Dear Dispatches,

I have been reading a number of your interviews on the state of poetry today, in particular the incorporation of the so-called avant-garde into the academy over recent decades. The hypocrisy of the situation with self-proclaimed “subversive” poet railing against a capitalist system whilst simultaneously living off it and serving as paid-up gatekeepers of the academy is something to behold. That too, as you have pointed out, the hypocrisy of poets utilsing a poetic mode that claims to dissolve the individual personality and voice, whilst utilising said poetic mode as a vehicle for personal societal gain is really something. Real avant-garde poets included people such as a Rimbaud, wandering round as an outsider; so too Holderlin or Blake who did not sit cosily within secure employment, and ended up mad for his efforts, though not before contributing to a redefining of what poetry could be.

You have been asked something in various interviews that I am trying to find the answer to myself, namely if there is a real avant garde today, where is it, or what might it look like. In 1798 Wordsworth was avant-garde. By 1850 when he died he was the establishment, the poet laureate who had written commissioned poetry for the state in praise of capital punishment. If you to ask the question where did the avant-garde exist in 1850, what would the answer be in retrospect? Perhaps one could say in a young Charles Baudelaire, who was 29 that year; his most notable work was not yet written at that point although he was alive and active. If you were to ask the same question re. fiction a reasonable answer in retrospect may be Dostoyevsky. There are several parallels with Baudelaire – both born in 1821, both involved with the revolutionary activity of 1848; both drifted away from early political commitments (although in different circumstances and toward different ends), both struggled for money, and most importantly both helped redefine their literary forms. But nobody could have answered in 1850 that the avant-garde or more precisely the future of the avant garde lay in part with these two men, one of whom was in a prison camp in Siberia. It may be the seeds of the future of poetry are actually present amongst us now but just not fully manifest.

I noted the lack of secure employment and societal position for Rimbaud, Holderlin and Blake, and to that list you may add Baudelaire and Dostoyevsky. This is not to say that a great writer requires some fundamental material insecurity in order to write great work (take Tolstoy for example), however I have a suspicion it may help. Insecurity you could say is the real nature of the human condition and the planet – everything is vulnerable, in competition, is changing, and will ultimately finish  – and so perhaps living a life undefended from these realities is no bad thing for a writer’s work, although it no doubt leads to a personal discomfort and often I imagine unhappiness.

If they were alive today would the likes of Blake, Holderlin, Rimbaud, Baudelaire and Dostoyevsky be professors in creative writing depts? Would a 20 year old Arthur Rimbaud have written Illuminations had he been studying on a literature program akin to those in existence in the west today? I would contend it’s impossible.

I hadn’t meant to write such a sign message – the purpose of my message was largely to say I look forward to regularly reading the poetry dispatches website, and I had a question: are there are particular journals or poets you would recommend a reader to look in 2018 for interesting or innovative poetry that is not ploughing the boring troughs of either academy-backed Marxist jargon word-dumps or academy-backed confessional style suburban sleep-fests? Is there anything really new or interesting happening?

A footnote about myself: I am British, studied literature at university and follow poetry wiring and publishing occasionally in journals, however I am not an academic or part of the poetry “scene”, find my living in a none-artistic profession and have lived and outside of the west for the majority of the past ten years, working in China and the Middle-East, which has led to me following non-western poets as well as holding a sceptical eye on the inward-focused academies of the west.

Kind Regards,

Adam Reynolds