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This article is taken from PN Review 95, Volume 20 Number 3, January - February 1994.

Well, There was, There Wasn't, and There is: The Third Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry James Keery

The struggle between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks of post-modernist poetry has culminated in the establishment of de facto hegemony by the CCCP (coincidentally, USSR in Cyrillic). The welcome extended to a delegation from London signals the official end of the 'sectarian bitterness' that, according to Peter Riley, characterized the 1970s and 1980s. 'Are rats comrades?' In a brave response to a version of the question that puzzled Orwell's pigs, the Cambridge committee has decided that they are.

Sarcastic and inadequate, no doubt. Aren't schools and movements and decades for the birds? At any rate, the convention that they should never be taken more than half seriously has something to be said for it. But there is a point beyond which the apologetic, the tongue-in-cheek and in general the evasive approach to a poetic phenomenon becomes downright tiresome.

'Is there a "Cambridge" group of poets?' Riley has answered the question with a graceful equivocation: 'Well, there was, and wasn't, and there isn't' He was interviewed in 1983 ('Spitewinter Provocations', Reality Studios 8), but even at that date he might have been asked to pull the other leg. Ten years later, we may even venture to dispense with inverted commas and consider the poets of the Cambridge school on their merits.

Is there a London group of poets? Well, there was in the 196os, and there still is. There is even a defining anthology Floating Capital: New Poets from London, ed. Adrian Clarke and Robert ...


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