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This review is from: So Here We Are (Paperback)
This book of essays (or Poetic Letters as they are called in the tradition of Alistair Cooke's `Letters from America') rose out of a series of literary talks on the contemporary poetry scene with a focus on Anglo-American writings of the Sixties, their heritage and bequests.
It is an appealing book - one I found particularly so as it took me back to the days when I was reading Iain Sinclair's `Conductors of Chaos' and was a regular visitor to the Wessex Poetry Festival. Here I was privileged to hear poets like Alice Notley, Douglas Oliver, Maggie O'Sullivan, Elizabeth Bletsoe, Barry McSweeney and a whole hosts of others, all bringing new energies, styles, traditions and cultures to a poetry that was different, inventive and unrestricted, poetry that aimed to dig and discover, to ask questions but never to offer easy solutions.
`An ancient landscape where the past looks at you from every angle' - this is how the author describes North Dorset where his own life and writings are rooted. But the essays don't stay in this Thomas Hardy land apart from the fascinating chapter on William Barnes. We are taken backwards and forwards in time and place, to Salisbury with Drayton, Wordsworth, Constable, Edward Thomas and E.M Forster, to Basil Bunting's Northumbria, to the world of the Cambridge poets Andrew Crozier, J H Prynne and John Riley, to John Kinsella's Australia and many times across the Atlantic to the States. And there is London of course - a network of streets with pubs and clubs and bookshops where writers involved in the British Revival met, set up their magazines and small presses, were derided and marginalised but still carried on, rejoicing in exclusion and dissidence.
There are several mentions of psychogeography in these essays and a whole chapter called `In Praise of Walking' which seems to me to underpin these Letters as extra relevant to the world of today with its globalisation, advanced technologies and re-structuring of many patterns of thought. I am particularly moved by some lines quoted from John Ashbery's `Just Walking Around' where `The segments of the trip swing open like an orange./There is light in there and mystery and food.'
This is a learned book, vast in its scope, but written with a light touch, full of anecdotes and immensely readable. I found myself immersed in the essay `John Kinsella's Anti-Pastoral', loved the chapters on Bill Griffiths and David Gascoyne, was introduced to the marvellous poetry of John Riley and delighted in the chapter on Tom Raworth who absorbed British radio comedy into his writing, particularly the quick fire humour of the Goons, and so further opened the way for the juxtaposing of poetry and non-literary influences - multi-layered sidetracks including such elements as overheard conversations, pop lyrics, the use of gags, pulp fiction, film noir, articles of political and social satire.
My favourite essay, as one who loves the energy of language and its potential for inventiveness, must be the chapter on William Barnes who `believed in the local as the starting point of the self ... and the need to restore the English language to its Anglo-Saxon roots.' Who could fail to enjoy his replacement of words such as `birdlore' for ornithology, `painlore' for pathology, `earthlore' for geology? There was his creation of new words too: `suchness' for resemblance, `allsome' for universal. Here is the mantle of Shakespeare, Chatterton, Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, Barry McSweeney and others: the re-discovery and re-creation of roots.
`So here we are' - a book that invites us to consider and evaluate, to debate and argue with, but never a book to ignore.