Thursday 31 July 2008

Letter 15

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In my last talk I mentioned J.H. Prynne’s contribution to The English Intelligencer. I would now like to say a few words about literary connection in the context of Andrew Crozier, who collated and edited the first series of The English Intelligencer. Crozier, who died in April 2008, is a much less well-known figure than he might be and left a substantial and lasting legacy as a poet, editor and teacher. He was instrumental in recovering some of the forgotten history of Modernism through his retrieval of the works of John Rodker, (Poems and Adolphe 1920 Carcanet 1996) J.F Hendry and others.

The idea of literary connection is full of potential difficulty and complication as we lack words for the different types of relationships and connections. Moreover critics tend to label poets together by dint of association and essential differences can be lost. Connection is closely attached to selling a particular poet or book, regardless of whether an underlying connection exists or not and again can be used loosely.

Literary connection is also associated with place and tourism. Thus Derbyshire and the Peak District advertise their connection with the Elizabethan historian, William Camden, who wrote about the Wonders of the Peak in Britannia (1586), and other writers and poets throughout the centuries. Camden’s work, of course, was central in forming the concept of a unified nation. The Peaks are sufficiently distinctive and attractive to become part of the national identity, and the issues around its constitution, so that they are at once local, regional and national as reinforced by Thomas Hobbes in his poem De Mirabilibus Pecci (1636) that celebrated Chatsworth House, Peak Cavern, St Anne’s Well, Buxton, Eldon Hole and Tideswell. The Peak District is the loci of Crozier’s friend and editor of the second series of The English Intelligencer, Peter Riley’s Tracks and Mineshafts (Grosseteste 1983). A work that meditates on the significance of ‘abandoned mines, standing out like sores through the rough mingling pastoral surface’ (page 23) and engages with Seventies cultural politics through a reading of the ideology of English landscape poetry and insists on digging deeper into ‘the message that exceeds us, the concept not grasped, the emptiness of total being, pure sign of itself to which such substances as metal, poetry, history, can only be tools of an interim script’ (page 27).

Connection, the action of connecting or joining together (OED 1 a) was first used in the 1609 edition of the Bible. From Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651) we have (OED 1 b) of immaterial union or joining together and (OED 2 a) the linking together of words or ideas in speech or thought. From the base of the action or condition of being joined together the idea of connection has been added so that it has eleven meanings that cover links without specification. There is a gap in the English language that allows a simple notion of linkage to be employed that denies individuality and difference in favour of easy labelling and obfuscation. Smaller and deeper underlying contextual links are often unread and dormant as a result.

Issues around national identity, what constitutes ‘Englishness’ and whether we should have connections with foreign poets and poetry have dominated the struggles within English poetry since the 1900s especially between Modernism and the Movement and their successors and reaching a crisis from 1956 to 1963 and subsequent battle during the mid-1970s. (See Peter Barry’s Poetry Wars: British Poetry of the 1970s and the Battle of Earls Court Salt 2006) Thus Robert Conquest in his New Lines – II (1963) introduction could write of a return to the cardinal traditions of English verse and warn against poetry that is written from new or different attitudes and state that ‘the human condition from which the poetry of one country springs cannot be readily tapped by that of another.’

In 1961 Andrew Crozier won an exhibition to Christ’s College, Cambridge to read English, having won a scholarship to Dulwich College, south east London in 1954. He was arrested twice for civil disobedience on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament Aldermaston demonstrations. As an undergraduate, Crozier edited an American supplement to Granta magazine and included work by Robert Duncan, Edward Dorn, Robert Creeley and John Wieners. At the end of this publishing adventure which was prepared to rattle the status of the Movement poets, he added a letter from Charles Olson to George Butterick that included the phrase ‘freshen our sense of the language we do have’ adding that the ‘spirit of Olson informs this whole collection’.
Amongst his friends were the American poet and The Paris Review poetry editor, Tom Clark, studying English at Gonville and Caius on a Fulbright Scholarship, who would later write critical biographies of Ted Berrigan, Jack Kerouac, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson and Edward Dorn, and John Temple, Peter Riley and John Riley, with whom his work shares an affinity. (See Andrew Crozier ‘The World, The World: A Reading of John Riley’s Poetry’ in For John Riley edited by Tim Longville Crosseteste 1979 pp. 97-104.)

In 1964 he studied at the State University of New York, Buffalo on a Fulbright Scholarship, publishing the broadsheet series Sum and the journal, The Ant’s Forefoot, and was tutored by Charles Olson. Whilst in America, Crozier contacted the Objectivist poet, Carl Rakosi, who had changed his name to Callman Rawley and stopped writing. Rakoski later acknowledged that Crozier’s determination to find him had persuaded him to return to writing poetry. Crozier’s discovery of Rakosi led to a much wider awareness of the Objectivists. The impact of Olson on Crozier’s thought can be gauged by the use of a line from Olson as the title for his Collected Poems: All Where Each Is (Allardyce, Barnett 1985).

On returning to London in January 1966, Crozier began The English Intelligencer before joining Donald Davie at Essex University, where he wrote his Doctorate thesis Free Verse as Formal Restraint, and founded The Wivenhoe Park Review with Tom Clark. This in turn became The Park when he moved to teach at Keele University in 1967. J.H. Prynne’s introduction to Crozier’s first book of poetry, Loved Litter of Time Spent (1967) refers to a central quality in the writing ‘the possible as it really comes over, day by day’.

The English Intelligencer rejected the received modes of established Movement poetics in favour of a new, modernist poetics of diversity that shifted attention away from the insular towards a broader field of activity. The newsletter was distributed for free to interested individuals and encouraged an open forum for exchange and was clearly looking to develop a new English poetics. Crozier insisted early on that ‘the Intelligencer is for the island and its language, to circulate as quickly as needs be.’ (see Drew Milne ‘Agoraphobia, and the embarrassment of manifestos’ Jacket 20 page 11)
This is curious language. ‘The Intelligencer is for the island and its language’. The immediate context of this statement is the Movement’s wholesale rewriting of the history of modern poetry and the suppression of part of that history and its claims to speak for the nation. Donald Davie, one of the theorists of the Movement, famously wrote in Granta 68 in 1963 that ‘I think that everyone knows, really, that Philip Larkin is the effective laureate of our England’ annexing poetic quality and national culture in an uncomplicated and empirical alignment. The thrust of this annexing and suppression was reinforced in polemical anthologies and histories, such as Robert Conquest’s New Lines – II (Macmillan 1963), Blake Morrison’s The Movement: English Poetry and Fiction in the Fifties (OUP 1980), Al Alvarez’s The New Poetry (Penguin 1966) and Blake Morrison and Andrew Motion’s The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry (Penguin 1982). Crozier brought a return to what Robert Conquest in his 1956 New Lines anthology wanted to remove from English poetry that is to say, intellect, strong emotion and ‘social pressure’. Crozier brought intellectual rigour to his editorial work as explained by an early contributor, Chris Torrance, in a private conversation in March 2006. It was Crozier’s advice and support that led Torrance to Olson and the much wider world of American music, painting and writing.
Through Torrance’s work and teaching one can follow the Olson line to a new generation of contemporary poets such as Elisabeth Bletsoe and Rhys Trimble.

Crozier founded Ferry Press in London in 1964, first publishing Thread by Fielding Dawson, the painter and poet, who had studied at Black Mountain College. The Press becoming, with John Riley and Tim Longville’s Grosseteste Review, an important outlet for J.H. Prynne, Peter Riley, John James, John Hall, John Temple, Chris Torrance, Doug Oliver, Wendy Mulford and others that had contributed to The English Intelligencer. This connection, however much forgotten or ignored, is real enough. That many of the poets involved lived and worked in Cambridge is also undeniable but not particularly useful to know until you question their social and work situation. Moreover, Crozier and his friends were frequent visitors to London in the mid-Sixties and in particular, Better Books, where the poets, Bob Cobbing and Lee Harwood worked and a lot of networking and readings took place. The frequent denial of a so-called Cambridge School has much to do with an understanding of connection and process. Yes, Cambridge is an early focus point but so is Better Books, and later, Compendium Books, and Essex University. The denial can be read therefore as a deflection to persuade the reader to look deeper. The document that most clearly articulates Crozier’s position is his introduction, written with Tim Longville, to the anthology A Various Art (Carcanet 1987).

Here the introduction emphasised ‘the degree of difference that existed between individual poets, and the extent to which each poet had accomplished a characteristic and integral body of work, with its own field of interest and attention,’ and claimed ‘both the possibility and presence of such variety, a poetry deployed towards the complex and multiple experience in language of all of us.’ (A Various Art page 14) It is noteworthy for refusing any collective stance, its advocacy of diversity and for producing the clearest denunciation of Movement poetics.
It begins by refusing the notion that it is an anthology of English poetry (page 11), referencing the history of perceptions of English poetry since the 1950s and polemical anthologies that lay claim to pre-eminent achievement within the inclusive reference of national representation. Crozier and Longville refuse the exclusivity of fashion by a sectional view of change and difference so as not to be seen as covering the social divisions and otherness implicit in our national culture. They accused the Movement poets of employing a common rhetoric that foreclosed the possibilities of poetic language as well as the scope and character of poetic discourse in relation to the self, to knowledge, history and the world. Moreover, language was always to be grounded in the presence of a legitimating voice of an impersonally collective tone that was subsumed within a closed cultural programme.
They further lay claim to the Movement’s wholesale rewriting of the history of modern poetry and the exclusion of parts of that history, the line from Pound and William Carlos Williams, and beyond to Olson, Oppen, Dorn and so forth. (A Various Art page 12) This being a unifying connection between the contributors to the anthology, many of whom had been English Intelligencer contributors.
The title of the anthology aptly summarises Crozier and Longville’s ethos that poetry is an art in relation to language with various artifice and rules that apply to specific rather than to general occasions. Another unifying connection between the contributors that the editors cite was that many had established their own publishing houses and journals. I think, though, that there is an absence in their account and that is the impact of The English Intelligencer. It is the big connection. Firstly, it established the idea of exchange between interested individuals, often friends, although not exclusively, and a community of risk and possibility. The model for The English Intelligencer was the San Francisco journal, Open Space, initiated by Stan Persky in 1964 to provide a regular forum for a community of North Beach poets that included Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser and Joanne Kyger. The idea of Open Space had been to provide a context to the poetry and politics of the group and immediacy to the writing. Secondly, despite the difficulties of overcoming preconceived notions of publication, The English Intelligencer eventually became a communal forum of exchange, exploration and criticism that opened up new areas for many of its prominent contributors. As such, it underwrites the direction of many of its contributors and holds them a distinct relationship.

Crozier identified the period from 1956 to 1963 when critics, such as Donald Davie, Robert Conquest and Al Alvarez, moved the focus of attention away from the achievements and interests of the Forties poets to the Movement and confessional poets.
That shift can be said to start with the death of Dylan Thomas in 1953 and his literary executors, especially Kingsley Amis, who became a prominent Movement novelist and critic, doing much to detract from the achievement of Thomas and Forties poets generally.

The Forties had seen a great revival in poetic activity, as the archival work of A.T. Tolley (The Poetry of the Forties Manchester University Press 1985) and others (e.g. Andrew Sinclair’s War Like A Wasp Hamish Hamilton 1989) has shown, and a growing interest in European and American poetics through Wrey Gardiner’s Grey Walls Press, Tambimuttu’s Poetry London and Poetry London Editions and John Lehmann’s Penguin New Writing. It was a period, partly due to the Second World War, when the cultural exchange between London, Paris and New York was at a peak.
Thus the New York poet, Edward Field was first published in Wrey Gardiner’s Poetry Quarterly in London in 1946 and during his time as a fighter pilot in England he met many literary and artistic figures that were criss-crossing between London and Europe at the Gargoyle Club in Soho. Similarly, David Gascoyne, Rayner Heppenstall, W.S. Graham, Ruthven Todd, Norman Cameron, Nicholas Moore, Charles Madge, Kathleen Raine, Humphrey Jennings and Dylan Thomas to name a few all utilised London’s Zwemmer’s Bookshop for the latest artistic, literary and philosophical developments to arrive from Europe.

Crozier’s interest in Forties poetry led him to contact, J.F. Hendy, a survivor from that period and write an introduction to his work in Iain Sinclair’s anthology Conductors of Chaos (Picador 1996), a poetry anthology where other Forties poets were introduced, for example Nicholas Moore by Peter Riley, and given space. Crozier was instrumental in reviving interest in Hendry, the ‘New Apocalypse’ and Forties poetry more generally, through his essay, ‘Thrills and frills: poetry as figures of empirical lyricism’ in Society and Literature 1945 -1970 edited by Alan Sinfield (Methuen 1983).

I thought about connection in relation to Crozier because of his attention to context and historical placement. In my dealings with him, I found him to be modest and self-effacing. He effectively helped create a context and thus readership for the English Intelligencer contributors, the poets that he published with Ferry Press and in A Various Art. He was clearly not prescriptive about any one approach or orthodoxy of intent and was at pains to point readers towards a diversity of achievement and fields of interest. In these more dogmatic times that is a salutary lesson.

Crozier’s own poetry attempted to remove the lyrical self so as to enact a closer encounter with the particularity of things in the world. Here’s ‘(i.m. Rolf Dieter Brinkman)’ from A Various Art page 82:

Already the ducklings resemble their aunts and uncles
free of all obvious maternal bond
the brood moves in and out of itself
involuted and explosively bobbing
in each other’s wake

their movement appears haphazard
and even elegantly natural they all
look the same and know what they want
when we appear under the shadowy leaves
with our bags of bread

it is a sign for them to
come to the edge and when it stops
and the last crumbs are shaken out
into the dirty water they move off
together again while you and I

set off round the pond talking
about ducks and the volume of foliage
on a summer branch which dips
toward the water to be reflected
in words that condense like the image

of each leaf shifting over the others
while unreflected light flickers through
in a web of shining brevity
that glows all night long
as air moves and water rises

within those immense columns
echoing : all language is truth
through a bed of dry leaves when evaporation
ceases and our words turn and fall
flickering with our life upon the earth