Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Children of Albion: Poetry of the Underground in Britain

Children of Albion: Poetry of the Underground in Britain

Children of Albion: Poetry of the Underground in Britain, an anthology of poetry, was edited by Michael Horovitz and published by Penguin Books in 1969. Its appearance was a key step in the emergence to some kind of public attention of many of the poets associated with the British Poetry Revival. It was perhaps the classic 'hippie' collection of British poetry, with its self-conscious invocation of William Blake and performance poets. It has also been subject to much criticism, qua anthology of its time, both for its inclusions and exclusions.

The book
Children of Albion was published as a paperback measuring 18 cm. by 11 cm. It is 382 pages long and contains a Contents list, a dedication to Allen Ginsberg, work by 63 poets in alphabetical order of surname, an essay, 'Afterwords' by the editor, and Further Reading and Acknowledgements sections. The front cover features a detail from Glad Day, an engraving by Blake.

The poets
The poets featured in Children of Albion are:
John Arden
Peter Armstrong
Pete Brown
Jim Burns
Johnny Byrne
Charles Cameron
David Chaloner
Barry Cole
John Cotton
Andrew Crozier
Dave Cunliffe
Felix de Mendelssohn
Raymond Durgnat
Paul Evans
Ian Hamilton Finlay
Roy Fisher
Harry Guest
Lee Harwood
Michael Hastings
Spike Hawkins
Geoffrey Hazard
Piero Heliczer
Pete Hoida
Anselm Hollo
Frances Horovitz
Michael Horovitz
Libby Houston
Mark Hyatt
John James
Roger Jones
David Kerrison
Seymour King
Bernard Kops
David Kozubei
Herbert Lomas
Anna Lovell
Paul Matthews
Michael McCafferty
John McGrath
Tom McGrath
Stuart Mills
Ted Milton
Adrian Mitchell
Edwin Morgan
Tina Morris
Philip O'Connor
Neil Oram
Tom Pickard
Paul Potts
Tom Raworth
Carlyle Reedy
Bernard Saint
Michael Shayer
David Sladen
Tom Taylor
Barry Tebb
Chris Torrance
Alexander Trocchi
Gael Turnbull
Patrick Waites
Nicholas Snowden Willey
William Wyatt
Michael X

The historical context
In 1962, Penguin published Al Alvarez's anthology The New Poetry. This marked the beginnings of a backlash against what Alvarez labelled the 'gentility' of the Movement poets. Alvarez's favoured alternative were poets like Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and others who connected with American confessional poets like Robert Lowell and John Berryman.
Meanwhile, Donald Allen's 1960 anthology, The New American Poetry 1945-1960 introduced British and other readers to a whole range of work other than the confessionals. Allen included work by the Beat generation, the Black Mountain, New York School and Deep image poets and others from outside the mainstream.
As British 1960s counterculture developed, the influence of these poets became more widespread, and many of the younger British poets began to experiment with local variants of the new poetics. Publishing outlets for the new poetry started to emerge, including Raworth's Matrix Press, and Goliard Press (which he ran with Barry Hall) and Horovitz's own New Departures magazine and press.
Contacts between poets on both sides of the Atlantic developed, culminating in the Albert Hall Poetry Incarnation on June 11, 1965, which featured readings by a range of British poets, as well as Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and others to an audience of 7,000 people. Horovitz was the main organizer of this event and this Afterwords essay makes it clear that the success of the Albert Hall happening was the inspiration for the assembly of the anthology.

Criticisms of Children of Albion
One of the main criticisms levelled at Children of Albion is that it contains work by a large number of poets who subsequently ceased writing, or at least publishing, poetry of any note. This, however, is a criticism that applies to most anthologies of contemporary poetry where the editor is attempting to give a picture of the poetic environment they inhabit.
More seriously, perhaps, the book has been criticised for omitting poets who did not share Horovitz's enthusiasms for Blake and/or performance. These include such major figures as J. H. Prynne and Veronica Forrest-Thomson. Thomson's exclusion also points to a third criticism that is frequently levelled at the book; the relative paucity of women poets included. Only five of Albion's 63 children are daughters. In Horovitz's defense, it should be pointed out that the British underground poetry scene in the mid-sixties was a male-dominated affair and that later anthologists have generally failed to 'achieve' gender parity in their representations of the period.

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