(4) But Like a Dog to Its . . .

My return to an active engagement in the social world of avant-garde poetry took place fairly rapidly. My father's dementia and death in 1998-9 affected me greatly, with a strong period of creativity. I wrote a sequence called IL, which typically of the sequences I like to write, had a complex and non-linear structure, in this case a matrix of 7 x 7 (= 49) poems. I was out of touch with any publishers, but the new world of the Word Wide Web was available, with the intriguing possibilities of hypertext.

I gave up the MA teaching at Westminster in the summer of 2000 – it had been in addition to my fulltime job, and was increasingly a burden. Doing a website seemed possible, with the time available to me. I taught myself HTML – if a poet can't master a language-based code. I thought of seeing if anyone else might wish to put stuff on the website – who knows?

I poked a little around what was available on the web in terms of poetry – using Douglas Clark's inestimable British and Irish Poetry Sites and Spencer Selby's List of Experimental Poetry/Art Magazines. I became aware of the newslists: BritPo and Poetry Etc, joined them, and began to get contact. David Miller (who I had known a little in "the old days"), Sean Bonney and Jeff Hilson were just starting the Crossing the Line series of readings downstairs at the Poetry Café (the world's worst poetry venue). I found these welcoming and stimulating (and still do!), and met up with some people I had known before, and many I had not. Two important figures in showing me the new landscape were Andrew Duncan (who I had some awareness of, and had had a chance encounter with a year or so previous while on holiday in St Ives) and Simon Smith (who turned out to have spent his childhood in Bishops Stortford, and had bought the copy of And Ada Ann I had placed in the local bookshop).

The site, Great Works, keeping the name, did astonishingly well. People want to have their writing on it. The context for avant-garde British poetry (still without a handy name!) is wider, less divided, and with some institutions now set up that support it. It is as exciting as the 70s, with a sense again of the possibility of reaching out beyond a miniscule audience of practitioners. But there are still all sorts of problems and insecurities, and actual, paranoid prejudice remains (eg Don Paterson's comments on "postmodernist" poetry, or the curiously amazed or hostile reviewing and reporting of Randall Stevenson's taking seriously JH Prynne as a major end of the century poet in his Volume 12 of The Oxford English Literary History: The Last Of England?).

My experience of this cultural world is both unique, and yet not atypical. The coming into it from specific anthologies, the importance of meeting mentors and exemplars, and of plugging into and thus helping maintain and transform the social relations that create the poetic culture, these are common, as is activity as a poet also being linked with activity as a publisher. Also, even, the experience of the 80s as a dark era that took a while to come out of, and negatively affected one's relationship with poetry – I was not alone there I discovered. And now the possibilities opened up by digital technologies: websites, blogs, print-on-demand. These I suspect the British poetic avant-garde has taken up more enthusiastically than the mainstream.