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Saturday, 11 January 2014

Outburst's outburst & New Planet Cabaret: Two Roads Diverge

I have a poem in the latest issue of Outburst, alongside George Szirtes, Breda Wall Ryan, Michael O’Loughlin, John Ennis and others. You can read the magazine here.  

Sadly, the editorial in this issue is, well, and I say this with the greatest respect, a load of reactionary garbage. Not reactionary in the witty, amusing Evelyn Waugh/William F. Buckley manner. That would be fine. 
William F. Buckley Jnr

I can be a bit of reactionary myself sometimes; earlier this evening the great Marxist theoretician, Jimmy Dignam (late of Joe Higgins’s Dáil Office) called me a “right wing scumbag” on Twitter and he’s probably at least partly right; my poem ‘Use’, for example, which you can read here, could not have been written by someone who wasn’t a bit of a right wing scumbag at least some of the time. 

The editor’s introduction to this issue of Outburst is a cranky and ungenerous attack. He even implies that the true poems are written in "isolated garrets". A piece of nonsense  for which he should, at the very least, be awarded dinner for two with Barney Sheehan. 
One of the points the Outburst editorial tries to make flies in the face of my own very recent experience: “The notion of writing for a so-called ‘public’ is sad, in any case. The number of people who actually read poetry can be numbered in the low hundreds and of those the numbers who try to understand it can be slashed by multiples.” 

Well, to mention just one example, my ‘Pantoum for Limerick National City of Culture’, has, Chris Murray tells me been viewed a couple of thousand times since it was published on her blog earlier this week. 

A while back I found one of the poems from my first book, The Boy With No Face, quoted in an article about Occupy London. The internet has opened up tremendous possibilities for poets capable of writing poems those the Outburst editorial so contemptuously refers to as the "so-called 'public' " might want to read. Not because some poetry world head says they should. But just because. Those are the readers I am most interested in these days. You know. Real people and the like. 

Certainly, there are bad poets who try to use Facebook to push their work. But to use a magazine editorial to make what amounts to a generalised attack on the community of Irish poets, especially the younger social media savvy generation, is a disgrace. As I say, dinner for two with Barney Sheehan would be a fitting punishment. 

Here is the Outburst editorial in full: 
"It is unfortunate that the poetry scene has been tarnished by recent, highly publicized instances of plagiarism, yet the revelations of the despicable practice should not surprise poets. There are too many poetry competitions awarding too much money to the winners. Fame, it seems can come too easily by way of social media. Facebook seems to have created a new phenomenon, the instant poet, whose ‘work’ often seems to have incubated overnight with little attention having been paid to the craft of writing, before it is thrust upon a tired public. 

Of course the Irish poetry world is clique ridden and exclusionist and has been so for too many decades, yet this very Irish trait should inspire, rather than deter poets. Maybe not enough of us are asking, for whom do we write? If the answer is for awards, or fame, or, God help us, for publication in Poetry Ireland, maybe we should be writing jingles for Tayto crisps or Milk Tray chocolate. The notion of writing for a so-called ‘public’ is sad, in any case. The number of people who actually read poetry can be numbered in the low hundreds and of those the numbers who try to understand it can be slashed by multiples. Someone has said if we get three people to read our poems we are doing well, a sobering observation and not one without foundation if we recall some of the gushy references to Seamus Heaney’s work in the aftermath of his death. 

True, driven, poets will continue to write poetry in spite of the distractions that plague the scene. Forged in the fire of rejection and crafted in the isolated garret, it will endure to enthral and enlighten when the instant poem and its unworthy mentors are lessons in how not to promote the arts in Ireland."

Meanwhile, an alternative to such crankiness is outlined by Dave Lordan in his introduction to the recent anthology New Planet Cabaret: Billy Ramsell has used the term amphibious to describe our post-2.0 generation of creative writers who seem to breathe just as easily between the covers of the book as they do in front of a lively late night audience, who produce work in the multiple formats found on the web, who are not sure and perhaps not all that concerned whether they are poets, performance poets, rappers, stand-ups, filmmakers . . .  who organise and promote gigs and festivals, as well as performing at them, who publish books as well as writing them. What are we a ′tall a ′tall? We are whatever we desire to be at the time, I guess. We are what the occasion demands. Trans-writers is how I like to think of us and a trans-generation that takes pride in usurping outmoded artistic distinctions and labels in the Arts is a generation I’m very happy to  belong in.”  Dave’s full introduction can be read here

I know which vision of the future I prefer. Indeed, if I believed the Outburst view of the Irish poetry world was anything like reality I’d lock myself in the wardrobe this minute and start lighting fires, which is perhaps something I should consider doing anyway.