My copy of The White Review (No.4) arrived today. This literary and arts quarterly is a handsome and hefty 17 x 24cm softcover, wrapped in a thick paper poster which has been cunningly folded to present the title, barcode etc alongside Jackson Pollock-like abstract artwork by Landon Metz. And then the whole thing is shrink-wrapped. Inside, the contents pages are inserted loose and in a smaller format. There’s also a pull-out poster by Gabrielle Beveridge. The marbled paper is bespoke, and let me also mention the typesetting – in ‘Joyous (Blanche)’ – which is precise, elegant and authoritative.
The whole thing is quite sumptuous, and harks back to the golden age of the literary review. As a physical object, The White Review is finely engineered nostalgia. In the best possible way. I am enjoying the sensation of holding it. I am wondering where the money comes from to make such a thing.
The contents is anything but nostalgic. It’s contemporary, relevant, and with a hint of the subversive that aligns its editorial vision with the denizens of protest camps and with those who would stand up against corporate greed, defunct governments and all that late capitalist jazz. This, from the Editorial:
We must not allow ourselves the indulgence of timidity, we must shake off any listlessness, and we must refuse to be austere. Instead we must make, write, argue, dream, paint and act in the faith that creativity is commensurate with progress, and that we are responsible for our own futures. The future is there to be forged.
If you are interested in poetry, you should buy this issue if only for the essay by Orlando Reade (great name), ‘Notes on an Unfamiliar Poetry’, which explores Richard Parker’s Crater Press, and two of its publications: The Stats on Infinity by Keston Sutherland and For the Administration (After Rimbaud) by Sean Bonney. It’s dense but very readable and says some enlightening things about individual poems, techniques and ideas. Which is refreshing. Some of the criticism coming out of the poetic avant-garde says nothing at all, but is wrapped up in its own jargon, paranoia and self-regard.
Crater is a letterpress operation, each book painstakingly handcrafted. I share Reade’s question about the ’boutique’ production of politically radical literature. He asks: ‘how does the boutique form of these pamphlets not undermine their political thinking?’ His answer, via Parker, that each book, with its ‘fresh errors’ and ‘human mistakes’, becomes a ‘performance of a rare authenticity’ I find insufficient. Claims to authenticity are always suspect in my mind. Of course, if radical poetics aspires to a critique of capitalism, then one can understand why releasing hand-made pamphlets in small print-runs to a limited circle of readers is favourable.
But is it not also plausible that this tendency towards the hand-bound and letterpressed, the limited run, the poorly publicised, and the widely unavailable, is really just the result of a lack in demand that has become institutionalised and fetishised as a political position within the small world of avant-garde poetry? I’ve not received many press releases from avant-garde poetry publishers. There seems to be only limited and sporadic ambition for significant sales or exposure. I suspect some believe this would risk bringing the “authentic” into the compromised sphere of the “mainstream”. Perhaps, for better or worse, this is what happened at Salt, a press which introduced me to dozens of important avant-garde poets (including Bonney) but which has now moved in a different direction.
It reminds me of something David Henningham said in a review of a limited edition book:
It is the ‘limited edition’ status that I have reservations about. ‘Limited’ may be stretching it. At 1000 copies I suspect the publishers may have put the bar down just this side of demand.
A good publisher (and I’m not claiming I am one!) creates demand by taking risks – and also, by getting their hands dirty with the business of selling.
Anyway, I digress. There is also a short poem of mine in here. It’s called ‘Everyman’ and was written in response to the English Defence League’s ‘static march‘ in the City of London last year (they wanted to march into the East End … memories of blackshirts in the 30s…) but were kettled, so to speak, just inside the City at Aldgate.