Keith Tuma

What Not to Make of Eric Mottram:
Questions and Remarks on Contemporary British and American Poetry

    For me, as for others in Britain and the United States, one of Eric Mottram's most important roles was enabling transatlantic discourse among writers and scholars. Thus I suppose that I might begin by asking to what extent the conditions and circumstances, local and international, which Mottram confronted in his efforts to act as such a conduit still obtain today. Now I suspect that Mottram's greater successes involve what he helped bring to British attention rather than what he carried from England to the United States. If his work as critic and as editor of Poetry Review were more widely known in the United States, if his range of interests were as well-known as, say, Donald Davie's efforts to sustain national identities in poetry with arguments about syntax and diction, we might very well have a less reductive view of British poetry in the United States today, a different reading list in those few sites where American readers might decide or be obliged to read recent British poetries. I doubt it, though, as that reductive view-- those caricatures of a poetry altogether dominated by anti-modernism, all the more powerful when as is often the case they are left unvoiced, have been too valuable for all parties contesting American turf. A declining engagement with British poetries except insofar as they can be absorbed into half-baked critical rhetorics designed to prop up one or another American practice is the result of factors too numerous to list, but none is more important than the fact that, after World War II, tremendous effort was put into constructing and administering an Atlanticist culture. Atlanticism was an American invention and bore an American signature. The Great Books were to be made primers in American history; we were to take over the euromuseum and--this the crucial part--set it up the way we wanted. We are by no means through with all this yet, despite new multicultural paradigms, as any examination of the disciplinary structures organizing literary and cultural education in the United States will attest. Canons have changed, the multicultural has come in, but the multicultural stops at the borders of the nation and the sign of the nation still reigns supreme, just as it did in the Atlanticist paradigm. A glance at the sad state of Comparative Literature as a discipline in the USA should indicate that much. Globalization remains a murmur in excited fantasies about the internet or paranoid ones about the purportedly homogenizing force of international capital.


In writing of "the specifically American character of postmodernism," the critic Andreas Huyssen noted some time ago not only the history of that term as it first "accrued its emphatic connotations in the United States" but also the extent to which forms of postmodernist or neo- avantgardiste practice in the United States positioned themselves not against European models of high culture, which had already been weakened by historical avant-gardes in Europe, but against a simulacrum of such a culture in the United States, as represented for instance by the "modernism" of the New Critics and others.1 American self-absorption, American confidence has been such over the last 40 years that all cultural conflict in Western nations within Cold War orbits has been as it were immediately translated into American terms, so that the truly difficult task has been to write so that "the U.S. A. may become just another part of the world, no more, no less," as John Cage put it in the dedication to his second book.2 Within these circumstances Eric Mottram necessarily confronted a double-bind in the United States not unlike the one he confronted in Britain: to work as he did in an international sphere within a Cold War era almost seemed to make him de facto an American. Certainly the hatred brewed by his publishing of American experimental poetries in Poetry Review--the effort of British cultural conservatives to oust him-- should have taken nobody by surprise.


It's not news of course that part of the practice of American avant-gardists in the sixties and the seventies was fueled by a sense that an American anglophile culture had outlived its usefulness and was either irrelevant and sickly or tied to reactionary social and cultural practices. But anglophilia has only a little to do with the brute geopolitical realities of Atlanticism. The harder task is to acknowledge the extent to which even avant-gardistes inevitably participated in Atlanticist formations. In David Antin's 1981 talk piece "What It Means To Be Avant-Garde," Antin says while discussing Marjorie Perloff's criticism that "this book is only bringing the news to these outposts [he is speaking primarily of the culture of prestigious East Coast American universities] that the british empire has long since passed away and that the messages from england would no longer be coming and had not been coming for a long time and that there was a french connection as there is a russian connection and a spanish connection and for many a chinese connection or japanese connection." This is part of a stretch of Antin's text attacking the anglophiliac excesses and other absurdities perpetuated by the critic Harold Bloom. Responsiveness, site-specific improvisational alertness and attentiveness--these are the virtues Antin means to identity as well as enact while refusing to be circumscribed either by narratives of tradition or avant-garde counter- tradition. These virtues come into focus against the Bloomian fantasy wherein, in Antin's words, Bloom "thinks he's part of a great tradition [and] he's not." But what I would also want to note about this provocative talk-text is that its key proposition, Antin's claim that "all that unites us in this country is the present and the difficulty of recognizing it and occupying it" is so concerned to negate the Bloomian fantasy that the possibility of imagining some relationship to British literatures other than the one Bloom constructs does not occur to him.3 These silences have played their role in American Atlanticism too. It's not that Antin is parochial: far from it. It's rather that he is honest enough to admit that, for poets worth thinking about, the present in 1981 meant among other things that England was just a tiny little piece of an American pie. It made about as much sense to privilege its so-called traditions as to privilege the literary history of Rhode Island.


We might go back a few years beyond Antin's text and quote a few lines from Ed Dorn's sixties poem "Oxford," which ends with this plea to the English:

We have lived world,
contrary to what you
may think, on the refuse
of what you thought best to send us
                                                          to choose.
(oh my Maryland)       Please
don't send any
              more. The Indians (american) I have their word
for it, are tired of it.4

Dorn's poem, much less confident than Antin's talk about the irrelevance of British culture in the United States or the sickliness of its influence there, at first seems rooted in the longstanding American desire to assert national identity against all that which might be thought to cover it over. We're not through with this dynamic either, though multiculturalism offers discourses of national identity different forms when it takes up fantasies of plural but discrete and authentic cultural practice and neglects to wrestle with the constructive as well as the destructive energies and inevitabilities of the cross-cultural and the hybrid. Ultimately, Dorn's poem is ambivalent about and perhaps even dismissive of the desire it names; its target is elsewhere as Dorn sets out to do battle with the international triumph of the commodity and consumer capitalism, which makes it possible, he writes, for the Soviet poet Yevtushenko to talk "like a chamber of commerce / in Washington/inside the same general language / it is that bad. . .as if commodity / had turnedall sound off, and into / the international times."5

Dorn writes that

I get sick myself
sometimes when the people of the world, who have all
gone there, make an
account and the title is America
and the signatories are
every motherfucker
in the world, only now
they think they
            can have the Idea
without the thing, they think
it's only a piece of real estate.
                    They think they can
distill the poison out
pour it off
the oldest danger, that to think
is to be locked inside the thing.6

Dorn's poem differs from Antin's talk in that it explicitly imagines a British as well as an American audience. (Indeed, one can even imagine someone like Eric Mottram as its audience, Dorn warning him to beware the poison.) It's harder to say that about Antin's talk; there we're far from being trapped by the "thing itself" and instead in search of the tools and practices by which we might be able to go on, to find focus or know it when we come haphazardly into a focus or practice. It's as if Dorn's poem imagines an argument still needs making which Antin assumes is already won. The space between these texts might serve crudely to define the distance recent experimental American poetries travelled over, say, fifteen years. To put it bluntly, by 1981 not many writers in the United States whose work you or I might value were at all concerned with something called "British poetry." And one unfortunate consequence of this-- aided by the weakness of our ability to articulate and construct international spaces and networks of distribution, aided by the inability of experimental poets in Britain to counter the tidal wave of Thacherism and what seemed sometimes to be a hide and wait-it-out strategy or in some cases just bitter retrenchment, aided by many other factors--was that even those poets in Britain who were themselves hardly at all interested in something called "British poetry" became less and less visible on American maps.

I think--or perhaps it's simply that I hope--that an American neglect of the full range of British poetries more or less licensed by the nature of the dominant constructions of British poetry in the United States is coming to an end now. The philosopher Albert Borgmann has argued recently that Americans, slowly recognizing that the United States' global position is changing, its centrality dinimishing, confront that recognition in two ways. For one response he offers the label "sullenness," an indolence and self-centeredness less boorish than passive. There a refusal to take on any responsibility, much less agency, rules. The second response he names hyperactive mobilization, which I read as the flip-side of sullenness--a frantic acceleration of exertion and dispersal of interest.7 I'm not altogether happy with these terms, but the point here is that both of these tendencies proceed from the recognition--in the first case a recognition suppressed and in the second one acted upon spastically, that we--Americans--have come into a different world and therefore must proceed differently, especially with regard to our own practices but also by understanding the situadedness of those practices within global environments. I might be that caricatured American optimist, and I will admit that there is not a whole lot of concrete evidence on my side, but I think nevertheless that the time is ripe for American culture to be a little more receptive once again to international engagements, to acknowledge a potentially more decentered world.

The problem for the arts, however, is that neither the mechanisms which would enable such engagements nor the discourse that would argue for them are in place. In admitting that even American experimental writers have been preoccupied with their own accomplishments and agendas, Charles Bernstein has written recently about the importance and also the difficulty of navigating "between the universalizing humanisms of internationalism and the parochialism of regionalism and nationalism."8 But this admission, like much postmodern discourse in general, is mostly prefatory or preparatory, heavy in its urgency and light in its propositions, merely reactive to spectres of globalization. We all know that the corporate world is making a version of Corn Flakes to be called Basmati Flakes in India. But naming or imagining some space between homogenization or cosmetic difference and difference merely for the sake of difference is another matter. To his credit, Bernstein has made a beginning. But one might still ask: Is there anything for poets beyond the tactics of dispersal and decontruction, interruption and situational resistance so prevalent among various so-called avant-gardes today? Utopians seem few and far between in poetry's little corners. We might at least begin to counter the justifiable impression that Borgmann has of avant-gardes marking out their "place in society through the exclusion or contempt of community," or Stanley Cavell's strangely happy assertion that "poets write only for one another and they know it."9

* * *

An interlude, if you will. So far I've been talking about American contexts while remembering that some of Mottram's most important work was his endless stuggle with British insularity. His interest in American Studies and American poetry had a rhetorical function within British contexts which I try not to forget. But I'll confess that I read the work in American Studies Eric Mottram did in books like Blood on the Nash Ambassador with a certain bewilderment accompanying my wide-eyed wonder at his encyclopedic paragraphs. When Mottram writes in "Dionysus in America," for instance, that "A new society, it is assumed, introduces a new morphology of culture. America's emancipation had, sooner or later, to take cultural as well as economic and political shape," and goes on to name as American a "release from limitation. . .both Dionysian and anarchic" I think, well, I'm too young to remember that. I must contend instead with my memories of televisual imagery of Reagan riding his horse into the sunset, with that nostalgia for rugged individualism which has served an economic rapaciousness for which the word Dionysian hardly seems accurate. I think-- this extraordinary optimism, these remarks of Mottram from 1975--they have everything to do with Britain, right? It's not that I think that what Mottram says about the United States or American poetry is somehow wrong. It's that I find myself reading the prose of Mottram to ponder the limits of that same America for Mottram as these indicate his tentative and ongoing groping towards a Britain dreamed of, and as they might potentially offer something of diagnostic use in countering that sullenness and hyperactivity now ours. After quoting a sentence from Aleister Crowley later in that same essay, Mottram writes that "This is 'the imperial self' which penetrates and wrecks American culture from the early nineteeth century to the present day." 10 It's the word "wrecks" I latch onto, for it's the wreck of I don't know what exactly from within I scribble these notes, as well as the vague intuition of postnational possibilities I am no better able to imagine than anyone else.

It's hard to know exactly what Mottram means by the word, except that he seemed fearful that those same anarchic and Dionysian energies he elsewhere admired had, as is well-known, anti-democratic possibilities. "It is eros we must choose beyond Dionysus," he wrote in that essay, rejecting Norman O. Brown's "Spenglerian version of change through the barbarian radical."11 That's really all there is of propositional content in an otherwise descriptive essay, that one sentence, and you won't build an intellectual empire or program upon it. It's partly because Mottram's prose energies are primarily scholarly and responsive that I'd like to imagine that an event such as this, today's conference, will do better, will be more in the spirit of the man as I imagine him without having met him, if it addresses what might be done for poetry and culture today rather than laying the foundations of some academic monument. As an Olsonian figure of outwardness, as an intellectual whose greatest virtues include his periodic insistence on the anti- programmatic, he'd insist on it wouldn't he? His poems I simply cannot read, their erudition striking me as gratuitous and exhibitionist in a way that a similar range of learning informing the work of, say, Pound, Hugh MacDiarmid, or Allen Fisher does not, their cadences burdened too often by a vaguely Olsonian language stiffly processed through the acoustic filters of academe. I would celebrate Mottram less for program or text than exactly for spirit--as magpie, collector, conduit-- and I know enough about him to admire his ability to keep texts and ideas in circulation, creating social spaces and points of intersection between the academy and the contemporary writer, between the United States and Britain. These are among his projects that must be continued and renewed.

* * *

Interlude over. I've not yet completely surrounded that question about whether or not the circumstances Mottram faced have changed. I'm not sure that outwardness in today's British contexts necassarily means what it meant for Mottram, but here I ask you. Oh, I know, I've read the New Generation and seen that for them American poetry is still Robert Lowell and Bob Dylan. I've heard the snotty snickering about how it's a "crime to rhyme" in the USA. I know about the national heritage walks, even the new one apparently being debated in the wake of the sad events which left "the high-heeled shoe upside down in the stirrip of the empty Versace saddle"--in the words of an English poet I won't name. I know about the efforts to recover British modernisms-- and even sympathize with some of them. But I'm forced to admit that the British-American interface may be less and less the paramount concern for you, and I'm interested in how other concerns equally relevant to outwardness are coming to sit beside it. I'm haunted lately by a bad movie called "The Innocent," which is I think a joint German and British production, and where a romance plot thinly disguises revisionist history. In this film the era of the Marshal Plan and the early Cold War constitutes something like coitus interruptus in the desired post-World War II marriage of West Germany and Britain. Ah, the sacrifices made for the boorish and inevitable Americans--to have to give up Isabella Rossellina! But the movie promises that all will be better now that the Wall has come down; the aged lovers from the two nations will stroll hand in hand with the competent but fragile American, Anthony Hopkins' character, dead and gone. And not long after I saw that movie I heard an Elvis Costello song which picks up a fragment of the German national anthem and ridicules it, a live version including some anti-german banter. There's not much of a middle ground between these two pop extremes, and while poets sit on the sidelines content with their gestures of refusal is it not the case that concerns specific to Britain in Europe may mean that confronting a history of British insularity and self-sufficiency no longer means as it did for Mottram first of all negotiating a space and a perspective vis-a-vis American writing, that this will be secondary to thinking about points of intersection and difference with European literatures and cultures in a new way? Whatever the answer to this question, in such matters (which I know ring of the obvious) American intellectuals will do well to avoid eager protests from the sidelines. But will European community mean European insularity and an American strawman?

* * *

These are huge questions, perhaps too big to be real, especially as uttered by a mere poetry critic such as myself, who writes about what used to be called the avant-garde. So let me conclude by asking some other ones, by pondering what it might mean today to say that "beyond Dionysus there is Eros," which is, as I hear it, a call for community. What might be done to counter that impression I mentioned as Borgmann's--this notion that an avant-garde now only exists as a retreat from the world. I know there's no one thing to be done, that our name is proliferation even as we back up against the wall of commodities and consumers, a tiny radical democracy of ecstatics going about our serious business, endlessly preparing to disclose our imaginary worlds and the processes that make them. One reads Jeremy Harding reviewing Conductors of Chaos in The London Review of Books delighted that Harding seems to take much of the poetry collected in that anthology seriously and seems knowledgeable about it. But one is left to ponder the review's most aggressive claim: "Their vanities, moreover are not those of an avant-garde; Sinclair's people have too much in the way of an admirable reticence and a less admirable vigilance which drives some to any lengths to avoid the sin of facility. More important, the forms of patronage that made avant- gardism a reliable means of insertion in a 'prevailing' discourse, and the political contexts in which this was possible, no longer exist."12 The rhetoric of the death of the avant-garde has a long history, as Paul Mann has shown in his excellent study The Theory-Death of the Avant-Garde, and as I read this I think, "Okay, then, you can have avant-gardism, whatever it means." I'll forego comment on Harding's notion that reticence is admirable, except to say that I share with Drew Milne and others the intuition that an embarrassment of manifestos and conventions of critical silence have hurt the British poetry I most admire--both at home and in the United States.13 Harding's other points I want to turn to questions. Is it true that, in Britain, poets must altogether admit their inability to contemplate and strategize a "means of insertion"--to use his language-- whereby prevailing discourses might be confronted? This is a stronger claim than suggesting that poets must give up on the revolutionary agendas of an historical avant-garde as they are most often understood--as by, for instance, Peter Bürger, who (narrowly) understands historical avant- gardism to have been interested in the total destruction of art as an institution. Surely those ambitions must be abandoned--in Bürger's case for a Brechtian radical transformation of the institution of art.14 But critique altogether? This is strong stuff. Secondly, is Harding right to suggest that it is a "less than admirable 'vigilance' that drives poets to 'resist the sin of facility" or, as I will call it here in a more familiar if also loaded language, "accessibility"?

The implication is that innovative poetries are socially ineffective because they are inaccessible. But accessibility, like difficulty, has always struck me as a red herring. Who could be wholly for or against one or the other? It is true, I think sometimes, that this or that poetry seems to be hermetic or difficult for the sake of sustaining a hothouse purity or a gesture of refusal, and that will leave me muttering Baudelaire's statement about the purpose of genius being to create stereotypes. More recently, thinking through the issue of community and solidarity in poetry, I've come to admire Robert Creeley's meditations on the American commonplace, in which he means to remind us that finding a common language is a dream we'd be hasty to abandon. By "common" Creeley means something more than the language ordinarily used by men and women, though that Wordsworthian focus on speech and literary forms continues to dominate most discourse on the subject. Creeley writes of getting to "a common place, a common world, a common person--a common, that which you can come to with some sense that it is trite, trivial, and hackneyed, you know? Not in any defense thereof, but that would probably make an absolutely terrific description of. . .oh, gosh, Hank Williams' best songs: that they are trite, trivial, and hackneyed. And it isn't that they are great in spite of that. Because of that, they are glorious, and absolutely elating, reassuring, and in all ways acceptable as great art."15 Now one doesn't set out to write like Hank Williams or Robert Creeley; one doesn't set out to be popular. But neither should one--as I think sometimes occurs--set out at all costs not to be popular, or accessible. It's the dream of finding the common that we've lost sight of perhaps; it hardly seems possible or even desirable, and to our great loss. While an executive for Coca-Cola claims that "in the last ten years teenagers in Great Britain or Germany or the United States, or some other place, had much in common" we sulk in an imaginary purity without a clue as to what might potentially unite us beyond a sense of having been victimized by the commodity and consumerism, or some old modernist romance about extending the possibilities of the language.16

Let me suspend a couple of possible objections to the foregoing by saying that I understand that it is very much a "common experience" in contemporary, "postmodern" Britain and America to be suspended among or kicked like a football between proliferating specialized or professionalized instrumental discourses, and secondly that one writer's imagining of a common language or engagement with the resources of the ordinary will differ from another's. The first of these experiences enters into the recent work of Allen Fisher and poems like Charles Bernstein's "Emotions of Normal People" so that the "common" is as it were put inside scare quotes as unobtainable or always already subject to administered purposes. I would argue that, even under erasure, it survives there, precisely as a dream or negative image. On the second count I would agree that there is not all that much shared by, say, Tom Raworth's quotidian humane and multimedia engagement with traditions of pop art and, say, the African-American poet Harryette Mullen's effort in her recent Muse & Drudge to wed a disjunctive syntactic and discursive order with the idioms of blues and R & B and rap. But if you line these two poets up beside much of today's poetry--and I don't only mean that musty stuff most of us hate but also some varieties of knee-jerk experimentalism-- the differences will be obvious. The point is, as always, to avoid working in a way that bespeaks "poetry" and, moreover, perhaps especially in Britain, the particular class values attached to it.

But it's not even so much an investment in so-called common idioms and forms that I should like to urge here as a means of engaging that perhaps mythical public sphere that Harding, Borgmann and others find poetry, especially avant-garde poetry, now altogether remote from. Creeley speaks of a common place, and it's the places and sites and institutions that poetry enters into or helps shape that I think we most need to rethink today, yet again, as we have before--as in, say, Eric Mottram's day. As an academic I'm naturally concerned about academic spaces, but I won't discuss those here, except to note my excitement about what I've heard about the new Performance Writing degree being experimented with at Dartington. Even more than considering the manner in which poetry is taught and processed in the academy we need to think about alternative sites, old and new performance spaces. How to make these truly open--dominated neither by elite cliques of hyper-sophisticates, like some art galleries, say, or "language poet" hang-outs, or by some sad human simulacrum dressed in a Kerouac jacket, as would be the case with some of the so-called "slam" scene in the United States. I don't know the answer to this, that's for sure, any more than I know how other sites--electronic sites and CD and multimedia productions--might be made to help crack the walls of poetry's niche audiences. But I do know, for one thing, that far too much of the critical discourse concerning poetry and poetics remains preoccupied with questions of technique or the ideological underpinnings and consequences of technique. If it's examples of new practices which might potentially engage a broader audience that you're looking for, I'm particularly taken lately by tales I've heard and by cris cheek's own accounts of events he's curated under the willfully and partly ironic pop culture title Night of the Living Tongues. At these events--there's been two to date, and they are indebted to earlier events curated by the remarkable British sculptor, performance artist and poet Brian Catling--cheek is interested in generating or stimulating cross artform perception. This is a traditional-enough avant- garde agenda to force the arts into contact with one another, in order to allow hybrid forms as well as new perceptions of the individual arts and their relations to emerge. One might find at such an event performance artists beside poets and musicians, experimental filmmakers and cyberartists-- cyberpoet John Cayley participated in an event in Cambridge. Now I don't know to what extent such a post-dada, post-Fluxus cabaret requires that patronage which Harding mentions as sadly lacking--though I've read cheek's poem "Stranger," where he writes sarcastically that "Everything is possible--now who's brought the money?"17 But I do know, as Eric Mottram also knew amid the enthusiasms of the sixties and early seventies, that extending poetry beyond the book into new performance spaces is of paramount importance. Because British experimental writing has sometimes had a weaker artificial economy to count on, less academic support and so on, it might be that it is in a position to help point the way towards these new social spaces. It might also be that poetry as we know it will be transformed there, or will lose some of its august eminence, though there will always be those free to extend more traditional practices to the real benefit of those who care about them. I'm genuinely fascinated to hear about trick cyclists in Cambridge wheeling between Brian Catling and film shorts, just as I was when I heard what happened when Allen Ginsberg got a real band on his CD The Lion for Real. If it's objected that such tactics cater to and demand and affect what is primarily a youth culture, I'll say that what I'm discussing here is just one among several ways poetry might begin to help create a common place--there are others-- and that anyway there's plenty of youth around, and they are that very means of insertion Harding names. That's why American conservatives work up such a fuss about supposed radicals in the universities, after all, and that's why what used to be the avant-garde had better think hard about ways to get inside existing or as-yet-unforeseen public venues where young people who hate poetry can find something that will make them want to bring their friends along next time.


1 Andreas Huyssen, "Mapping the Postmodern," in After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Indiana UP, 1986), 190.

2 John Cage, A Year From Monday: New Lectures and Writings (Wesleyan UP, 1967).

3 David Antin, "what it means to be avant-garde," in what it means to be avant-garde (New Directions, 1993, 45.

4 Edward Dorn, The Collected Poems 1956-1974 (Four Seasons, 1975), 215-216.

5 Ibid., 214.

6 Ibid., 213-214.

7 Albert Borgmann, Crossing the Postmodern Divide (Chicago, 1992), 2-19.

8 Charles Bernstein, "Poetics of the Americas," Modernism/Modernity 3.3 (September 1996), 2- 3. After noting that he "feels closer to the concerns of some small-press magazines in the U.K., Canada, New Zealand, and Australia than to most poetry magazines in the U. S.," Bernstein goes on to argue that "The national focus of 'American poetry' tends to encamp poets who would do better to share work and readership; similarly, it tends to limit arbitrarily the horizon of much criticism of poetry. At the same time, 'internationalism,' like its Anglo-phonic cousin the 'trans-atlantic,' has provided models of connoisseurship that have removed poems from the local contexts that give them meaning while at the same time developing a canon of works that undervalues the untranslatable particularities not only of given poems but also of the selection of poets."

9 Borgmann, 137. Cavell's remarks are from an interview, where he says that "For poets, a community exists. They write for one another and they know it." See "An Apology for Skepticism," in The American Philosopher (Chicago, 1994), 127-128. A "poet" is here contrasted with "somebody. . .who can make a living at writing." Cavell seems to speak as if envying the "poet's" lot.

10 Eric Mottram, Blood on the Nash Ambassador: Investigations in American Culture (Hutchinson Radius, 1989), 181.

11 Ibid., 218.

12 Jeremy Harding, "Elective Outsiders," London Review of Books 19.13 (3 July 1997), 12.

13 See Drew Milne, "Agoraphobia and the embarrassment of manifestos: notes toward a community of risk," Parataxis 3 (1993).

14 Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, trans. Michael Shaw (Minnesota, 1984).

15 Robert Creeley, "Some Senses of the Commonplace," in Tom Clark, Robert Creeley and the Genius of the American Common Place (New Directions, 1993), 98.

16 See Ira Herbert, "The Coca-Cola Company," in Richard Ohmann, Making & Selling Culture (Wesleyan, 1996), 15.

17 cris cheek, "Stranger," in Iain Sinclair, ed., Conductors of Chaos: A Poetry Anthology (Picador, 1996), 35. you know, all the sexy stuff about the limits of definition and category, the dangers of rhetorics of national identity and their engines of reduction and exclusion, the ongoing need to challenge the status as well as the boundaries of the "literary." While poetics in the USA still sentences sentences too often in a language somewhat remote from the play of possibilities in poetry itself, the heavy academic capital still invests in identity. I've got nothing to say against either critical pursuit per se but unlike many of you here, I never met or knew Eric Mottram, and thus have nothing to say about him or his work beyond what I might relay about my response to several of his published writings and what i know from others of his activities in Britain and the United States. But certainly I hope that it is in the spirit of Mottram and his work to say that, in meeting his associates and engaging the writings one of the most valuable experiences for me has been in finding a range of opinion and interest poised squarely against both insularity and snobbery.

Impressed but befuddled by e on americaWhen i began thinking of what I'd say today, I floated the title "What Mottram Means to Me," which would have been to allude to an essay by T. S. Eliot on Dante. I've been smuggling in a little discourse about myself already, you've noted, and wanted license for that.

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