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This review is taken from PN Review 215, Volume 40 Number 3, January - February 2014.

Words to a Purpose Cusp: Recollections of Poetry in Transition, edited by Geraldine Monk (Shearsman Books) £12.95
More Words: Gael Turnbull on Poets and Poetry, edited by Jill Turnbull and Hamish Whyte (Shearsman Books) £12.95

When I was in my mid-teens, my favourite bookshops were Freedom Press down Whitechapel's Angel Alley -  that alley still intimidatingly fetid, the press itself clattering away on the ground floor - and the altogether sleeker Compendium Books in Camden Town. This would have been around 1992, and so at the exact close of the era that Geraldine Monk locates between the end of World War II and the coming of the internet. How did writers get by in those pre-post-historical and now scarcely imaginable days? Pretty well, as it happens, with Britain's scattered independent bookshops like beacons in an outer darkness that was - who knows? - perhaps more conducive to creativity than the 'smart', illuminated, hyperconnected present.

Described by Monk as a collective autobiography, the twenty-five prose recollections gathered in Cusp offer different perspectives on the 'poetic insurgence' which 'emerged out of the dreary ashes of post-war austerity… a phenomenon no one could have predicted'. Almost all the contributors - Monk notes - either ran a small press or a press and a bookshop, one of those 'nerve centres of the poetry world' where writers could make the connections, discoveries and occasionally surreptitious 'purchases' that now mostly happen online (ever tried liberating a book off the shelves of Amazon? It can't be done). Of course things could be lonely, Jim Burns repeating with sympathetic understanding Gary Snyder's 'you had to go a long way to find a friend in Fifties America'. Yet cultural isolation was also 'a form of innocence' (Peter Riley), and there still existed in places like Stockport ...


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