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This article is taken from PN Review 153, Volume 30 Number 1, September - October 2003.

Styles of Resistance, Signs of Art David Kennedy

In an interview given to Verse in 1992, Geoff Hattersley remarked that 'poetry isn't what people are supposed to do with their lives, they're supposed to have dull lives with dull jobs'. His own experience as a working-class man living, working and writing poetry in the Barnsley area shapes his comment; but it remains pertinent outside its originary contexts of class, economics, gender and region because it articulates a widely held belief that poetry is intimate with species of resistance.

One species of resistance had been made visible to a larger readership some years before in the 1987 anthology A Various Art. In his introduction Andrew Crozier argued that 'poetry, if it is an art, is an art in relation to language in general; its artifice is various, and its rules apply to specific rather than general occasions.' The poets in the anthology would, he concluded, 'be seen to set their writing towards a range of languages, ordinary, scientific, traditional, demotic, liturgical, and so on'. This was in marked contrast to the dominant orthodoxy established in the 1950s, in which 'language was to be grounded in the presence of a legitimating voice - and that voice took on an impersonally collective tone. To its owners' satisfaction the signs of art had been subsumed within a closed cultural programme.'

A long poem excerpted by Crozier and Longville - Douglas Oliver's The Infant and the Pearl, first published in 1985 - exemplifies what might be meant by ...


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