Friday, 4 April 2008

Crossing the Line at The Leather Exchange

A reading last night at The Leather Exchange, an excellent venue in Leathermarket Street Southwark, featured Martin Corless-Smith and Tom Raworth. Corless-Smith read from three books, the most recent being Swallows (Fence Books, NY, 2006) while Raworth read mostly new material (his Collected Poems, published by Carcanet in 2003 is apparently no longer available). The audience were a healthy mix of Londoners, some Cambridge people, and others from the provinces (Kent, I mean, not Australia!). I think this underlines a shift that has been taking place among the ‘post-avant’ or whatever you like to call them/us. Robert Sheppard’s blogzine Pages has been running a debate about new modes and the current scene in the UK. Some of the exchanges address various ‘off the page’ poetries along with work that has often enough been fenced off in various ethnic apartheids. My own take on what’s going on would pay more attention to the media of distribution because I think these might underlie the kinds of ecumenical gathering that last night’s reading represented to a small degree. To an outsider at least, in the 1970s and 80s ‘Cambridge Poetry’ (and I know some people will say there was never any such thing) seemed exclusive in terms of its distribution. It was difficult to find out much about many of the writers; difficult too, to obtain their books. Journals seemed designed to be seen by the few. The web has completely changed this in that it’s no longer possible to ‘control’ your audience. The mode of book distribution (and production in the case of POD) means that while there are no warehouses stacked with printed copies, your book is potentially an unlimited edition. On the web there’s no preventing people you’ve never heard of in ‘out-of-the way’ places from reading and commenting on your work. The newspapers with their trickle of reviews (mainly of books published by Faber, Bloodaxe or Carcanet) are increasingly irrelevant in an online age. Which is why talk of a ‘mainstream’ seems less and less plausible.

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