Friday, July 15, 2016

Ken Edwards

I've just published some prose pieces by Ken Edwards on Intercapillary Space:

Seven pieces from a book with no name :


Coincidentally, three days ago Ken wrote this blog post to register the passing, after 23 years, of Reality Street, his publishing concern.

"I never meant to or really wanted to become a publisher, let alone be known primarily as one."

It will be hard to avoid that reputational fate, given that the press's 67 publications include many of the essential texts of British experimental writing over that period. (Including, for instance, the books by Carol Watts, and Out of Everywhere 2, that I'm currently writing about.)


But maybe the end of Reality Street will be a chance to perceive him in his own right as a quintessential creative force within the UK experimental field.

Here's one of the pieces I just published:

History of a thought

What is the history of thought? This is too hard a question. Try again. What is the history of a thought? Even more difficult. A thought is elusive. We know that much. Where did it come from? Unknown. A thought cannot be grasped. Its progress cannot be tracked with any certainty. Its genesis is therefore even less certain than its present status. What was there before the thought? If there was nothing how then did the thought originate? How could it originate? And what thereafter? How does the thought persist? Who is doing the thinking? How can we address this question? There is a narrative to a thought but it is too hard to capture. It mutates too quickly. It moves at the speed of thought. Tracking it is tricky even when it maintains its coherence. But what if it lost coherence? What if it went elsewhere? What if it became distorted and therefore entered the realm of dream or even nightmare? And what if it were then taken up and acted upon? That doesn’t bear thinking about. But everything must run its course. Let us suppose therefore that before too long the thought is gone. It has vanished. Does the thinker then persist? Who is it who thought and then ceased thinking and does the thinker continue to exist after the thought has run its course? But has the thought really finished? Is it complete has it reached its terminus its estuary its final horizon? What has become of it? And if on the other hand still incomplete if without resolution then does the thought have a future and who will think it through? What is its future? We don’t know. So we are no wiser. We don’t even know that. This requires further thought. It’s time to think again.

And here's Ken in 1979, found in vol 1 of his Reality Studios magazine:

Some pages from TILTH
: a garden journal in progress

 . . . .

Soil rich & limey
I break it up a little

at right angles make a shallow drill
or use the head hold the handle
until the soil is quite fine
by pressing the rake in this raking
to remove surface stones
mark where each row handle into the soil
this depression of the rake to make
along the line of the rake at a low angle
with the garden line if the rake is held
the surface is liable to the ground
of seeds is to be sown
to become wavy instead of level at a steep angle
in one direction and then rake first
rake over the bed

Foxes come down from the railway embankment
I saw one dead in Cuckoo Wood it was pinned
between the eyes grey & ghastly          We skirted
burnt gorse & past Orange Court found
the Farnmborough road & thence back
to Lower Green Farm the masts
of TV aerials shinning through the brushwood

ten miles from the Crystal Palace

 . . . .

Forty years makes a big difference to the writing, but I feel I can see a continuity in perspective, intent, and attention.

In the valedictory piece, Ken says this:

Anyway … that’s all done now. I have increasingly felt over the past couple of years that I no longer had any enthusiasm for the publishing, and, at the dawn of my old age, wanted to put my energies back where I began – into my writing. I’ve done my bit as a publisher. Also, I want to put on record that poetry as such is not in fact the biggest thing in my life. Most contemporary poetry I read bores me. I know that’s a bit like Glenn Gould when he said “I don’t like the sound of the piano that much.” I can relate to that. I’ve always thought of myself not as a “poet”, whatever that is, but a “writer”. I am interested in new writing, writing that breaks boundaries, which might be poetry.

And as for the poetry scene, it no longer energises me. Perhaps because I’ve been out of London for 12 years. Perhaps because the British avant-garde scene seems to have run its course, and has retreated behind the boundaries of academia. Or that’s how I perceive it today. Poets subverting expectations of what a poem should be, and telling the world the theory of how they do it seem to be two a penny now. It looks like a career move sometimes.

[NB Since he left  London he lives, much to my envy, in Hastings Old Town.]

. . . .

This preferment of "writing" over "poetry" seems like a good way of expressing what is essentially experimental about experimental writing.

I can't necessarily share the implied ciriticism of recent poetry. Being such a latecomer, this is the poetry that I know and have enthused about. And yes, Lisa Samuels, Carol Watts and Andrea Brady (for example) are all academics.

Has something got lost, as Ken argues, with the collapse, or erosion anyway, of avant-garde writing from the streets? It certainly has, though I couldn't easily define it.

Some direct and uncorrected quality of vision - I'm thinking of Bill Griffiths now. Or Maggie O'Sullivan. Though, of course, one went to the Royal College of Music and the other made programmes for the BBC. So "from the streets" is a relative notion here!

And for much of its history the British Poetry Revival did always have an eye to academia for sustenance and attention. As Steve Willey and others have noted, Bob Cobbing's art was very consciously a series of engagements with institutions. Cobbing wasn't an academic, certainly not, but he wasn't sailing to Avalon either (vague memory of VDGG's "Refugees"), he was very much aware of academic networks and their opportunities. And he knew he was making history as academics would write it.


Here, by the way, is Billy Mills' excellent review, published yesterday, of the three volumes of Bill Griffiths' wrtings published in recent years by Reality Street:

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