The Argotist Online
(Editor, Angel Exhaust)
Andrew Duncan studied as a
mediaevalist and started writing in punk fanzines. He has been publishing poetry
since the late 70s. His collections include: In a German Hotel, Anxiety
Before Entering a Room, Sound Surface, Surveillance and Compliance.
He was one of the editors of Angel Exhaust and now reviews regularly for Poetry
has publishing changed with the advent of short-run printing and print-on-demand
possibilities? Does this negate any need to sell a specific number of a title?
Is this a freedom from traditional print expectations/values?
POD and the Internet are two quite different revolutionary changes in the means
of production. I really can’t answer the question but I think this is a major
historical shift of unknown impact. There seem to be more new books around,
does poetry continue to create schools and movements who feud?
Where I come from, a feud means that you kill someone because they have the same
surname as someone who once killed someone with the same surname as you. This is
not literally how we go about poetry. In order to find a new metaphor, we have
first to ask what the reality is which “feud” refers to. My impression is
that the phenomena this refers to are very rare. They may be secret - people
engaging in surges of hatred alone in their rooms. As for written accounts of
them, I am not familiar with any. The closest I can get is some passing remarks
made by Eric Mottram sprinkled in essays on something else.
find that quarrels between poets make good copy. They also find it difficult to
take an interest in the process of composition. This has led to biased coverage
and possibly to the notion that poets spend their energy fighting with each
other. Surely poets spend most of their time alone and most of the literary
process is silent and internal.
I suggest a different metaphor? This is radiation into vast space. Poetry began
to differentiate relentlessly in the 1960s. As the radiation went on and on,
individuals moved out of sight of most other individuals. As a secondary
phenomenon, they also formed small clusters - which did not blow apart. If, 30
years later, an individual reads a book from some other quadrant in this vast
territory, they find it incomprehensible. This is not hostility, or vengeance.
The arrival of the Internet has certainly increased the scatter by making it
easier for people to streak out into the empty zone and to find
texts that extend their original strangeness.
editors have turned my poems down. Many readers have turned my published work
down. Does this amount to a feud? Can we not account for the same events in
terms of pure aesthetics? Furthermore: if I reject anything offered - not just a
poem but a record by U2 or Perry Como, or a dinner from Kentucky Fried Chicken -
is this some act of teeth-baring aggression or simply the exercise of my freedom
as a modern guy? If the first person story is not “feuding”, then perhaps
the third person account should not be either. Luis Cernuda said that what
people dislike most about you is the most significant thing about you. This
whole area is too big, too central, to be excluded from thought by an effacing
word like feud.
have a dream of a stereo text where we are made aware of what Sean
O'Brien thinks of Rob Holloway's poetry and opinions and then become aware of
what Rob Holloway thinks of S. O'Brien's poetry and opinions. And if we watch
closely we can get a sense of what the diameter of the cultural field is. Now
that's what I would call geography. We exist not only as subjects but
also as objects of knowledge, and legitimately so. I own a certain something but
there is a cultural reality, independent of my will, which exists outside me as
if in the form of a space, within which my path evolves.
mention of schools and movements in the question suggests that perhaps the feuds
would not happen without groups. I demur – 2000 paranoid individuals would
make a less stable and rational scene. Hanging out in groups is the most benign
thing poets can do. It makes them cooperate as well as compete. It injects
confidence and common sense into the process. I insist that poets spend most of
their time interacting with people they get on well with – the clashes are
marginal and unusual (and founded on a failure of understanding).
we should strike “feud”, read “Recklessly turn responses into
generalisations”. I think this does happen. I see books about poetry neatly
writing off most of the spectrum. I
do think that poets have civil rights when it comes to being reviewed, getting
published, and even being read.
Stupid generalisations can go beyond opinion to become an abuse. I
do not see how a reviewer can breach a code of ethics unless that code actually
exists. Is there a shared but unwritten code? I am afraid not.
poetry world works in such a way that office holders are not accountable and
decision processes are not recorded. There is therefore a breach of logic in
denouncing various agents as acting vindictively and in feud. I would like to
see more evidence – not to reach a verdict.
are biological (or generational) reasons why the inherited knowledge of the
cultural field should be interrogated and dissipated. A new generation has
arrived and needs new and clear information. An inherited map of the cultural
field probably is a set of prejudices - you have to develop your own map.
With POD possibilities, including various organisations that will take on
anything without a set-up fee and simply send royalties to the author, do poetry
publishers need arts council subsidies any more?
This would imply the exit of the publisher! But there are perhaps as many as 25
vital social/linguistic functions which publishers have carried out and which
would need to be outsourced to some other agency if publishers vanish. Beside
the flow of characters on screen, we have the physical object called a book and
the array of shifting, heated social information called reputation. If you
remove books from the equation, perhaps ‘publishers’ turn into agents of
influence: exciters, pioneer readers, discoverers, talkers. The first into the
If poetry presses are concerned with cultivating a wider readership, could this
not be done more effectively via the Internet (where there are thousands of
potential readers) rather than worrying about sales of printed poetry?
A: Personally, I spent many years in the 80s and late 70s doing data manipulation (to do with critical path analysis) on screen and I just cannot associate CRT screens with poetry or leisure.
copyright © Andrew Duncan