Sunday, June 09, 2013

Classic Books Revisited: Children of Albion.



Tell me I should get out more if you want to, but the book above is my most treasured possession (if you disregard mementos of the people I have loved). It’s a rare, battered, 43-year-old copy of the Penguin anthology Children of Albion: Poetry of the ‘Underground’ in Britain, edited by Michael Horovitz. I bought it, according to the price tag on the back, for 50 pence from Oxfam, which given the current prices of second-hand books in Oxfam, would date my purchase back to the early nineties at least.

One reason why the book is so precious to me is because I have known and corresponded with some of the poets collected in it. Dave Cunliffe (or ‘Cuncliffe’ as the back cover blurb calls him) edited a fine poetry magazine called Global Tapestry Journal which published some of my own work, including a long intemperate rant about a contributor who had criticised Hunter Thompson. Chris Torrance and I exchanged several letters; his were beautifully decorated like illuminated manuscripts. He annoyed me a little by lecturing me on my excessive use of stamps, but I was only annoyed because I knew he was right. I lost his address in one of my many house moves but after I rediscovered it I lost it a second time; and I was too embarrassed to approach the woman who acted as his online gatekeeper and ask for it again. Barry Tebb, whose poem “School Smell” is in Albion, was published alongside me in a magazine called Outlaw. We almost did a book together on his Sixties Press imprint but I had no money to contribute to the venture. Truly beat, I was. Same old story.

  
                                                                
Chris Torrance

But it isn’t only distant friendship that makes this such a treasured book. It’s an important volume too, with many other poets of the underground, like Jim Burns and Bill Wyatt, and some who went fairly conspicuously overground, like Tom Pickard and Lee Harwood. And everything is wired in a way that we haven’t seen since in a mainstream anthology, wired by the energy of youth (few of these poets were significantly over thirty at the time), wired by the vitality of new forms and new ideas emerging out of the complacent fug of the intellectual life of previous decades. A. Alvarez may have called Ginsberg’s Kaddish “good psychotherapy”, as Horovitz notes in his “Afterwords” (the influence of Ginsberg is as significant as the resurrected spirit of Blake on Horovitz), but the Children of Albion know better. “In hearing the voice of the bard,” says Michael, “we are invigorated by a symbolic exposition of the elusive integrating process – from psychosis to health – Temporal, to Eternal Man.” Which may sound like bullshit in our more cynical age, but I think there’s something to that, when it comes to poetry.

I read on that inestimable source of good, solid information Wikipedia that Children of Albion was criticised for its romanticism, and its editorial inclusions and exclusions. Critics said that Horovitz favoured people who shared his Blakean obsessions and his interest in performance. But that always happens with editors. Rita Dove left Jack Kerouac out of the most recent anthology of American poetry when there were people who made the cut whose work was feeble and soporific; some poems could have put elephant herds to sleep. (And how do I know it was her negative view of Jack and not financial or space considerations that led to his exclusion? Her husband told me.) It was Horovitz’s anthology, his view of the British poetry scene at the time, and the Underground was the particular patch he had to cover. So what if he might have left out one or two of the wrong people? If anybody can name a key poet of the time who should have been included, by the way, I would genuinely love to hear about them.

          Blakehead, babyhead,
          Accept this mug of crude red wine –
          I love you.
                            ( Adrian Mitchell “Lullaby for William Blake”.)


The romanticism of the book was always going to be criticised by a certain sort of dry, “sophisticated” intellectual. They’re the people who have drifted through years in newspaper offices and university lecture halls making good livings out of poetry as the world inched closer every day to nuclear annihilation or economic collapse. The romanticism is one of the things that makes me love Children of Albion as much as I do. It has belief; a kind of crazed, theatrical self-assurance and an absolute confidence in the transformative power of poetry. That’s why the picture on the cover, by Blake, depicts the naked youth’s announcement of the Glad Day to our tired eyes.

We haven’t seen anything as hopeful or inspiring as that in the four decades since the book appeared.

                                       * 

And whilst most of us retain the traditional patterns of family-friend-lover-small group living, Albion’s children are strongly in evidence all over the country and – most colourfully & plentifully – all over London, at work and play in their own gardens of love, where only ‘Thou Shalt Not’ is taboo – in an atmosphere of finer awareness, radiating a sense of community & a more open, humane and practical way of life – of which much of this Miscellany is the best symbolic expression – Michael Horovitz, “Afterwords”.


6 comments:

Bryn Fortey said...

As well as Barry Tebb and yourself, Chris Torrance, Dave Cunliffe, Jim Burns and Bill Wyatt also appeared in Outlaw. Dave, up until last year at least, still edits Golden Tapestry. I haven't heard of it folding, but his wife is not a well lady and her care takes up a lot of his time. Children of Albion was a want list item I never did get around to getting my hands on. My loss, I guess.

Anonymous said...

WHAT A MARVELLOUS BLOG/THANK YOU SO VERY,VERY MUCH.

BARRY TEBB

Bruce Hodder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bruce Hodder said...

Bryn, Outlaw is STILL the best poetry magazine I've ever seen. You drew all of the poets from that golden generation who made writing look like such a cool and interesting thing to do. It's a total dream for me to have been published in it alongside guys like Barry, Chris, Dave, Jim and Bill. In fact, I still have almost all of the back issues and frequently haul them out to show house guests. You can imagine how enthralled they are!

Bruce Hodder said...

Barry, you're very welcome, sir. I'm glad you like it.

Bruce Hodder said...

Joseph R. Clarke has pointed out that Harry Fainlight is one significant omission from the anthology, and definitely not a poet who would have failed to register on Horovitz's radar. Interesting in terms of literary gossip, although his right to edit his own book the way he wanted remains the same. Was Fainlight excluded because of his dual English-American citizenship? Was there bad blood between Horovitz and Fainlight, I wonder? Harry sounds like he was a difficult man, although some of the best poets are. Everyone who saw Peter Whitehead's "Wholly Communion" film will remember how the audience at Albert Hall took against him when he began reading "The Spider". He was interrupted unforgiveably by Dutch writer Simon Vinkenoog, who jumped up on the stage chanting "Love, love!" (He was tripping.)Harry was visibly upset by this and gives off extremely bad vibes when the camera catches him afterwards. I hope Horovitz didn't exclude him from the anthology for bringing a negative note into something he wanted to be a Garden of Love-type scene. Ginsberg considered Harry the best poet in England, according to some sources, and was rather less flattering about some of the other poets at Albert Hall.