Tuesday, February 05, 2013

MAPPING MY POETRY: THE SECRET YEARS, 1967 TO 1973

Through drama, I had begun to read properly. I read as a means to action, not as a means of escape. It has taken me nearly 60 years to grasp this aspect of myself - this truth. Yet this has shaped my life since my teens: read for action, not relaxation.

Throughout the 1970s I read a lot of poetry and theoretical books about poetry - by academics and by poets on poetry. I could accept concepts of interweaving meaning through language but could never accept referenced work. That is, poetry or other writing which assumes the reader has previous literary knowledge. I could appreciate the Modernist complexity of TS Elliot but not his elitist referencing to other literary texts.

So, I was fortunate that my father bought me Hart Crane's big biography in the early 1970s - Voyager. Crane, through such a short life, banged on the door of the literary establishment and was never entirely let in. I had my first hero. Crane laboured tirelessly over form, cadence, the whole bloody Western twist of the lineage of poetry and he struggled endlessly with the powers that be to let him through the door.

Yet, there were high flying poets who were brilliant. Ted Hughes' 'Crow' is an absolute masterpiece in my view. It can be read in so many ways by worker, student and academic. Likewise Sylvia Plath. Indeed, much of my early learning was through Plath - not for the clipped rhythms but her uses of percussion in language.

However, in 1972 I had two opposing heroes of poetry - the accessible political poet Adrian Mitchell and the Sound Poet Bob Cobbing. Adrian Mitchell's work was forever in the spoken word groove, while Cobbing had jumped out of that groove and given movement to the needle vibrating around the vinyl.

So by 1972 I had a little experience of the diversity of poetry, which collided with drama and visual art (I was a fan of Diter Rot, Kurt Schwitters and some of the Surrealists). My world might not be opening, but I knew of of world which was.

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