Thursday, September 07, 2006

Poets Behaving Badly

Those of us who know little – but wish they knew more – about the secret history of British alternative poetry could only relish Gordon Burn’s gossipy piece in the Guardian about the 1967 Sparty Lea poetry “festival.” The young poet Barry MacSweeney, still buzzing from the Ginsberg-headlined 1965 Albert Hall poetry event, was the moving force in bringing a range of the more interesting British poets to the hamlet of Sparty Lea, near Hexham in the North Pennines (Basil Bunting country, of course). While he’s careful to note that accounts of the event differ (his own obviously derives from the famously alcoholic MacSweeney & the still combative Tom Pickard), Burns paints the Sparty Lea gathering as a piece of drunken mayhem, culminating in a moment of delicious vandalism:
after the Cambridge Marxist-obscurantist [sic] poet Jeremy Prynne told the Newcastle poet Tom Pickard to keep his young son quiet during a reading, Pickard went outside and smashed his Land Rover into Prynne's half-timbered Morris Oxford saloon.

"I reckon it was about here," Pickard, who still lives locally, said last week. We were driving slowly past a series of recently sandblasted and conservatoried cottages with enviable views over the Allen Valley. "I drove to the top of the hill, went down into second, slammed on the brakes and sledged into him." It was the kind of delinquent act that endeared Pickard to his friend Allen Ginsberg and others of the Beat Generation. In England, though, it led to his invisibility as an artist. "I was banned from the English intelligentsia", is what I thought I heard Pickard say. "The English Intelligencer", a privately circulated worksheet of the Sixties, is what he actually said…
Peter Riley, a fine Cambridge-based poet who was present at the event, is having none of the drunken-mayhem story. And while he admits that Pickard took a shot at Prynne’s auto with his own, he denies that it led to Pickard’s being “banned” from anything.

Perhaps most importantly, Prynne’s car was an MG, not a Morris. I’m glad to learn that – I’ve always imagined JHP as an MG driver.

1 comment:

Amy said...

I'm going to repeat my childish comment from earlier today in an attempt to break the spell...

My theory is, the more BIG SCARY WORDS in a post, the fewer comments it will receive. For example, this post contains the phrase, "Cambridge Marxist-obscurantist [sic] poet" - the delightful quality of the context be damned; the high quality of your readership be disregarded; we don't need a pollster to know that half the audience left their terrified pants steaming by the glow of the LCD.

Not uncoincidentally, I should remind you, before "liquid crystal displays," those letters used to stand for "lowest common denominator." ;-)

Of course this doesn't explain why my blog is comment-free for the past few weeks... I've been grunting along in monosyllables for years...

Excess and ohs,