The Argotist Online
Rupert M. Loydell Interview
Rupert M. Loydell
the Managing Editor of Stride
Publications, and is currently the Editor of Stride magazine, as well as
Reviews Editor of Orbis, Associate Editor of Avocado magazine and a regular contributor of articles and reviews to
Tangents magazine. During 2003-2004, he was a Royal Literary Fund Project Fellow, working in Exeter schools, following a RLF Fellowship at Bath University. In 2004-2005, he was a RLF Fellow at Warwick University and Visiting Poet at Sherborne School. He is currently a Lecturer in Creative Writing at University College Falmouth. His publications include
A Conference of Voices, The Museum of Light and Endlessly
Divisible, and four collaborative works. He has worked in hundreds of schools and colleges, and run workshops for the Arvon Foundation.
Side has had poetry published in various magazines such as Poetry Salzburg
Review, and on poetry web sites such as Underground Window, A
Little Poetry, Poethia, Nthposition, Eratio, Pirene’s
Fountain, Fieralingue, Moria, Ancient Heart, Blazevox, Lily, Big Bridge, Jacket,
Textimagepoem, Apochryphaltext, 9th St.
Laboratories, P. F. S. Post, Great Works, Hutt, The Dande Review, Poetry Bay and Dusie.
He has reviewed poetry for Jacket, Eyewear, The Colorado Review, New Hope International, Stride, Acumen and Shearsman. From 1996 to 2000 he was the deputy editor of The Argotist magazine.
His publications include, Carrier of the Seed, Distorted Reflections, Slimvol, Collected Poetry Reviews 2004-2013, Cyclones in High Northern Latitudes (with Jake Berry) and Outside Voices: An Email Correspondence (with Jake Berry), available as a free ebook here.
JS: What got you interested in poetry?
RML: My Dad reading me The Waste
Land, seeing Adrian Mitchell read, talking to Brian Louis Pearce, hearing
Ted Hughes read Crow, finding copies of Slow Dancer magazine in an
Oxford Street bookshop. Lots of things, many of which I wrote about recently in
an essay in The North.
JS: How did you get
involved in poetry publishing?
Naïve excitement about the
possibilities of the small press, having got my first poem published. My mum
having a Gestetner duplicator. The poetry group at a hospital where I was
working. My friend Graham Palmer who co-edited the first Stride
JS: Has your involvement in poetics informed your painting procedures?
RML: I suspect it's been the other way round, and either way only indirectly.
JS: Do you think non-mainstream poetry has an audience apart from poets,
critics and academics?
RML: I'm sure it does, but I'm not sure it matters. Populism doesn't seem a
criteria for making or writing, I'm afraid. Maybe a poem will only find one
readers—that’s OK. Most paintings only end up with one or two viewers once
they are placed on somebody's wall.
I think if people understood poetry
is first and foremost about language then they would read it. People keep
telling them that it's difficult, it's not. It's exhilarating,
complex and wonderful.
JS: In what sense can we say that poetry is relevant—or has a purpose?
RML: It's relevant because people write it and we are all people, and because
it is written and alive today, in a world we are part of. And because language
is how we think and know that world. But I don't expect poetry to be universally
relevant—I don't believe anyone can speak for all of us.
It is relevant but I don't think
anyone makes poems for everyone. We are too much part of our own individual
histories, our gender, our nation, our upbringing, our interests Poetry's
purpose? For me to explore how we think and the possibilities of language; for
others to share moments and ideas with others; for others to entertain and
amuse; for others to preach or instruct; for others to make sound scores or
artefacts; for others to declare their love or
hate; for others to “express themselves”. And a million other uses.
JS: Are there limits to experimentation in poetry; if so what are they?
RML: I don't see why there should be, no. That doesn't mean all experiment
becomes great writing, but people can attempt what they like with language. I
personally have my own limits of what I perceive as poetry, or at least am
willing to read; other people go further into experimentation or less further.
Authors have their own specific interests and concerns.
JS: Does a poem cease to be “poetic” once the semantic element is
excluded and extra-lexical ones such as the use of typographics replace it?
RML: No. It just means a poem is primarily concerned with other parts of
poetry rather than the semantic. “Poetic”, especially in inverted commas, is
a strange word to use, though. It brings to mind flowery thoughts and misty
scenes. I'm not keen on poetry that tries to be “poetic”. But that's
probably not what you meant, is it?
JS: At what point does a visual poem become a visual work of art?
RML: When its maker says so, or when a reader or viewer wants to regard it
primarily in visual terms.
JS: Does poetry have to operate semantically to distinguish it from visual
art, or is there “something” intrinsic to poetry that inevitability
distinguishes it from visual art?
RML: Poetry always works semantically because it uses language as its primary
element. What it may do is disrupt expected semantics. I don't believe language
can totally be separated from notions of sense or semantics, however abstracted,
exploded or cut-up it becomes. [I might allow that the work of people like Bob
Cobbing becomes quite difficult to “read” in terms of language, but in the
main I feel my point holds—and Bob's work I find easier to view as visual art
than poetry, though of course he often regarded his work as art, poetry and
JS: Is a poem's semantic element more important than its formal and visual
RML: No. Why should it be? That's like saying is the tone or line more
important in art than the colour? It's all up for grabs, and an artist or writer
may choose to focus on certain aspects of what they make. The problem comes when
anyone says, “this is the only way to write/paint”, not otherwise.
JS: When you say that you have to create the world with language, what do you
mean we think in language. Until we name things, we don’t understand or
experience the world; all our senses are converted into language. Language is
all we have.
relation to your painting, you have said ‘Colour, of course, can be as lyrical
as any language’. What do you mean by this?
mean I find colour as beautiful and as full of potential as language, and vice
versa. And that colour says as much, or as little, as language.
have said: ‘Language excites me—you can do so much with it’. This suggests
that you view language as raw material, aware of its plasticity. Does this view
of language grow out of your experience of working with paint?
sure it does have some bearing on it yes, and also I feel that contemporary
classical composition and improvised jazz have a mainly subconscious bearing on
my current writing. Mainly, however, I have to say that this view of language
came about through various friends, colleagues and teachers showing me that
plasticity in action, through reading and critical discussion of poets and
poetry new to me at the time, and also through workshops.
have said that you dislike poetry that is narrative. Do you think the reason
that the majority of poetry today is narrative is because of the increase in
poetry workshops that tend to teach poetry as a branch of fiction writing?
I’m all for writing workshops if they include critical reading, and separate
ideas of enabling and creativity from the end product. We aren’t a nation of
poetic geniuses or natural poets, and many people should be told their work is
not very good nor interesting. It’s often not even good therapy. Anybody who
has now published one or two poems seems to think they can run a writing
workshop! Aspiring poets need to read, read, read, and read some more.
think most poetry is narrative these days because people don’t understand the
nature of language, or how poetry can and does work; they’re still bound up
trying to tell the reader something, not
how banal and ordinary most human experience is. We don’t need any more poems
about sunsets, cats or falling in love! I can’t believe it when I meet
self-declared poets who don’t understand syllabics, internal rhyme,
half-rhyme, breath pattern, collage, concrete poems, syntactic disruption,
prose-poems, etc. etc. and haven’t read more than two or three contemporary
writers. They often can’t even be bothered to get down the library and read
some of the wide-ranging anthologies of contemporary poetry, or read something
that they find challenging, yet they somehow think their poems are going to be
good. People need to understand there is no one correct way to write, there are
thousands of processes, and poetic forms available to the poet. I want
open-ended poems that explore the language, not something closed, final and
many poets write without a basic understanding of the historical or literary
context they inhabit. It is as if the past 200 years of poetic development had
never happened. As a result, they follow only the fashion of the particular
poetry workshop they last attended. Is this the reason, perhaps, why so much
bland poetry is being written? It seems to me that artists would not find
themselves in this position.
think, as I said above, it’s a lack of reading, discussion and critical
work—literary criticism and self-criticism. Workshops, whether a local group
or a loose affiliation over the internet, can be a godsend and massive support
for the writer, but you have to be prepared to actually debate things, to voice
an opinion, and to listen to others’ criticism. You might also have to accept
that whilst you have every right to write poetry, there is no automatic right
anyone has to publish it! I’m afraid I think artists of all persuasions and
art forms do find themselves in this position. I’ve long thought local poetry
groups, intent on writing end-of-line doggerel and light verse are pretty
analogous to the local watercolour groups who simply haven’t got any notion of
paint beyond using it to make “nice pictures”. Each to their own, but
let’s not pretend it’s good art or good poetry.
JS: You have said that you believe myth and allegory is more real than
factual truth. Do you think that much of today’s poetry is too descriptive and
grounded too much in reality?
RML: Some of it, but I think the problem is really that people still try and
use myths and stories that many people in today’s world simply don’t
understand or know. Britain is no longer a Christian society, so there’s
little point in assuming people know about church liturgy or Bible stories.
There’s little point in assuming everyone has read Shakespeare or Chaucer, or
knows the name of Greek gods. Poets need to think about what we currently share
in the way of stories and shared experienced. For instance, I think the notion
of “the muse” is just ridiculous in the 21st century. My quote actually says
I believe in myth and allegory more than factual truth. This was to do with
questions of my own beliefs, which isn’t quite the same thing. I think people
who want to pin everything down and prove this or that happened or exists are in
trouble. I’ve always hovered between faith and doubt, called things into
question. I find surety tends towards political and self-fascism, the
conservative end of things, declamation and bullying. I prefer to be open
towards things - this doesn’t seem to me to compromise what I personally
various statements you have made on the relationship of the reader to the text I
think are very important. For instance, you acknowledge that the reader has a
significant role in the creation of a poem’s “meaning”; and that poems
that are content driven (narrative, confessional, protest, etc.) tend to inhibit
this creativity because their didacticism forces the reader into a passive and
compliant stance in relation to the text. Whereas poems such as yours, because
of their use of collage, assumed voices, asides, associative matter, etc.,
operate intertextually, resulting in a wider network of allusion from which the
reader can draw upon to create individual meaning for themselves. If we assume
for the sake of courtesy that mainstream poetry publishers are aware of this
approach to the text and the reader, is their opposition to it based on market
forces alone or sincerely held aesthetic beliefs about the nature of poetry?
suspect it’s to do with both. Neil Astley at Bloodaxe, for instance, seriously
seems to believe in popular poetry--most of which I, and many others, find
pedestrian and dull. But he has sold tens of thousands of copies of some of his
anthologies. However, he has also published the big Prynne volume, presumably
with an eye to both “posterity” and aesthetics but also the market—that
is, he thought he could sell a few hundred and get some credibility. I do think
it sits very uneasily in the Bloodaxe list though! [I must say that although I
find a lot of the Bloodaxe list dull there’s also some great stuff on it, too,
especially from the earlier days of the company.]
mainstream publishers don’t seem engaged with poetry at all; it’s a kind of
token nod to literature, supported by sales of their fiction or gardening
titles. This actually, to my mind, makes it even sillier that their lists are so
mainstream and pedestrian! I’m sure it’s basically to do with
or perceived salability of poetry per se, not individual poet’s work. I’d
probably argue that mainstream fiction is fairly ordinary in the main, but of
course I’m aware that the influence of William Burroughs, J.G. Ballard and other
experimental writers, often from science fiction or slipstream genres, have
influenced and infiltrated the mainstream and changed reader’s and
publisher’s perceptions of what can be marketed.
think you’ve already answered this question in your previous answer but here
it is anyway: If mainstream publishers’ opposition is based on sincerely held
aesthetic beliefs about the nature of poetry how can we account for Carcanet and
Bloodaxe having John Ashbery, Peter Riley, Tom Raworth, Roy Fisher,
John Kinsella, and J. H. Prynne on their poetry lists? Is it a case
of these publishers poaching what others have nurtured to fruition? If so, is
this historically remarkable given the mainstream’s adversity to risk taking?
me say clearly that in many ways I don’t care what the mainstream publishers
publish. Each to their own; good luck to them. What I have spoken out about in
reviews and interviews about publishers and their lists, and do object to, is if
they start believing their own hype about poetry being “the new rock &
roll”, or some new poet being a genius, when often it’s just more of the
same middle of the road tosh. I also don’t believe in any trickle-down notion
of poetry sales; people who read Simon Armitage or Linda France or whoever
don’t suddenly rush out and buy Tom Raworth or Robert Creeley books.
think Simon Thirsk at Bloodaxe is a fantastic marketing man. I heard him speak
at a debate at Warwick University on the future of poetry publishing that I was
also involved in. But I simply don’t believe you can “market” anything or
everything—and sell more. I’ve been involved in Arts Council initiatives
where they’ve spent thousands on promotions and launches and we’ve sold very
few copies of the titles involved as a result. Word of mouth and peer review
seems to me to always work better in the long run. As does getting a really huge
grant, of course!
actually think Bloodaxe and many other publishers are using an old business
model—trying to flood the market with books they’ve already printed, making
lots of noise about individual or groups of titles whenever possible, and seeing
what happens. Bloodaxe got lucky very early on, and followed-through
brilliantly, with Ken Smith and Irina Ratushinskaia, but they are still doing
the same kind of thing. Since the book trade has changed immeasurably I think
it’s a problem. The way ahead for the small publisher is print-on-demand and
direct sales. As I see it, the two most successful poetry lists at the moment
are Salt and Shearsman, both producing fantastic amounts of brilliant poetry in
good-looking volumes, with low overheads, great websites and lots of sales.
We’re somewhere in-between at the moment: Stride hasn’t gone over to
“true” print-on-demand, but we are doing very short runs/reprints on demand!
there’s an element of poaching going on, but there always has been and will be
in the arts. It’s only like an indie band signing to a major label, but of
course without the big contract fee! I don’t think you can suggest Ashbery and
such have been poached though—strikes me as more to do with an overdue
selection from unobtainable small press volumes [Raworth, Prynne, Kinsella],
foreign rights [Ashbery], or in Roy Fisher’s case picking up the mess that
Oxford left behind. Obviously there’s an element of the moment being
right—for instance, Tom Raworth and J.H. Prynne are only two of a number of
poets being re-assessed in this way with the publication of big Selecteds or
Collecteds. [Others include John James, Allen Fisher and Lee Harwood].
are a supporter of poetry that is difficult because it discloses more of itself
with each new reading. You believe that if people read widely and had an
understanding of how poetry worked then the issue of difficulty in poetry would
be irrelevant. Do you think this ignorance of how poetry works is particular to
British readers, and if so is there an explanation for it?
I like many sorts of poetry. Much of the poetry that is perceived as
“difficult” isn’t, it simply doesn’t involve linear narratives,
self-confession, extended metaphor or epiphanic endings! I used to think this
ignorance was particular to Britain, but now I’m not so sure. From over here
American poetry seems much more exciting than what’s on offer here, but my
American friends complain how
publishers’ lists are over there, how cliquey etc—all the same complaints as
think the British are lazy as a nation: we don’t like having to learn things
or find out for ourselves. We don’t speak foreign languages very well, we
expect people to speak our language; we like pictures of pretty things, not art;
we like poems which tell a story and have obvious rhymes in. I actually like
finding out things for myself, wondering what something might mean rather than
being told. As a nation, we don’t really seem to have absorbed Modernism yet,
do we? Let alone Postmodernism! I do feel in general terms that poets in America
took on board Pound and learnt from him, whereas we got Eliot, retreating back
into conservatism and declamation. We don’t even understand him, do we? We
prefer to try and annotate The Waste Land for A Level than start thinking
about language and fragmentation, the music of the poem.
a poet hasn’t read, have some knowledge of, or simply isn’t aware of [off
the top of my head] the Beats, Dada and Surrealism, the Objectivists, Eliot,
Pound, Olson, Duncan, the New York School, Black Mountain College,
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, Buntings, concrete poetry, the Liverpool poets, Auden,
Berryman, MacNiece, William Carlos Williams, Ted Hughes, then they’re in
trouble. I haven’t even touched on works in translation or from non-Western
cultures. If they aren’t reading contemporary poetry then they’re in
trouble. If they aren’t reading poetics then they’re in trouble. If they
can’t shape language in any other way than
content then they are in trouble.
I want people to be excited by poetry. It’s not that I like or would proscribe difficult poetry - it’s that language is fantastic stuff. If a poet isn’t excited and surprised by language then they may as well forget it. And a lot of what comes through my door for review or submission is neither exciting nor surprising.
© Rupert M. Loydell
& Jeffrey Side
& Jeffrey Side