PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Colm Toibin on Thom Gunn's Letters Allice Hiller and Sasha Dugdale in conversation David Herman on the life of Edward W. Said Jena Schmitt on Hope Mirrlees Brian Morton: Now the Trees
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
PN Review New Issue
Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to

This item is taken from PN Review 210, Volume 39 Number 4, March - April 2013.

Letters from James Sutherland-Smith and Martin C. Caseley
Remembering the Bad Times


I have to thank James Keery for a spike in the numbers visiting my website following his citing of my article 'The War of Laurence Upton's Ear' in PNR 209. I was interested to learn that David Lovibond was in the BNP in 2008. I guess some people never grow up. The last I heard was that he was writing for Country Life and the Spectator. A member of the Poetry Reform Movement scuppered Lovibond's potential career as a Conservative by threatening to expose the true nature of his politics when Lovibond boasted that he was close to being selected as Prospective Candidate for the Conservative Party. The politics of the Reform Movement were heterogeneous to say the least, but we were 'united in our diversity', to use a favourite phrase of Lovibond's, enough to know the difference between political opinions which diverged and those which were completely objectionable. I did my share of drinking beer and chasing girls with David Lovibond, but he found my adherence to the Fourth International unpalatable.

Lovibond has been a useful swastika for Barry, Duncan and others to point at in order to distract attention from the failings of the British Poetry Revival (BPR). The most obvious of these is why they sought to make the Poetry Society a base for their operations in the first place. In a related article in the Bow-Wow Shop 8 I point out that two of the vice-presidents of the Poetry Society in 1975 were part of the General Council that removed Muriel Spark from her post as General Secretary and editor of Poetry Review in 1950, possibly because she failed to put the name of one of these vice-presidents on the front cover when she printed a poem of his accepted by her predecessor, Kyle of Galloway. At the same time in 1975 the General Council had come to be dominated by the BPR. It seems to me that what happened was a version of the entryism into the Labour party by the Militant Tendency which nearly wrecked it as a democratic party in the 1980s.

The Poetry Society was a genteel organisation and thus an utterly inappropriate site for the activities of the descendants, not so much of the Beats and Black Mountain Poetry, but of the British counter-culture of the late 1950s and 1960s. Jonathon Green's Days in the Life provides another entertaining account in which connections with the BPR can be made. In the counter-culture it didn't really matter whether one was a good or a bad poet. Being a poet was the point, a degenerate descendant of the romantic ideal of the nineteenth century. William Blake, in the guise of indigent visionary, was appropriated by the counter-culture as an icon, but we see nothing of Blake the meticulous and innovatory craftsman and artist in the technically shoddy issues of Poetry Review under the editorship of Eric Mottram.

The opportunity for the BPR's entry was provided by the inert management of the General Council whose fixers and literary mainstream members were stirred into action by the Poetry Reform Movement. We didn't realise it at the time, but the Reform Movement's success was as an unwitting stalking horse for people with much better connections with the Arts Council. I would argue that their activities led to a Poetry Society more attuned to the expectations of its membership. As to the quality of the poetry it promotes, I would argue that a broad range of styles and innovations seem to have received fair exposure in recent decades.

By email

Pass the Funnies


Two brief cartoon-related footnotes to PNR 209. John Greening may be under-estimating Anne Sexton's 'Little Orphan Annie' simile quoted from 'Snow White': it is less 'perfunctory' when one realises that Annie was always drawn with empty zeros as her eyes, to indicate innocence, or, possibly, vacuity, depending on whether you are a cynical adult or not. She later became a target for American underground cartoonists to parody, subverted in the same way that Rupert the Bear was by the English magazine Oz.

In the same article, Greening comments on the Sancho Panza/jester 'blackface' character in John Berryman's Dream Songs: has anyone else found that the mangled syntax, slangy argot and knowing register irresistibly recall George Herriman's influential cartoon strip Krazy Kat and the love triangle therein? The static nature of the dialogues could also be read as a continual replay of certain situations: Herriman was noted for replaying the mouse/brick/cat scenario in the same way that Charles M. Schulz later did with Charlie Brown's failure to kick a football. This eternal recurrence is often a feature of great cartoon face-offs - one has only to think of Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote...

By email

This item is taken from PN Review 210, Volume 39 Number 4, March - April 2013.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
Searching, please wait... animated waiting image