieces. Inevitably, I
produced a lot of derivative work but I did produce a small group of poems about the working
women of Leeds which I'm still pretty pleased with. Sean O'Brien took a couple of them for
the second issue of The Printer's Devil which was again a tremendous boost because I'd started reading Sean by then and, of course, he's kind of the next stage on from Dunn.
The result of all this was that I was trying to write two kinds of poems: the first sort were
supposed to be 'authentic' urban ones with 'I' in them and the other sort were attempts at
what I suppose I would call on a good day cultural criticism. I'd also started reading what I
would call 'Golden Age' Bloodaxe - Didsbury's first two collections, Ian Duhig's first book
and another book which I think is a classic of contemporary British poetry John Hartley
Williams's Bright River Yonder. Anyone who doesn't know it should go out and buy it
immediately. It's a kind of Wild West novel in verse but told from multiple perspectives and
in any number of methods and manners so it's rather like Raymond Queneau's Exercises in
Style in that sense. This is a rather roundabout way of saying that I was starting to be influenced
by all things postmodern without really understanding what postmodernism was/is. This is
perhaps going to sound a little odd but I think it's very important to have influences. Kenneth
Koch has a phrase "I love to be influenced". It's important because it goes against English
models of literary creativity derived from people like Leavis about "making it new". This can be very unnerving when you're starting out. I think it's important to understand how to make it your own - which is why Simon Armitage's little poem about Frank O'Hara and coffee is
really good. In fact, while I've been typing this answer I've been thinking about how
tremendously difficult it is to give yourself permission to write as you wish - in fact, some people
probably never do manage it. It's taken me at least 10 years.
How does the way you make a living influence your poetry?
I don't think the way I make my living actually influences my writing in any textual way
but it does shape the way I go about the whole business of being a poet. I've worked in
purchasing manufacturing industry since about 1983 and having a 'day job' does enable me to
be detached from a lot of what goes on. I guess I can quite literally afford to have opinions! I
think working in industry makes me treat everything quite analytically. For example, whenever
you read one of these guides about how to be a writer they always say don't send out multiple
submissions but this seems to me to be poor advice. If your roof blows off or your tap washer
goes you don't ring one plumber and wait for him to quote you - you ring two or three and take
the best price. In much the same way, if you're sending out poems, I think you should decide
on two or three places where you'd like them to appear and then send off to all of them and say
'yes' to who replies first. After all when some magazines can take over a year to reply, you can
waste a lot of time and most importantly any currency a particular piece might have is
completely lost. Small press editors are very fond of complaining about the quality of
submissions they get. It's about time everyone got wise to the appalling way many of them treat
writers. There are far too many players of the 'O dear, I've been so busy' game out there.
Well, we're all busy people and in the age of e-mail it doesn't take long to say 'yes' or
'no'. In fact, I suppose another thing that describes the relation between my job and writing
is that I know a lot about printing. So I'm rather cynical about the time it takes to get things
published. I can produce a disk that can be loaded directly into a printing press and pages
produced and yet most publishers still behave as if we're all living in some sort of pre-electric
Can you describe your most effective working method? Do you wait for inspiration, or sit down
every day with the intention of writing? How important to you are formal workshops, or getting
the opinions of other poets about your work-in-progress? To what extent do you collaborate with
other artists? How do you decide that a poem is finished?
When I started, I would write every evening, but this is absolutely draining and very frustrating,
a bit like looking at a plant and shouting 'Grow! Grow!'. I then developed a different way of
working which I stuck with until about a year ago (August 1997). It was a very good routine in
that I would always write poetry on Sunday mornings. During the week everything would be kind
of mulching together and the result was that I found I was much more productive. But then I
decided to change my whole approach, partly to concentrate on finishing my PhD thesis but also
to take some time out. It certainly occurred to me that I'd been working at/in poetry for ten
years and that I needed a break. It just wasn't enjoyable anymore. I think I also needed to take
time out to admit to myself that the work I'd always been most excited by just wasn't the type
of thing that appears in the official centre or the official margins. So I didn't write anything for
about 12 months. It was quite deliberate and I resisted every temptation valiantly! What's
happening now is that I'm just doing what I like when I feel like it and am just exploring
whatever takes my fancy. For example, if you visit my home page you'll find examples of
poems produced using text randomisation software and cut-up techniques.
I don't think I've ever had anything you could call a method. I want a poetry of ideas so I tend
to start with what might be called analytical thinking more than images or cadences or given
lines - although they can also feature too. I quite often have a definite thing I want to say and
it's a case of kicking it around until I get something that looks like it might have 'legs' as the
saying goes. However, I certainly don't keep notebooks or commonplace books or anything
although I did when I first started writing. These days, I'm either writing a poem or I'm not
and when I am writing I tend to bang in anything that's 'in the air' at that precise moment
and come back later and see if it works. I like this way of working because quite often putting
in something that seems completely off-the-wall or irrelevant can take the poem somewhere
else. A lot of the poems in my Scratch pamphlet The Elephant's Typewriter were written
like this and are essentially cut-ups of one form or another. The poems in my self-published
pamphlet Cities take this a step further. Interested readers can find an independent assessment
of my methods in the review pages of Prop Issue 5.
I suppose the thing that constantly surprises me is that I hardly think about form in any conscious
way at all and yet it's doing things with form that often finish a piece or tell me how long it
might be going to be or whatever. Another thing I often do at the early draft stage is to take what
I think is the best line and put it at the beginning and see if the rest of the poem lives up to it.
Of course, it can be tremendously frustrating when you find you've only written one good line
at the end of several weeks work!
I always describe myself as a poet and critic because in my own mind it's all of a piece, all the
same creative process. More often than not, when I begin researching a piece or however you
want to phrase it, I've no idea whether I'm going to end up with a poem or a critical piece.
Sometimes, I can end up with both. One example might be my poem The Baroque
Warehouse which was prompted by a visit to Castle Howard but which is also in a curious way
a response to all sorts of things I was reading at that time like some remarks of Derek Walcott's
on language as a place of struggle and John Summerson's volume in The Pelican History of Art
Architecture in Britain 1530-1830. The poem's never been collected but you can track it down
in Stand (Spring 1993). Similarly, I wrote some poems on England and Englishness which were
heavily indebted to Sean O'Brien's work in that area. I began them as a result of writing on
O'Brien in my critical book New Relations. About halfway through the process, I came across
the novels of Patrick McGrath who also deals with mid-century England but in a much darker
way and that gave the poems a much bleaker, more sinister tone. And then I started to think
about O'Brien and McGrath and latter-day gothic and I ended up with a conference paper. I
suppose I assume that everyone thinks and works in this way and am constantly surprised to find
that they don't!
I've never been to workshops. I've always had a keen critical sense about what I wanted to
do. I'm just not that uncertain about my own stuff. There are, however, a number of other
people who's opinion I respect and value and to whom I would probably always send new
work. These people would be Geoff Hattersley, Ian Gregson, David Morley, Michael Hulse and
a few others. All these people are in their own particular ways, I think, great readers and I say
that because they never flatter and never dump on you. What they do is something like pointing
out that if you tip the box upside down some bits drop out with a loud clang and some stay stuck
inside. I think the other thing is just to get help from wherever you think you can. I've no
compunction about contacting people I don't know if I'm stuck poetically or critically and
think they might be able to help. My friend Geoff Hattersley once said that poetry, all writing,
is political, because poetry isn't what people are supposed to do with their lives, they're
supposed to have dull lives with dull jobs. I think workshops and writing courses are valuable
because they help people to see that it's all right to do these things.
I think collaboration is tremendously energising and would like opportunities to do more,
particularly with fine artists or musicians. To date I've only collaborated with other poets. In
a sense, collaboration is a bit like a workshop in that you have to persuade someone else that
your judgement is sound and be prepared to see things from their point of view. It makes you
understand that these sorts of negotiations must be taking place within the self all the time when
you're creating something. Co-editing The New Poetry was a defining collaboration for me.
I hadn't known Michael Hulse or David Morley for very long when we started working together
and I think it was really exciting for each of us to discover two other people who were passionate
about what they read and write. It was also an incredibly intense learning process - we seemed
to be educating each other enormously, sometimes almost on an hourly basis. I would certainly
recommend everyone to get involved in a collaboration where their own work isn't at stake and
you come up against people with strong opinions because you're forced to have opinions about
all sorts of things. And I think it's important to be able to develop opinions particularly when
'official' English culture is so polluted with all these peculiar ideas about balance. Now, I
don't mean that everything is either black or white but I think that balance gets carried to the
point where what results is a kind of paralysis where the status quo is preserved at any cost.
Working on The New Poetry gave me the confidence to value things and also got me thinking
about poetry's position in the wider culture. I certainly wouldn't have been able to write my
critical book New Relations: The Refashioning of British Poetry 1980-1994 if I hadn't met
David and Michael and worked with them. The book is deliberately designed to complement the
anthology and has 'A User's Guide to The New Poetry' which is aimed at students and
teachers and suggests ways of working with the anthology, discusses the way contemporary poets
use syntax and voice as well as providing a detailed glossary to some of the more obscure
references. There is still no other book that is focussed exclusively on the anthology.
More recently I've been working with the poet and translator Christopher Pilling on an English
version of Max Jacob's surrealist classic Le Cornet … Des which is due from Atlas some time soon. In fact, translation itself is a very good thing for poets to do. It helps you to think, sharpens up your critical and poetical senses simultaneously and reminds you that the two things are interdependent. Trying to catch a foreign voice in your own language teaches you to hear your
How do I know when a poem is finished? Well, I certainly don't subscribe to the 'a poem is
never finished, merely laid aside' school of thought. I think there are things that either work or
don't work. I'm not a very patient artist so I suppose I 've learned how to spot fairly quickly
when something isn't going anywhere. I said something about form earlier but that's not really
a general rule I could apply to everything I write. I think I've also got better at spotting that I will
write about something at some point but that, in the words of Inspector Clouseau, 'now is not
the time, Cato!'
Who do you write for? Do you have a particular audience or person in mind?
Does poetry have to be simple to get an audience?
The last time I tried to answer these sorts of questions was in a public debate with Sean
O'Brien and Deryn Rees-Jones at the WriteAROUND Festival in Middlesborough a few years
ago. I can remember members of the audience getting very annoyed with my answer that in a
very important and fundamental way I only write for myself. Perhaps I can refine that a little
further by saying that I always start by trying to write the sort of poem I like to read, the sort of
poem that gives me pleasure when written by other poets. What that sort of poem is exactly tends
to change because I change my mind a lot all the time about everything. It means that I've
certainly no interest in writing sonnets or villanelles or nature poems or contributing to what Ian
McMillan once memorably termed the 'Bonanza school of poetry', the sort of thing where the
last line is like one of the hammer blows in Mahler's 6th Symphony. Consequently, my ideal
poem is probably ironic or even ironic about being ironic, culturally alert, and written out of a
belief that the imagination is susceptible to analytical thought. I want a poem to be fairly
impersonal and to be a kind of machine for thinking, for the thinking through of difference and
difficulty. In fact, in my contribution to the recent Stride volume Binary Myths: conversations
with contemporary poets I refer to poems as 'difference engines' which can be set in motion
an infinite number of times.
With regard to audience, I guess I do internalise a number of readers who I hope will receive the
work well. My wife Christine is still my best critic - she doesn't let me get away with anything!
She's a kind of intellectual conscience who always lets me know when I've forgotten that
I'm supposed to be communicating with people who I m quite likely never going to know.
The equation in which 'simplicity' equals 'audience' is clearly a false one. The American
critic Joseph Epstein, writing at the end of the 1980s, made the point that contemporary poetry
has not grown more but less difficult, and the audience still isn't there. To return to my
contribution to Binary Myths again, I say there that all the anxieties about poetry and audience
are essentially economic resulting from the fact that poetry now looks like a viable way of
making of living for some people and therefore more people have to come to readings and buy
books. Or to put it another way, there are more professional poets than ever before but the
audience is still the same size. I think the success of Poetry on the Underground doesn't show
that poetry is getting more popular - it just proves that there's always a readership for good
anthologies. One problem with this sort of discussion is that it assumes that there is something
called poetry and that it's just one thing. If we apply this to other cultural genres then we can
see how odd it is. In fact, the problem starts with the whole idea that there's an audience for
poetry rather in the way that a lot of men will watch most types of sport on tv. Poetry just has
readers, most with fairly narrow tastes, and I think that each poet has to decide what sort of
poetry he or she's writing, decide who the readers are and go out and find them and cultivate
them. For myself, I think that poetry's particular value is that it can be difficult or can deal with
difficulty in ways that other cultural genres can't, but I don't think that this grants it any
special status or value.
Which of contemporary poets do you most admire? Which trends in modern poetry do you find
The answer tends to change a lot - almost on a daily basis - but here's my best attempt at a core
list: Robert Adamson, Sean O'Brien, John Hartley Williams, Denise Riley, Geoff Hattersley,
John Forbes, Ted Berrigan, Ciaran Carson, Jo Shapcott, John Tranter, Peter Didsbury, John
Kinsella, Paul Muldoon, Maggie Hannan, John Ash, Roy Fisher, Douglas Dunn, Caroline
Bergvall. This is not an exhaustive 'fan letter' but I think it indicates well enough that I'm
excited by work which has no interest in pretending that poetry is separate from or even - much
worse - above the rest of the contemporary world.
With regard to trends in modern poetry, most of what's happening in the 'official' poetry
world at the moment leaves me pretty cold. The ferment of activity which I and my co-editors
caught in The New Poetry seems to have fizzled out or, rather, it's been rewritten by vested
interests into the foundations of so-called 'new populism'. I guess part of me keeps returning to
the same old things like modernism and postmodernism. Recently, I've started reading a lot of
performance poetry and so-called avant garde work.
Beyond that, I would say that I tend to imagine myself existing and writing in a particular
intellectual space that's furnished in a particular way and in which poetry is just one piece of
furniture out of many. A list of current/recent reading, listening and viewing will give a flavour
of this: Exact Change Yearbook, Burroughs: The Western Lands; Walter Moseley; James Sallis;
Frasier; Gattaca; Dark City; drum'n' bass; Mahler; Jacqueline Rose: States of Fantasy; Roger
Bottomley: Lost Narratives; John Cage: A Year from Monday; Richard Kostelanetz: Dictionary
of the Avant-Gardes; Miles Davis, Mozart, Simon Denteith: Bakhtinian Thought; Erykah Badu;
Philip Core: Camp: The Lie That Tells The Truth; Roni Size; King of the Hill;. Charles
Bernstein: A Poetics; Eric Griffiths: The Printed Voice of Victorian Poetry; Frank Lentricchia
and Thomas McLaughlin: Critical Terms for Literary Study; The Norton Anthology of
Postmodern American Poetry.
Does poetry have any influence outside poetry?
At the risk of repeating myself, I think all these sorts of questions stem from economic anxieties
but they're also connected with the smug view poetry has of itself as the repository of secret
truth, as having some sort of special role. Do sculptors or composers ask themselves these sorts
of questions? I doubt it. But then that 's because there's already a well defined set of
apparatuses of dissemination and reception and valuation in place for these cultural genres. Peter
Riley made a provocative point on the 'poetryetc' list recently when he asked something along
the lines of 'wouldn't you rather have made Schindler's List than written a good poem?'
There are obvious ways of answering this of course. If you think that art has to make decisive
interventions in culture and society then your answer has to be 'yes' but if you think that art
is somehow 'above' all that then the answer is 'no'. In a sense, everyone has to answer that
question about intervention or contribution in relation to their own work. In another sense,
everyone perhaps has to answer that question about their own lives. My own answer is that
poetry has to respond to its times and in that sense it contributes to a wider cultural and social
and political fabric but only in the same way that everything else does.
Can poetry and science live together?
I'd better give a resounding 'yes' to this or my old mate David Morley will write a stiff
letter! The fact that this interview is happening 'on-line' kind of proves that they can too. I
devote a whole chapter to poetry and science in my critical book New Relations: The
Refashioning of British Poetry 1980-1994 (Seren, 1996) where I quote French philosopher
Michel Serres's idea that poetry is the noise of science. I go on to summarise the poetry-science
opposition from the Romantics onwards and show not only how dated but also how meaningless
it is. M. H. Abrams - who I quote extensively - makes a convincing case in The Mirror and the
Lamp for the poetry-science opposition starting in the nineteenth century when science threw
religion into question and, as a consequence, poetry became a kind of substitute religion, but I
increasingly think these sorts of discursive oppositions or demarcations or whatever are not only
unhelpful but rather arbitrary. Why should poetry and science be such a privileged conflicted
binarism? What about poetry and economics or poetry and midwifery or poetry and haute
couture? (I don't, by the way, think we should pay any attention to the Leavis/Snow 'two
cultures' spat which has always seemed to me to be a peculiarly English literary sideshow).
And I think that you then start to ask yourself who is it is who keeps making this opposition
between poetry and science and whose interests does it serve. After all, John Heath-Stubbs and
Phillips Salmon edited an excellent anthology - sadly long out of print - called Poems of Science
(Penguin, 1984) in which they argue and demonstrate that 'in all periods [...] poets have
employed an intellectual framework derived from the science of their day' and that in practice,
poets are considerably more concerned with science and its opportunities for their poetry than
has been recognised. The poetry and science opposition starts to look like what Robert Hewison
terms a 'negative feed-back' with the past which we seem all too willing to let dominate
English cultural life.
I think that ultimately it comes down to what view of culture you take and it seems to me that
at the end of the twentieth century the only tenable one is that propounded by New Historicist
critics like Jerome McGann and Stephen Greenblatt. In an essay entitled 'Towards a Poetics of
Culture', Greenblatt argues that 'we need to be able to take account of the fact that capitalism
has produced a powerful and effective oscillation between the establishment of distinct
discursive domains and the collapse of those domains into one another.' He uses economic
language such as 'exchange', 'circulation' and 'negotiation' to argue that cultural products
are increasingly the result of the ways in which material - [...] official documents, private
papers, newspaper clippings, and so forth - is transferred from one discursive sphere to another
and becomes aesthetic property. It would, I think, be a mistake to regard this process as
uni-directional - from social discourse to aesthetic discourse - not only because aesthetic
discourse [...] is so entirely bound up with capitalist venture but because the social discourse is
already charged with aesthetic energies. McGann takes a similar approach to argue that 'the
poem [is] a particular sort of communication event' which is 'simultaneously a dialectical
encounter between the past and the present' and a 'localised and time-specific set of human
circumstances [...] [a] complete, social particularity'. McGann and Greenblatt are, respectively,
Victorian and Renaissance specialists but the application of their ideas to contemporary works
suggests that discursive slippage or transfer or whatever is simply 'in the air'. I can thoroughly
recommend McGann's The Beauty of Inflections: Literary Investigations in Historical Method
and Theory and Greenblatt's Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy
in Renaissance England. Now, of course, I'm well aware that if poetry and science are inimical
then poetry and cultural analysis are even more so but once you start thinking about poetry's
wider cultural role and position then an engagement with theory seems inevitable.
What use do you make of the internet? Is internet publishing just a cheaper way of getting your
poems seen by a wider audience, or is it liable to produce new kinds of poetry?
I think the internet is a tremendous research resource and I use it a lot for all sorts of things. I'm
certainly not a surfer - I just don't have the patience - but what I really value is the internet's
ability to make fast links between different things. I subscribe to a couple of on-line discussion
groups - british-poets and poetryetc - and find them consistently stimulating. I also have my own
homepage where I post pretty much whatever I feel like whether it's criticism that couldn't
find an off-line home or work-in-progress. The internet already is producing new kinds of poetry
in the sense that collaboration is just that much faster. I started off an on-line collaborative poem
on the british-poets and it was fascinating to see how fast it developed. I think the fact that lists
like british-poets and poetryetc are international means that cross-cultural fertilisation, a sort of
viral influencing, is also going to happen much faster and also between highly unlikely cultural
combinations. I don't think poets are exploiting the technology enough but when they do this
probably means that they'll producing more of what you would strictly term text works as
opposed to 'classical' poems. For example, a lot of people may not know that one of
cyberpunk writer William Gibson's first publications was a poem produced in collaboration
with a programmer. It was only available on disk. The reader - or should that be viewer? - ran
the disk and read the poem only to find it being attacked, twisted and eventually erased by a
specially written virus. I hope there's more work like that in the offing. And, of course, the
potential to mix in graphics and soundfiles is enormous. I'd love to get involved in making
these sorts of works so if anyone's out there thinking the same thing please get in touch.
What are you working on at the moment?
As I said in one of my earlier answers, I'm slowly 'coming back' to poetry after a 12 month
sabbatical. I recently won joint first prize in a pamphlet competition organised by some people
in the Eng Lit Dept at Sheffield University in memory of a very fine poet called Tom Roder, so
I expect to be tinkering around with the proofs for that. I also went on business trip to South
Korea, China and Hong Kong in August and kept an extensive personal journal and I'm just
starting to think about working that up into something. But really, as I said before, I'm just
taking my time, doing what I want to do. I'm really enjoying poetry again.
© David Kennedy, Ted Slade 1998