Towards the end of 2006, I felt the need to be involved in a long sequence of poems again, but to carry it beyond the level of depersonalisation I had achieved in Are We Not Drawn . . . (Shearsman, 2009), particularly as I felt the final poems of that sequence had been bent by my own desire to achieve a "happy end". Some form of collaboration appeared a good idea. I was also in one of my paranoid periods about what might be labelled "the innovative poetry community" (hi guys!), so turned to other possible collaborators. The poet and publisher Tina Hyett was a former pupil of mine, had work already on Great Works, and knew a lot of people in London through her own North London Poetry Group. So I approached her, and we drew up a plan.
The collaboration would last a little over a year, rotate the authorship of the poems on a monthly basis, and end up with the first two poets again, to achieve both circularity and a prgoression or dynamic. Each poet could respond to the previous poets' work in whatever way they wished, but with if possible variation of form, voice and manner. The title emerged in the second month, from a phrase used by Simon Gregory, and was accepted by all those involved. The fourteen separate sections by twelve different poets therefore compose the total text of In the Dirt, and are available on the online publishing site Calaméo:
Some explanation may be useful as to the actual progress of this plan, which didn't quite work out. This may give some background to some of the sets of poems and to some of the connections (or lack of) between them. After my initial sequence, the next run of poets until Connie Beauchamp were all members of Tina's poetry group. Simon Gregory and Tina herself were heavily focused on the areas of London they inhabit, Spitalfields and Somers Town respectively, while "Spencer Termott" is a pure nom-de-plume for one or more individuals. Mark Hall drew Connie Beauchamp into the mix – they are old friends. Ms Beauchamp is of course well known for her successful medical and media career in Bristol (more recently in Europe). These are the first poems of hers in print, though she has written for many years, after have some contact with a poet from Cambridge, who inspired her, of course, to better his writing. The close response to her work by Jerri Dixon brings us back to Tina's contacts. There was then a hiatus, which was largely my fault. During this period, a year-long industrial dispute at the College I then worked at ended with a rout of the Union, and I, with over eighty others, was made redundant. I was not at all picking up on what was going on with the poems at this point, and was very depressed.
The last of Tina's contacts, Mikaela Moriarty, was due to be writing the July sequence, but she had left suddenly to travel in Morocco. The chain seemed to be broken. I tried to get something of what I was feeling into a mock-Blakean piece. It was quite grotesque, but I was struck by what I found myself writing as I continued from its bizarre beginning. I appeared to be writing with what I could only regard as the voice of Robert Blake. I accepted this as the missing link in the chain, and Mikaela moved on from it to deal with her Moroccan experience. At her invitation, a small group around the poet and artist Emma Liukunas from Preston took In the Dirt on its next stage. Emma's friend Bradley Tabor took flight from Mikaela's poems (and from Kevin Nolan's great book, Loving Little Orlick [Barque, 2006]). Emma's visual poems were based on his poems. They were exhibited at her old college in Preston, where Erwin Hass works (indeed he arranged the exhibition). His work was a little disconnected from the original project, as direct connections had got thin by this stage, and I found it difficult to respond to his work as the responsibility shifted back to me. Simon's poems similarly reflected more his previous concerns, which were, it must be said dominating him totally by this stage. He died shortly after, and these were the last poems he wrote.
These poems were produced as small booklets, many by Emma's Parndon Press. She is happy to say she relies on personal contacts to give away rather than sell what she produces, and similarly Ms Beauchamp's and "Spencer Termott's" contributions were essentially privately printed and distributed. Emma's visual poems exist in an art environment. Bradley's contacts at Vimera House got professional books for both himself and Erwin, but Vimera have really no distribution in this country, and don't seem to really have an internet presence even. As a result, I have assembled the separate books or booklets, and placed them on Calaméo, so that a wider audience can enjoy the poems. There are some slight quibbles over the precise texts used, and some differences from what I would call the definitive version – but that is inherent in the whole project really. Just embrace "In the Dirt" in all its multifariousness!