APATHY FULL STOP
Apathy for the Devil, Nick Kent
London Calling, Barry Miles
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
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