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The Academisation of Avant-Garde Poetry


(My response to a critique by Seth Abramson of this Introduction can be found here)



Jake Berry’s essay, Poetry Wide Open: The Otherstream (Fragments In Motion) deals with the issue of certain types of avant-garde poetry as not yet having found favour within the academy, or with poetry publishers of academically “sanctioned” avant-garde poetry. The damaging aspects of this exclusion, and the concept of an “approved” versus an “unapproved” avant-garde poetry, are also examined in the essay. And these things could well be described as “the academisation of avant-garde poetry”.  


Academic poetic output is operating to a healthy extent in the US, where university creative writing departments are flourishing. The University of Pennsylvania has its Kelly Writers House programme, its PennSound website and its Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, all sympathetic to academic avant-garde poetry. The University of Pennsylvania also edits Jacket2, an influential online poetics website, which was formerly called Jacket, and which was edited by the independent John Tranter before he passed it over to the university. And similar things are happening in the UK, with various institutions such as the Contemporary Poetics Research Centre at Birkbeck University; the North West Poetry and Poetics Network at Manchester Metropolitan University; the MA Poetic Practice course at Royal Holloway, University of London; the MA Creative Writing: Innovation and Experiment course at Salford University and the Poetry and Poetics Research Group at Edge Hill University; all of which promote academic avant-garde poetry. The coordinator of the latter is also a co-editor of the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry, about which an informative discussion can be found here


Growing out of the maelstrom of academic avant-garde poetic patronage in the UK, are two closely affiliated organisations: The Other Room poetry reading series and Knives Forks and Spoons Press, whose organisers have close links to the MA Creative Writing: Innovation and Experiment course at Salford University, several students of which are published by Knives Forks and Spoons Press and promoted at The Other Room poetry readings. The extent of this affiliation can be seen in an article at Salford University’s website about Scott Thurston, who runs the MA Creative Writing: Innovation and Experiment course. See here.


Consequently, one could say that the term "avant-garde" has now, essentially, been appropriated by the academy, and, as such, has become associated with the sort of poetic writing practices that could be fairly said to represent “establishment” poetry, to the extent that the historical resonances of the term “avant-garde” have become meaningless. In contrast, Bob Grumman’s term, “otherstream”, which Berry uses in his essay to describe avant-garde poetry that is marginalised by the academy, can be seen as a more apt replacement for the term “avant-garde”, which has now become obsolete as an appropriate description for poetry that isn’t anecdotal, descriptive or prose-like.  


The ultimate concern regarding the academisation of avant-garde poetry, is that a two-tier system is being created, comprising of experimental poetry that is officially sanctioned, or legitimised, by the academy, and an experimental poetry that is not. The practitioners of the latter are excluded for various reasons (some possibly to do with their not having the “right” literary or academic credentials) but the main reason is that the poetry is seen as being too “primitive” or not as “knowing” as the more schooled sorts of academically sanctioned experimental poetry currently nurtured on some MA Creative Writing Courses geared towards experimental poetry.


This Argotist Online feature presents Berry’s essay, the responses to it from poets and academics it was first shown to, and an interview with Berry where he addresses some of the criticisms voiced in these responses. Many poets and academics (including those most famously associated with Language Poetry) were approached for their responses but declined. Other poets and academics that had initially agreed to respond ultimately declined. I mention this not as criticism but merely to explain the absence of people who one would normally expect to have responded and taken part in such a discussion.




Poetry Wide Open: The Otherstream (Fragments In Motion)


Responses to Poetry Wide Open: The Otherstream (Fragments In Motion)


Jake Berry’s interview in response to criticism of Poetry Wide Open: The Otherstream (Fragments In Motion)  


A discussion about The Academisation of Avant-Garde Poetry