The Cambridge problem

Whilst this current session of the bipolars was pretty bad, I spent some less than useful time ruminating about what I was doing with this blog and with arduity. As well as the usual depressive stuff (feelings of foolishness, of self-castigating ineptitude and inadequacy etc etc) I had some cause to think about the notions of capture and compromise which aren’t so easy to dismiss now that I’m on the road to recovery. I’m thinking of this as ‘the Cambridge problem’ because it pertains to those poets who have published in the Cambridge Literary Review rather than whatever the ‘Cambridge School’ may refer to.
‘Capture’ is a term used in the business of regulation whereby the regulators become so immersed in the businesses that they regulate that they lose more than a degree of objectivity. I’ve spent many a happy hour pointing out to team members that they may have been compromised in this way- the reaction is always one of righteous indignation and at least two weeks worth of sulking.
This blog started as a way of writing down what I was thinking about and as a place to put my own poetry. I then realised that other people were reading this stuff and (to my delight) some of them wanted to argue with me. Initially I was mostly writing about Geoffrey Hill and found that the process of having to write something vaguely coherent helped with my understanding of the work and enhanced the pleasure that I got from it. I then moved on to Prynne, having dismissed him in the first blog post as being willfully obscure. I think I did this because reading Hill had given me a taste for ‘difficult’ stuff.
Writing running reports on my progress or otherwise with Prynne was useful for me and seems popular with others which remain s gratifying but still isn’t the main point of doing this.
During last year I was contacted by John Matthias and Keston Sutherland which was gratifying but also quite odd in that I hadn’t expected poets to take any kind of interest in what I was writing about their stuff. Both John and Keston have since both been incredibly generous with their time and I’m particularly grateful to John for pointing me towards the brilliance of David Jones. I’ve also written about Neil Pattison who has responded very constructively to a number of posts over the past eighteen months. I’ve also been in correspondence with Timothy Thornton since the beginning of this year and have recently been contacted by Simon Jarvis with regard to the publication of ‘Dionysus Crucified’ and the recent reading at the Sussex festival.
All of the above (except for Neil) have had work published in the CLR. Neil’s ‘Preferences’ was published by Barque Press which is run by Keston and Andrea Brady and also publishes Prynne’s work and Jarvis’ ‘The Unconditional’.
When I was first contacted by Keston, there was a bit of an exchange about the ‘capture’ issue and I somewhat arrogantly decided that I wouldn’t be compromised and that I wouldn’t hesitate to be critical of stuff that I didn’t like.
Now, all of the above have since published stuff that’s really very good indeed, I don’t have any kind of a problem with this but there is something nagging deep within about the forementioned capture problem. I’m currently reconciling myself with the fact that I bring a non-Cambridge perspective (whatever that might be) and that there are aspects of this stuff that I actively dislike. I’m also of the view that, with very few exceptions, the so-called mainstream is awash with the dismally mediocre. I also have a policy of not writing about members of this coterie that I don’t like (there are several of these) because I don’t enjoy writing negative stuff. I have written one dismissive piece on Sean Bonney that only served to fuel my prejudices.
Writing this, I also become aware of the danger of taking myself far too seriously. I am someone who enjoys writing about things that I like and I shouldn’t really be too bothered about any of these extraneous issues that may only be self-generated. There is, on the other hand, part of me that takes some pleasure in pointing out the pomposity inherent in some of this work.
I also reconcile myself with the fact that I also write about Hill and Jones and Celan and Marvell and should perhaps spend more time in the 17th century (where I probably belong). This would be much easier if these Cambridge types would stop producing such startlingly (a Prynne word) good stuff….


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