(3) How and Why I Left This Wonderful World

My horizons began to broaden from the Ferry Press/Grosseteste Review crowd – though, by God! these were superb exemplars, and people willing to treat me as a valid colleague. I was miffed though when Tim Longville rejected the first poems I sent to Grosseteste Review as not really coming from any sense of necessity. The London poets' work was picked up from Compendium (I came into the scene too late really for Betterbooks), encountered at the PCL Conferences of 1974, and then met at the Poetry Society. Allen Fisher in particular made a very strong impression on me through his dedication and energy. Coming from where I did in terms of my exemplars, I was rather guarded against Eric Mottram himself, and found it difficult to respond appropriately to Bob Cobbing. (All right – in plainer language, I had picked up a prejudice from the "Cambridge" poets about the "London" poets, or rather, their guru figures.)

People we did not know sent us in work: John Welch, the Third Generation Cambridge poets (John Wilkinson, Nigel Wheale, David Trotter), a wonderfully original London writer called Peter Sinclare (I regret I didn't publish more of his work), also Jeremy Harding (now a successful literary journalist on the LRB) and Martin Harrison (who has had a career as poet and academic in Australia).

I moved away from The Potteries in 1973 to get a job in a Further Education College (basically pre-University and vocational education, and not in a school setting – a minor and much neglected component of the English education system). I decided I needed to get a job (I was from good lower middle-class stock, remember), and this looked like what I could do with my qualification, and didn't involve the discipline rubbish of schools – "Boy! Your tie is undone!" We settled in Bishops Stortford, a market and commuter town a little way from where we worked in Harlow, which was a New Town for the London working-class to live in a planned environment. Stortford is on a main railway line, halfway between London and Cambridge – so I also went up there for readings, social events (I remember a pub crawl with John James and Jeremy Prynne on the eve of one the 70s general elections), and the Cambridge Poetry Festivals, which brought together from 1975 poets from across the UK (and from abroad). The hospitality of John James' and Wendy Mulford's house in Panton Street, Cambridge was greatly valued.

Bill Symondson stayed in The Potteries for a couple of year, then left to try smallholding in Wales (he was a farmer's son from North Devon). Issues 1 and 2 of Great Works were joint productions, I did 3 alone, he did 4 himself, then I took over completely. I now had bought a second hand duplicator (later also used for Bishops Stortford CND newsletter). I also produced some A4 booklets, and even a couple of real, printed books (Andrew Crozier's Pleats, and John Welch's And Ada Ann). My quality of production was too low – typing the stuff up was always the problem, and I did not have enough money to put into genuine quality and design. The gaps between issues soon became larger and larger.

I was beginning to get publication, with a pamphlet from Ferry Press ("We think it's about time you had a book out, Peter"), and a one hundred poem sequence from Grosseteste (Thank you, Tim!). I discussed collaborating on a quick turnaround publication, Hectic Reed, with Martin Thom (an excellent slightly younger poet and publisher, Oxford-based, but Ian Patterson's brother-in-law).

All was not well, though. My job at first was a nightmare – largely "Communications" with engineering apprentices, totally unstructured, and given no guidelines or usable example. I was useless. I am surprised I survived. The anxiety gnawed at me. I did not at first get on well with my colleagues (who found me arrogant), though they were mainly of my age, and two with Cambridge English backgrounds. I used to go to Playhouse Bar at lunchtimes for a meal and a drink or two, and to read the latest magazine in from New York; or Yanagi or Fathar from the circle around the great Duncan McNaughton; or proto-language/neo-dada publications from Loris Essary or Alan Davies; or from the UK, Paul Buck's Curtains, giving a totally different contact, with the French avant-garde (and also performance art).

Or L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. I exchanged Great Works with Charles Bernstein. The language work was a problem for me. Not the writing per se – I had worked heavily on Gertrude Stein, remember – but the surrounding theoretics. The manipulative and false use of Marxist discourse really played me. But how could I not accept it absolutely, as the newest and truest thing? And yet this theorising was plainly unnecessary empty junk. I found this intellectual impasse, and the Language poets' rapid apparent assumption of avant-garde market leadership, difficult and depressing to deal with.

The famous Battle of Earls Court, the First Great Dolorous Blow Struck Against the True Bards of Britain, was not a positive experience either. I was only a visitor, not privy to the intensity of what was going on there at the Poetry Society HQ. I found the place simply an ideal environment to turn up to and know there would be a whole range of people there I knew – typically, say, Ian Patterson, John Welch, Pierre Joris – a real variety. Its loss to us, a political move involving a minor Tory politico, "Grey Gowrie" (a bleeding belted earl!), was in fact the first tremor of the rise of Thatcherism. Post the counterrevolution, I got roped in by Ian Robinson and Robert Vas Dias in some kind of tokenistic capacity on a committee; I think it was on whether commas should be placed inside brackets.

The biggest change in my life, though, was domestic. We were already into house ownership etc; Anna was born in 1979, Nick in 1981 (after still-born twins). We had less money; I had no time. It was important to us both that I took a major role in childrearing. I did more than my share of nappy-changing, and also the putting to bed (which was very time-consuming, involving stories and readings and long sittings quietly).

Time and energy were leaching out. I ended up moving away from the poetry world by, first, pulling out of a reading at one of the Cambridge Poetry Festivals, because of the burden I felt I was putting on Ginie. I then stopped Great Works pretty suddenly, with another issue planned out and a book under way. If you encounter a copy of Paul Green's Hermetic Grimoire, it is I regret a real rarity: I must have put together a mere handful of copies. My amateurish production depressed me, as did the weary trudge to the ever-decreasing number of interested bookshops, where what I produced would linger and get tattered. There had never been enough postal sales. So it ended, in 1981 or 1982.

During the early 80s I rapidly began to move out of the social environment of the poetry avant-garde. I felt I had failed in my publishing. I felt indeed we had failed collectively – that alternative writing had not established itself, but just clung on barely at the margins. I tried to other ways to get the poetry to the people – initially adult education courses at Harlow College on Contemporary American and English Poetry (both mainstream and innovative). These led to a short-lived poetry group at Saffron Walden, where I also taught this (more successfully than at Harlow). I remember an excellent John James reading to the feisty middle-class ladies, and Lee Harwood getting annoyed when we cancelled a reading.

I had a final different attempt later in the 80s. Now, another blow for me at the end of the 70s was, I am afraid, punk. As a child of the 60s, I found it hard to be suddenly classed as one of those to be rebelled against. I felt old! It took me a while to get to grips with the new popular cultural environment.

I occasionally organised little student poetry magazines at College. I was doing more A-level English teaching now – and some of the huge gaps in my knowledge of English Literature were filled, with Coleridge, Keats, Chaucer, lots of Shakespeare, Larkin (yes! I have taught him! and Roy Fuller), and especially Blake (I planned but got no takers for a course on Blake). After he had finished his A-levels, one of my more interesting students, Jon Slater, made me a proposition. He had a friend, an ex-Harlow art student, Dave Houssart, they both were into music, and would I like to perform with them?

The Playground only performed publicly a few times in 1985 and 1986 – a hall in Epping, The Cajun Club, Bishops Stortford, the Victoria Hall, Harlow (an alternative arts festival), and The Square, Harlow – a youth centre and minor real music venue (most of my favourite students have been Squarites). Guitar, bass, me reading, plus amplification, fuzzbox and feedback. It was great – musically coming from The Penguin Cafe Orchestra coupling with Throbbing Gristle (who I'm afraid I had missed out on); with me as a cross between Dame Edith Sitwell and Mark E Smith. We emptied the bar at The Square. This was not a neutral sound!

It ended, unfortunately, when one of the other band members had psychiatric problems. There are tapes – we did a demo tape at a band's studio in London, and there are some bootlegs of performances. I also had a brief social life around Dave and Jon's friends, who were engaged in post-punk music and other activities, first meeting Dave Rushmer then.

Intellectually, I began to get more involved in film and media. A colleague was teaching Film GCSE, and we also taught the bizarre Communication A-level together. I liked theorising about film. It enabled me to build on the "Theory" I had been haphazardly but heavily reading my way through – Keele had been almost untouched by such concerns, focusing on close reading, and attempts to make sense of the writers' own discourses and purposes. A-level English then deliberately did not them lend itself to theoretical perspectives. But I was, like many others through the 80s, increasingly engaged by the vistas opened up by structuralism, post-structuralism, Freudian and post-Freudian and Marxist theories, feminist theory, even bloody old Heidegger. Film Studies was at this stage only just coming out of the Screen Paradigm – a mighty intellectual mechanism that could open up and explain anything (if you could just make sufficient sense of it, or just have faith).

So, 1986-1990, MA in Film and TV Studies at the Polytechnic of Central London/University of Westminster, followed immediately by teaching on that course, initially, the Modernism and Postmodernism module (when the Turkish lecturer who had set it up had sudden passport problems). Oh I can do theory; but I don't want to do it to poetry, and I have never felt happy at exposing my own writing to theory – a superstitious desire to preserve a chaotic mysterium at its heart. I do find theoretical discourse very useful to enable intellectual discussion of popular culture – why Richard Dyer's recension of Ernst Bloch's concept of utopian appeal isn't on the National Curriculum almost amazes me. I shifted in my main job from English to media.

All through the 80s and 90s I did carry on writing, even if with no prospect at all apparently of publication and little sense of audience. My attachment to the poetry scene just ticked over: at some point I was attending the SubVoicive readings pretty regularly in a pub off Chancery lane – even read there. I think this was the early 90s. I had shaved off my beard some time around 1987 – a symbolic rebirth as a new and more naked self, no longer hiding behind the hedge. I was therefore often quite unrecognisable to people I hadn't seen for years. I also began attending the Cambridge Conferences of Contemporary Poetry in the 1990s, if I chanced to pick up information on them. Curiously the children of some neighbours who had moved to Cambridge also got involved briefly in this world, so I met up with Luke and Abigail Youngman a little. We watched the poets in Cambridge from the sidelines, like ethnographers at a Sepik River ritual.

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