I’ve got myself into the dark far reaches of the loft now. The place where the flickering of the strip-light doesn’t quite reach. It’s full of dust and that particularly black Cardiff soot that sticks to your hands, fills your hair and gets inside the collar of your shirt. This soot is an echo of the city’s industrial past, from the days when down the road they made steel and shifted coal and the air was dark with rolling smoke. We might be clean post-industrial now but in Cardiff’s aged lofts what was still exists.
The box I open dates from the early 1970s. It’s got an ancient Cyngor Llyfrau address label on the outside with my Maplewood Court address hand written on it. Originally used, I guess, by the Books Council to return unsold Second Aeon Publications from the shelves of their Aberystwyth distribution centre. William Wantling. Typewriter Poems. Bob Cobbing. Found poetry. T L Kryss. J P Ward’s concrete verse. The Second Aeon Travelling Circus’s rambling mash. Twentieth century avant garde poetry never really went down that well in Ceredigion and Gwynedd. Europe never was Welsh.
The journal I edited between 1966 and 1974 was called second aeon. Its name permanently, as the Bauhaus suggested, in lower case. In those pre-internet days there was a great information gap. The world might have been full of poetry but finding it was a task. Second aeon took upon itself the job is filling the gap. Its large Small Press Scene, run at the end of each issue, tried to detail what was going on. Magazine name, address and some information about the kind of material it contained.
Back at Maplewood Court, my flat which doubled as an editorial office, I was deluged with booklets, books, journals, broadsheets and poetry newspapers. At first from the UK and then as the name second aeon became better know, from the wider world. Material flooded in. Big fat yellow envelopes form America. Bright packages form Europe. Shabby bags from India. Stuff from South Africa, Japan, Hong Kong, South America. Argentina, in particular, seemed to be in publishing overtime.
And it’s all still here, part of it, that ancient echo. It’s in the box, aged, bent, foxed, dust marked, staples rusted, but still hanging on in all its edge-pushing, counter culture glory. Atlantis magazine out of America’s Midwest, full of the Upanishads, Khalil Gibran-recycled, articles on reincarnation, Open Letters to Man – I am a Woman, and poetry from mystic Christians. Peter Cash’s Gong from Nottingham with poetry by Jon Silkin, Owen Davis, Michael Lenihan, William Oxley and an editorial that promotes Joni Mitchell as the goddess she once was. The Occasional Parish Butterfly, from Cardiff, a cyclostyled, set by typewriter multi-coloured thing which managed to omit the names of most of its poets. An Andrei Voznesenski poem lifted for the back cover. “There is no editor, bias, affiliation and no immediate policy” it says inside. Ah the freedom of that vanished age.
I open a large yellow envelop which has the words CONCRETE KONGLOMERATI 5 LB.NET in red on its outside. This is from Gulfport, Florida and contains a magazine, some stickers and a set of booklets. The poets are Gerard Malanga, Richard Kostelanetz, Clark Coolidge and others. They all flash their pre-LANGUAGE visual muscles. Many once worked this way. Now, mostly, they don’t.
Deeper in are editions of Lawrence Upton’s Good Elf, R&B Monthly, Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds, the super-hippie Oz, Arthur Winfield Knight’s beat generation reviver The Unspeakable Visions of the Individual (this issue devoted to Herbert Huncke), Alex Hand and Alan Turner’s Durham-based Iconolatre rich with the poets of that time – Charles Bukowski, George Dowden, Andrew Lloyd, William Wyatt, Michael Horovitz, Jeff Nuttall, Chris Torrance. All men, you’ll notice. Quark with its translations from the Spanish by Cid Corman and Clayton Eshleman. Beneath this are some of Ruthi Blackmore’s Cardiff-based second aeon precursors Mainly, Cutley and Nicely. Little hand-made magazines of local verse. Dust comes up in gouts and gushes. The magazines shine.
None of this happens now. The small mag has gone, all but. Replaced by geographically indistinct internet grab-alls that roll on for endless pages. Editing a matter of putting everything in. Reading something most people don’t. For the publishers there are no more distribution hassles, visits to the post office with arms breaking under the weight of the envelopes. No standing outside the library in the rain trying to sell the magazine to reluctant readers. No hunting for the cash to pay the print bills. No painful dealing with the rejected. Poetry, who wants that.
Poetry was a mystery back then. It came from the skies, most thought. Today it’s chanted in pubs, shouted by TV comedians and rapped into places where the written word would never penetrate. Poetry is commonplace. No longer the province of the fey and the limp wristed. Poetry has conquered the western world. And, of course, to do that, there has had to be a certain amount of dumbing down and an almost total abandonment of adventurous creation. Like what you see? Thought not.
I stick my head back in my dusty box.