Thursday, May 11, 2006

Does Britain Need a ULA?

Do we need a ULA in the UK? It's a question I ask myself on my daily reading visits to the ULA websites. They are an interesting gang: underground heroes creating vital and dynamic new works and exposing the complacency and hypocrisy of the literary Establishment in America. Poetry will be the better for it, as culture in general was the better for the Merry Pranksters and San Fran was better for the Diggers.
But what's the scene in the UK? A lot of the new works coming out of the major publishing houses--in poetry that is--are certainly dreary. You get these promotional pushes of The Next Generation of poets sometimes and where do they come from, all of a sudden? Young poets seeming to have sprung out of nowhere, but when you look at the author information you see--a few publications in places like the Times Literary Supplement and that's it. While the best living UK poet Chris Torrance seems no longer to be available in the bookshops (not that he necessarily cares, or requires anybody to rail on his behalf). The big publishers don't look at the small presses, it seems, to find out who's doing what or whether they're missing anybody. If they did they'd probably find legions of talented underground men and women who'd turn poetry on its a***, and actually make it worth going into Waterstone's.
As for the competitions and the workshops, they are legion. And as far as I know not one poet of any merit has ever come to light after participating in either in the UK, though one of my favourite writers, Norbert Blei, teaches writing in America and I'd happily sit in one of his classes and try to learn what I could from his mind. In England the thrust of most of these events seems to be to encourage the view that poetry is a pastime, something to be approached with modest expectations by writers and readers alike. The judges and the teachers promote tradition, conformity, consensus, and eschew the freedom of the crazy individualist talking from the top or bottom of his head: no Appollinaire would ever win any poetry competition, he'd be tossed in the scrap bucket as a lunatic; no d.a.levy would ever come out of a workshop, they'd make him stop repeating himself and use proper punctuation, start writing his name in upper case letters or something...
Do we need a ULA in Britain? Probably. Some kind of focal point for new (or old) unknown radical/ underground poets and writers might instill a sense of confidence and identity in these missing heroes. "Hand in hand it's got to be," as Ginsberg would say. Any takers?


Bruce Hodder said...

ALBION'S BASTARDS--that should be the name.

Ralph Murre said...

The genius of Norbert Blei, it seems to me, and the reason his classes succeed, stems from two facts -- he cares, tremendously, about the individuals he comes in contact with, and he has an absolutely amazing knowledge of EVERYTHING that's been printed, it appears.
In getting to know a person, and seeing the path that makes sense for that person, he is able to steer the individual toward exactly what he ought to be reading next, exactly whom she needs to be talking to, etc.
Teach someone to write? Especially poetry? Probably can't be done -- except to direct someone to the appropriate shelf in the library, or to the bar where the right conversations are taking place (what does a guy have to do to get a drink around here?). You and Blei are certainly doing your bit.

Bruce Hodder said...

I agree completely about Norb.I'd listen to him any time,in a class or in a bar.He's also an astoundingly good writer,which I'm not sure he shares with most teachers.But I don't know.
I think many people would snicker at the idea that I am doing my bit in a similar way,though I like to hear it.Maybe in helping people to define their own stance,albeit usually in opposition to mine?