always hated manifestos.' This is the opening sentence of Rupert Loydell's
foreword to his daring new project. For those unfamiliar with this book, I
shall summarise in brief; Rupert Loydell has commissioned 42 poets to
contribute to a collaborative collection that initially had the working title
Manifesto!. The guidelines he set forward are as follows:
I am looking
for poetry, poetics and poetical manifestos,
in the form
of poetry or [poetic?] texts rather than critical
essays, but also hope for work which will blur the
am looking for a diversity of opinion, attitude,
and styles: the aim is to aid and start discussion,
not to offer
a single argument or position.
What is most fascinating and telling about Loydell's foreword, is that he
lets us know that the title of the project changed between commission and
publication, from 'Manifesto!' to Manifestos and Unmanifestos, like
an experiment rewriting its own hypothesis. I shall briefly offer my insight
into why this change in title (and subsequent reframing of the entire
The OED defines 'manifesto' as 'a public declaration of policy and aims by a
political party or any other group'. Applying this framework and reversing
the polarity, one could perhaps define an 'unmanifesto' as 'a private
confession of aimlessness and lack of policy by a single person.' As the
commissions came rolling in, I imagine that Loydell realised that Troubles
Swapped For Something Fresh is a collection comprising both of these things.
We have a spectrum here between the reassuring, imperative candour of writers
such as Lael Ewy in 'Towards a Manifesto for a New Poetry':
refuse to be
reduced to an 'ism'... be handwritten
and the vulnerable lack of conviction of Nick Piombino in 'Second Silent
know. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.
know I don't know. I don't know where to begin.
In this eclecticism lies the greatest success of Troubles in
achieving Loydell's mission statement of 'a diversity of opinion'. The poets'
approaches range from wry to weird, from lucid to indecipherable, from
pragmatic to impractical. In this sense I truly admire the freedom Loydell
has offered his writers as an editor, as it has delivered an ingeniously
oblique handbook for judging the worth of a poem.
When reading this collection I found myself naturally gravitating towards
what should be classed as the 'manifestos' rather than the 'unmanifestos'
although the editor himself makes no distinction between these two and the
lines remain blurred throughout. I am reminded of Kipling's notion in
'Crabbed Age and Youth' that 'it is better to emit a scream in the shape of
a theory than to be entirely insensible to the jars and incongruities of life'
I would rather disagree with a proposition than have to sit and rethink
what a proposition even is. In this regard, there were more than enough
valiant propositions in Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh to keep
My favourite of these more manifesting manifestos is Guy Russell's 'Manifesto
of the Self-Publicists', a work of Swiftian genius that re-shapes the
manifesto as a business proposal:
our target audience as 25-60, left-leaning,
of irony, probably employed in the education
connected with the 'literary world' in some
research detects resistance of target group to
alla): deaths of pets; adolescent bedrooms; amusing
grandchildren; shards; sunsets
Another highlight for me is Paul Sutton's 'Strategies'. In this
'prose-poem-manifesto' (to be referred to as prose-pesto from
here on in) Sutton writes scathingly of himself in the third person as he
compiles a bleak, satirical strategy-guide to circumnavigate the poetic
career has been carefully fabricated, assisted
by a blizzard
of cronies. His most famous poem is a
unacknowledging raid on Kipling's 'Without
The entry that I find myself
returning to most frequently however, is Luke Kennard's 'A Manifesto Towards
Repeating the Mistakes of the Past'. It is worth the price of Troubles
Swapped for Something Fresh for this wittily didactic swipe at poetasters on
1. Nobody is
FORCING you to use epigraphs.
1.1 'Nobody is forcing
you to use epigraphs'
Ð Luke Kennard, 'A Manifesto Towards
Repeating the Mistakes of the Past'
2. For every
event you read at, try to go to two
events where you're not on the billing. If you find
the ration weighted towards the former, ask yourself:
Am I actually interested in poetry? Or do I just like
people clapping after my name?
an Excel spreadsheet that gauges your
sense of self-importance over a three year
time period. You will know where to set the
parameters. Should it exceed them turn to
stand-up comedy for immediate defusing.
Whilst such stand-out moments are highly enjoyable, the collection is at its
best when one poetics jars with another to produce that starting-point for
discussion that Loydell set out to achieve. In 'Automatic Manifesto 5', one
of eight separate contributions to this book by the psychotherapist-poet,
Nick Piombino, the poet postulates that 'the cult of the new makes an idol
out of strangeness'. Some forty pages later however, we have Loydell himself
proclaiming 'a poem's not for people / who don't like subtitles or
What I enjoy so much about this jarring of viewpoints is that I agree with
both sides. I do believe that poets will often use eccentricity as a vacuous
defence mechanism, yet at the same time believing that poetry should not be
written for those who are afraid of the strange. It is in this forum for
dialogue between the poetics that the book contains its true value.
I hope that this book will be cemented as a standard for Creative Writing
courses and poetry workshops for some time to come. We have here the breadth,
ambition and uniqueness of Jonathan Safran Foer's astounding literary
project, A Convergence of Birds (Penguin, 2001) and the sagely insider-perspective
of Bloodaxe's modern-poetry Bible, Strong Words (2000).
If, like myself, you spend a great deal of your time and income on reading
and writing about poetry then you need to buy this book for a
rare and undiluted glimpse at the algorithms of some brilliant minds.
© Phil Brown 2010