Empowered apes from the attic

CONDUCTORS OF CHAOS edited by Iain Sinclair Picador pounds 9.99
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The Independent Culture
Every so often an "alternative" poetry anthology comes along to smash the idols in the church and replace them with up-to-the-minute icons of our life and times. The usual recipe is to mix up a little Blake and a little Surrealism with a splutter of typographical eccentricities, and bake fast in the consuming fires of the ego. Add in various correctnesses if you're oppressed, underprivileged, or just plain invisible.

Dedicated to the late hitman Eric Nottram, who was forever blowing up the Poetry Society, this "pick 'n' mix shambles of has-beens, headcases and emerging chancers" is Sinclair's riposte to "the flash dudes of Blake Morrison's and Andrew Motion's Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry", and could be the most deliciously unreadable yet.

Sinclair's slash-and-burn Introduction is a model of sub-poetic prose and throwaway phrase-making. He manages to confuse Irish poetry ("Bog and bomb and blarney: a heap of glittering similes burnished for westward transit") with Martianism, and to denigrate all current public poetry ("a pretty necklace of paste tears and frozen semen", whatever that means). In an admirable, fresh twist, he adds that you don't actually "need to read" the poets he introduces: simply let their pamphlets pile up by your desk.

And who are these "apes from the attic" with their "Coded constructions synthesized from the chaos of the streets?" Brian Catling, Andrew Crozier, Andrew Duncan, Alan Fisher, Stewart Home, John James, Grace Lake, Tony Lopez, Barry MacSweeney, Geraldine Monk, Douglas Oliver, J H Prynne, Jeremy Reed, Denise Riley and many, many more, in 500-odd pages.

Some of the shamans are less horrendously incompetent than others. But the real agenda is "the mirroring of a mirroring, the reflexiveness of reflexiveness" - ie, that thing of "Look at me, I'm holding a pen, what shall I do with it, ain't I marvellous?" Probably the pen is a cursor by now, empowering "self-expression" to the crack of doom.

The anthology also prints selections of the work of five "wearied survivors of classical modernism", W S Graham, David Jones, David Gascoyne, Nicholas Moore and J F Hendry. Three of these are well-known and well-respected poets, the last two are dreary poetasters from the Forties. But the text's the thing, and the more noses it can get up, like MacSweeney's "rack of E", the better.

After bumping into a small versifier on the stairs, Myles na Gopaleen once rushed out into the street and tore off his face - the only conceivable way of regaining his sanity and self- respect. Contact with these no-hopers, printed on appropriately grotty paper, calls for self-annihilation at the very least. Daily. Hourly. As often as it takes.

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