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This report is taken from PN Review 201, Volume 38 Number 1, September - October 2011.

The E-word Charles Boyle
You'll find, when you come to the book fair for small poetry presses that will take place in Exmouth Market in London on 24 September, on the one hand Enitharmon and my own press, CB editions, and on the other hand Reality Street and some more - well, why not - experimental presses.

It's a word people back away from, or put in quotation marks. For understandable reasons. The word has been flung about so widely that a lot of mud has got stuck to it. To casual browsers in a bookshop, the e-word in a book's blurb suggests that they'll need to be initiates to make head or tail of it, or at best that they're going to have think about the work before they get pleasure from it. It suggests public subsidy (precisely because Joe Public can't be expected to pay it any attention). It suggests a distinct lack of humour (though look at Tristram Shandy, for heaven's sake). Many writers too are uncomfortable with the word: if you believe your work has just as much claim on the attention of intelligent readers as so-called mainstream work, you don't want to be shut into a ghetto.

Here, in an online interview earlier this year, is the US novelist Ben Marcus doing some backing-away: 'This issue of experimentalism is hollow to me... I've never tried to write anything experimental, because I don't even know what that would be. I've just written what most compels me at ...


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