APATHY FULL STOP


Apathy for the Devil, Nick Kent (12.99, Faber)
London Calling, Barry Miles (25, Atlantic)
Identity Parade, ed. Roddy Lumsden (12, Bloodaxe)


Well, the weather doesn't help, does it? Nor the strikes, election or anything else. And, to be honest, neither do these books. Trouble is I can't be bothered to really take issue with them: they don't make me angry, they're just not very interesting.

Nick Kent seems to want it both ways: sex & drugs & rock'n'roll, but whilst recalling that to step back into 21st Century domesticity and a chin-stroking serious consideration of his dodgy past. If you think ripped jeans, long hair, leather jackets and a heroin addiction are rebellious, then you'll like Kent's attempt to immortalise himself in rock history. For me, this disappointing, opinionated, and often factually inaccurate, book provides ample evidence for 1. abstinence and 2. the young oiks who swept Kent and crew out of the NME offices on the back of punk.


Barry Miles offers 'A Countercultural History of London since 1945' though what I think he means is a history of countercultural London, since there's nothing countercultural about how or what he writes. Like Kent's book, there are plenty of inaccuracies (Ultravox was formed by Midge Ure after the success of Visage was it? I don't think so!) and self-mythologising, along with plenty of bitching and tetchy asides. Miles has a tendency to sweep aside anything he doesn't like, so various bands, musical movements, even decades, simply get an authorial dismissal without any consideration or argument. In the end it, too, simply makes for boring reading, especially as most of the topics have been written about so much better elsewhere. Truth be told, it's clear from this kind of writing why the counterculture fell apart and failed in its ambition to change the world: it was full of people who couldn't string a sentence together or bother to verify facts.


It's probably unfair and disengenuous of me to put Identity Parade in this review. I'm slightly thrown, truth be told, as I had a good time at one of the London launch events for this anthology last week, but also by the fact the reviewer I sent this copy to has returned it, feeling unable to articulate her anger at the volume. Shame, as a bit of bile and negativity would probably make for better reading than my feeble moaning today.

What to say? This book isn't, as it claims, 'the first anthology to comprehensively represent the generation of poets who have emerged since the mid-1990s.' It's got a damn good spread of poets, a great cover and - it goes without saying, as it's a Bloodaxe book - a fantastic press and launch campaign. But even when it includes some slightly unexpected authors it manages to select middle-of-the-road poems by them. To be honest, it's pretty dull, and really isn't
plural or various: there are simply no poets here working very far away from the lyrical or post-lyrical mainstream, even if at one time they did. They're good at what they do, but there's so much more being done elsewhere.

But I guess it suits the grey today.




A month later I'm still musing. I've sent this review to a couple of friends who are agreed that Identity Parade is dull, but no-one seems to quite be able to work out why, and no-one, least of all me, wants to start a spat with Neil Astley or Roddy Lumsden.

I mean, when the book arrived I was chuffed to see several authors I published books for when Stride was publishing, along with other people I know and whose work I like. But it seems that anything irregular or exciting has been flattened out here into some kind of post-lyrical earnestness. It was clear at the launch reading too: we were in the land of glassy-eyed reverence and polite clapping from an audience in formal rows, as poet after poet introduced themselves and read poem after indistinguishable poem. Not one of them
performed or shouted, or surprised us. It's as though the last 40 years hadn't happened...

Perhaps it's to do with some kind of Britishness. I say that because Bob Hicok's new book,
Words for Empty and Words for Full (University of Pittsburgh), just arrived. In many ways it works in a similar territotory to some of the poets in Identity Parade, but across the water young Americans seem to have drawn on the work of all kinds of schools of poetry, from the Beats to the Language poets, and made it their own. Hicok offers exciting, tangental and disengenuous narratives, readable poems that aren't afraid to be funny, smartarse or opinionated, political even. They're not, however, polemical, there's a playfulness at work here, even when syntax is being fractured, when sense is being questioned. Other American authors such as Dean Young seem to me to be doing similar things in their work, and it's this kind of thing that seems to be missing from the new Bloodaxe anthology, even when I know authors such as Tim Cumming, Luke Kennard and David Briggs sometimes work in this way.

In
Identity Parade, however, it's pretty much impossible to choose between the authors, the quirks and individuality were either not there in the first place, or have been edited out. I'm genuinely amazed how dull the poetry world some people inhabit is...


    Rupert Loydell 2010