The Function of Criticism

I have spent the afternoon reading the beginning of Yvor Winters ‘The Function of Criticism’ which I acquired about 30 years ago.

I also read a couple of interesting articles online.

The first by the poet David Yezzi is interesting and makes a case for his continuing relevance. The second is a wider career over-view from the now defunct Contemporary Poetry Review.

I also mused upon the slow demise of the ‘Poet-Critic’ a sad reflection of the sorry state of contemporary poetry where popularity and social media profiles count for more than intellectual rigor. Even with Larkin, Heaney and Hughes there were solid publications of other writing. Can one imagine a serious book of Simon Armitage or Helen Mort criticism ..no because it too dangerous an occupation in the ‘blow-back’ noughties where any -expression of opinion is frowned upon. Books are reviewed but mostly to further mediocre careerist blogs but serious criticism that gone the way of decent classical music radio i.e. popularised out of existence.

So reading the opinionated Winters is refreshing. He was wrong as much as right but at least he expressed an opinion.

https://newcriterion.com/issues/1997/6/the-seriousness-of-yvor-winters

https://www.cprw.com/the-absolutist-the-poetry-and-criticism-of-yvor-winters

Talking of opinionated tody I also picked up this Further Requirements book by Larkin to add to Required Writing which again I had for over thirty years. I wonder how long before Larkin is ‘Decolonized’ from the local university stacks which considering his lifetime devotion to maintaining library collections is beyond sad.

Looking Like A Poet

The agency have been at work again

He just didn’t look like a poet so they set to work

Told him to lose a few pounds and get a new stylist

The shabby chic look to match his fake poverty lyrics

Helped sell the gig and books in the provinces

Bolstered the teenage girl clickbait on tiktok

It was so much easier to sell the image than the contents

After all style over content the norm so no matter

His youtube and whatsapp ratings were off the scale after the revamp

His poetry books flew of the amazon print on demand presses

Soon even the arts council wanted a piece of the action

After all WWCB had just come onto their radar

Meanwhile his poems started to falter

The early promise based on genuine family history

Gave way to more and more internet copped falsities

His heroes had blundered on through addiction and blank pages

Now he was dropping more pills to keep the words coming

His apps were full of half-finished ideas and poems with no ending

Then one day it all ended

In a fast food stop on a motorway

He caught his reflection in a window

His eyes hollow, his hair teased by a stylist

Into the Victorian waif look

Another Delivery driver just like his father.

Another acronym to play with WWCBWP


White Working Class Boy Without Poetry

Addenda after Auden

A NEW YEAR GREETING

****
(poem here)

Addenda: What I am not.

Shaun Belcher is the author of one out of print slim volume that disappeared into the virtual ether before it was printed via lightning strikes/amazon so qualifies as a work of fiction.
He did not edit any anthology of obscure, unacknowledged legislators nor did he win any prizes, nor should we be specific did he enter any competitions.
He has held no official tenures as a creative writer at any top end nor third rate provincial university and has never reviewed other poets he dislikes for the simple reason of building a profile to get published.
He has never been recommended by friends in the poetry world as he has none and has studiously avoided anything to do with poets or poetry for over two decades.
He is member of no group who look after his publishing and reading interests when his work over time slides into fabulous irrelevancy or simply becomes so bad it an embarrassment.
He has no agenda nor minority axe to grind and has never played on his working class beginnings for pity or favour.
He regards his lifelong devotion to obscurity and keeping some semblance of sanity in a world over-run with poets like a corpse covered in flies that he should not add to other’s suffering by maintaining a steady output of academic poetry which simply done to fulfil research departmental targets.
His earnings from poetry over 40 years accrues to £70 he once got paid for being given a slot at Ledbury Festival by a friend and a commission again via a friend for £500 which works out to roughly £14.25 per annum which a living wage in the poetry world these days.

He is however still a poet if being a poet is none of the above.

He is still alive at time of writing and doesn’t expect things to change radically.

It all depends on a red wheelbarrow apparently and he does not have one.

Happy New Year.

New Poems: Knowing my place

Doff your cap,
Toe the line,
Do a good job,
Know your place,
Speak when spoken to,
Don’t talk back, keep mum,
Be reliable
Hold your knife properly,
Don’t leave the table until told to,
Watch your step,
March in time,
Defer to your betters,
Salute the flag,
Be punctual,
Do a good job,
Never argue,
Be polite,
Bow,
Scrape,

Be invisible.

If you do not do as you are told you have…

A chip on your shoulder,
Are bitter,
Difficult
A maverick
A born troublemaker
An outsider
A thief

Or worse
Political

Working Class

A writer

2010 – White Van Town – Didcot Council Estate
Each van a different worker living on this road it a Sunday.. the Thatcherite Dream made reality.


New Poems: The Moon Turned Dark

Moon Turned Dark

June 1783 a balloon of hot air made of paper is launched
then a test of silk and hydrogen that travels 15 miles before crashing
into the minds of two peasants who attack the monster
despite the authorities appeal not to be scared of these globes
‘which resemble the moon turned dark’

Next a sheep, a cockerel, a duck are swung into orbit like Laika
Tethered to another hydrogen sphere to test the air at altitude
They survive crashing back to earth and are examined by Pilatre de Rozier
Who in October 1783 becomes the first man to leave the earth
The blue and gold balloon rising in a shower of burning straw

The 7th January 1785 and Blanchard and Jefferies attempt the first sea crossing
leaving Dover they head for Calais rising and falling dangerously
all weighty objects jettisoned they finally threw their clothes into the sea
and make landfall at Blanc-Nez where Blanchard throws letters into the wind
the final weight they let go are bladders containing their own urine

13th June 1784 and Pilatre attempts a sea crossing in the opposite direction
twenty-seven minutes later it is seen drifting back over land
the two aeronauts observed frantically trying to keep the vessel aloft
The hydrogen ignites sending the two men to their deaths
Pilatre leaves behind the first matches, gas masks and a museum of science

The means to start fires, protect and survive and a mausoleum of ideas.

13th June 2021 fires burn bright in the woods near Calais at night
Sea crossings are planned and wind and sea watched for calmer nights
Eyes turn upwards at the leviathans in the channel the monsters in the air
Some cross easily others fall to earth or drift on currents back to land
The best nights are those when the moon turns dark and the fires are out

We test the limits of our survival from Paris to Mars, seek safe harbour
But the straw burning under our feet both lifts us and destroys our world.
Under the blue and gold backdrop of the live television pictures two men
Dump what they can into the sea, pray that the fires will keep them afloat
But can see the moon turned dark, the sea turned black, the world on fire.

A sheep, a cockerel, a duck
Float on across the burnt forests, the flooded fields, drowning in hot air.


New Poems: Loops

Loops

Sparkling green walls covered in frosted webs
A thousand hedges grid-locked our estate at dawn
October school-runs on foot, lawns damp with dew
We’d strip privet sticks and collect them in loops

One web on top of another until a sticky shivering
Vibrated in our hands, dew running down stalk to palm.
We knew nothing then, spun our own stories as we traipsed
Slowly toward a school playground fuzzy with chalk

Circles on walls, boards, exercise books and balls
Punctured and hiding below those spun nets
The exhaled breaths of football careers not yet dead
We curved balls endlessly at bare walls

They came back every time,thuds ricocheting
Against the garage walls our only release
Drum n Bass lives before we knew the words
Stamping out glam rock tunes in our heads

Now the lawns and hedges torn up turned to gravel
Commuter belt rentals cars packed in like terraces
Nothing breathing just dead ground that floods easily
The earth covered and the dreams we had floating away

Over the hedges, nets, lawns like vapour trails
Heading west to unknown futures no longer there.


A new boy in my old bedroom repeats an overhead kick
On a digital platform.
Dreams of escape as a ball lands in a net.
Cannot hear the milk train on the loop.

Ignores far sirens and sticky hands cradling the dead.

The Loop:

The London – Oxford railway line bypasses my hometown of Didcot on a single track known as ‘The Loop’ to thirteen year old trainspotters…

My Back Pages: Thunder Circling

THUNDER CIRCLING

He needed to talk to someone.
It happened to be us.
His rolled tobacco slipped from his fingers
as he went over events fifty years before.
The harbour, Singapore, thunder circling
and lightning flashing across the sea.
A merchant navy man,
sitting on deck with his mates,
watching a free show.
’lf they’s could only ’arness that energy’.

The same bar two hours later.
Someone else who wanted to talk
but blocked by E’s, drunk,
it came in staccato bursts, the sense,
mouthed through a vocabulary
borrowed from rap, rave and T.V.
Eighteen, jobless, staring through glass
at a wet car park, he rocks gently
like a ship stuck in harbour.

Outside, flashing lights, sirens.

1993

My Back Pages: Hawker Siddley Argosy

HAWKER SIDDLEY ARGOSY

Improbable squares, steel-framed frogs
hopping from aerodrome to aerodrome
through an emulsion sky, wool clouds.
You could hear them from miles away
before they’d flash over the barn
and into my wide open six-year old eyes.

Other times they dissolved through
the outhouse plastic corrugated roof
into distorted birds that rattled
like boxes as they headed south
travelling so low and slow
as if weighted down by air.

Sometimes two would appear together
flickering through the tall roses
as I clung to the wooden fence
head hung back, off balance.
l tried to read the letters and numbers
painted on the dull grey fuselage.

I imagined them picking up our house.
Slotting the wooden walls, corrugated
plastic, roof slates and felt, windows,
my mother washing clothes in clouds of steam,
even our spaniel and me
and spinning us all into whiteness.

From Landmine: Poems 1992-1996

Read more here: LANDMINE

My first six years I lived in a wooden clapboard house on top of a hill near Wittenham Clumps. We were under the flight-path of Benson aerodrome which is why these aircraft had a profound affect on me.

My Back Pages: Diving for Change

GB. England. New Brighton. From ‘The Last Resort’. 1983-85. Martin Parr

DIVING FOR CHANGE

Below and to my right from this window a Volvo lorry crunches gear
shredded leaf, dust and gravel trickles from bumper and wheel-arch.
The digging of the new pool has been going on now for two weeks.
Yellow digger-buckets mouth the park’s soil and turf into lorries
that rumble off, indicators flashing, down dusty A-roads
to tip their loads as land-fill or as embankment on the new trunk road.

I used to swim badly across the old pool that’s been demolished
splashing a clumsy trail from three to six-foot but no further.
Now a JCB arm is swinging deeper than the best then could dive
clanking engines and carbon fumes replacing yells and splutters.
Pale teenagers, we swarmed round a tin and hardboard kiosk
where we’d buy ice-cream speared with flakes every summer.

Now sub-contractors, mis-managers and bankrupts delay completion.
Keep us waiting for a false vision of the sea in middle England.
Meanwhile every other council-painted door has a fresh veneer
and satellite-dishes mark the newly affluent from the newly poor.
Communal flats have been knocked down, replaced by home ownership
whilst the council chambers echoed to ’private sector linkage’.

Down the road kids clutch change that grows sweaty and sticky
as the division between white and blue collars frays at the edges.
The water is milky like a disinfectant bath, ice-cream melting.
Every Friday my school class fizzed in that copper sulphate pool.
Some from that class dived into the eighties, came out with coins
but others still stumble round the wire slaked in mud and urine.

From Landmine Poems 1992-1996

This is an old poem that was never published it was too political, too edgy, too working class in the early 1990’s. To fit into a poetry world dominated by the white middle-class in those days took a certain amount of camouflaging.. some blended in well like Armitage always cloaking their politics ( after all he was a probation officer when I met him hardly a radical occupation).

I resigned myself to being an outlier in poetry then and frankly little changed…This poem was about the slow spread of corruption that started with the council house sell-off…..land-owning became a badge of the new right. It mattered not that many got left behind or that the environment was trashed as long as the showers of gold trickled down to.. well the gutter.

I stole Mr Parr’s photo he will not mind he owes me one for a favour I did later and it the perfect image of a country on brink of selling its soul.

We all went diving for change in broken fountains….

My Back Pages: Arteries

Arteries

“Never knew what hit them ,
the impact must have been tremendous
to have left that much blood on the road,
looked like it had exploded”.

My father talking about the accident.
One side of the car had caved right in
and there was a bloodstain twenty yards long
across both sides of the road.

“What was left of the deer was laid on the grass
like a sack of bones”.

Ten days later.

In the same kitchen he is gingerly fingering
row upon row of tiny pink pills.

“Everybody’s on them these days”
My mother says, trying to lighten the road ahead.

But we could all see what he could see.

Moving through the trees.

His mother heart failure 65.
His mother’s father heart attack 65.

Right now I prefer not to look too far ahead.
But I can feel movement deep in the forest of arteries and veins.
Something unseen and unexpected pushing out..

Toward the lights.

Addendum: This poem was written in 1991 my father remained in good health until 2002 when at the age of 70 he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer and died in 2004.

Another poem from my back pages.
From an overall collection called

Diesel on Gravel 1991

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