Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Dark Horse

Friday eve was the London celebration of the 20th anniversary of Gerry Cambridge’s The Dark Horse magazine. There was a party in Scotland before, there’ll be another in New York later. Music from John Lucas et al; Gerry himself on harmonica. The first issue was put together not just without funding but without a roof and four walls: the first slide in a brief introduction showed the caravan in which everything began. To have kept this thing going for twenty years – 21-gun salute, at least (or whatever’s the equivalent for those who prefer harmonicas to guns).

The second half of the readings was especially wonderful. (And as you know, I’m not generally an enjoyer of readings.) Kei Miller: simply, he’s the man. (Brecht: ‘Unhappy is the land that needs heroes’; but we’re not there yet, we’re still unhappy, and I’d follow this man.) A highlight of Clare Pollard’s reading was a long, angry, funny, heartfelt rant (but it was more than that) on, let’s say, the commodification (ugly word, but then it’s an ugly thing) of pregnancy and motherhood, not least the language it comes wrapped in: patronising, pseudo-scientific, health-&-safety prioritised, trust-in-‘experts’, product-selling, profit-seeking …

Somewhere there surely already exists – and if not, someone please write – a long, angry, funny, heartfelt rant (but more than that) on the commodification of ‘the writer’. It might best be written by an emerging writer (not yet an established writer). Someone who’s maybe had work published in a few magazines (but are they the right ones?) and thinks they should perhaps be aiming to having a pamphlet out but they’re uneasy about doing any ‘gigs’ because they haven’t done the performance skills course yet. Etc. The author photo; the festival appearances; the well-meaning articles on how to self-publicise; the contacts. So much anxiety; so much help and support on offer; and the two run around in a circle.

No point, really, in arguing with this, because it’s here to stay. But worth remembering that fine babies have for millennia been born to mothers who have done a lot worse than miss a few NCT classes; and fine poems and novels have been written, and still are, by people who haven’t had to pay for a single course for the privilege of writing them.

Also this: neither writer nor mother (I’m not going to push this analogy any further: mother wins, no question), though both part of the ‘economy’, are paid for what they do. Only J.K. Rowling and a handful of others (count them on one hand, two?) actually make a living from their writing. A century ago a writer could live off selling a couple of stories a year to Strand magazine. Now, the more the commodification of the ‘the writer’, the more she or he is reliant for income on work peripheral to actual writing: readings, festivals, hack-work journalism, and above all teaching (usually on CW courses), all of which contribute to to the aforesaid six-syllable word. Someone has flicked a switch while I wasn’t watching.


Anonymous said...

Yes, Charles, it would have been nice if Ursula le Guin, for example, had delivered a more substantive critique. I've just put your request to a friend who recently had his novel published.


charles said...

Still, a great speech from Ursula le Guin: here's the link:

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear Charles

I am proud to say that I have never attended a single poetry course or workshop and I don't intend to. I read recently that the three top selling poets are Pam Ayres, Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage. I don't think that Pam Ayres has attended too many workshops either. Good luck, by the way, with all your entrants in the forthcoming Forward Prizes.

Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish

Anonymous said...

Charles, I think this is also really good..gets to the heart of it:

(no. 99)