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Here Come The Sixties

The media is anniversary mad, as we know.  This is the 5th anniversary of Eyewear.  2010 is also the 50th anniversary of 1960 - so get ready for a half-century reappraisal, this decade, of everything Sixties related. In terms of literature, here are some classics (well, they are now if we are still talking about them and reading them) whose 50th anniversary 2010 is: Green Eggs and Ham; The Violent Bear It Away; The Country Girls; To Kill A Mockingbird; A Canticle for Leibowitz; and my favourite children's book, after The Wind in the Willows, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, a work of genius.  It is also the 50th anniversary of the death of Camus.

In terms of poetry, it is now 50 years since some of these major publications: Curnow's The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse; AJM Smith's Oxford Book of Canadian Verse; The New American Poetry 1945-1960 edited by Donald M Allen (perhaps the most influential anthology of the last half-century); Shapiro's In Defense of Ignorance; and major collections such as Heart's Needle; the Collected poems of Yvor Winters; Olson's The Maximus Poems; Life Studies; The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees; Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note by LeRoi Jones; The Woman at the Washington Zoo ("change me! change me!"); Duncan's The Opening of the Field; Hine's The Devil's Picture Book; and the Collected of e.e. cummings.  Also, The Colossus by Plath; Seeing Is Believing by Tomlinson; and Come Dance With Kitty Stobling by Patrick Kavanagh.  And Margaret Avison's The Winter Sun.  Not a bad year.

The summer will see the 50th anniversary of de-colonisation of many African nations; the first gigs of The Beatles, the U2 Spy Plane incident, the start of the Sputnik dog shots; the autumn the gold medal at the Olympics for Cassius Clay; the founding of OPEC; the Nixon-Kennedy debates; Kruschev's UN shoe-pounding ("we will bur you!"); the Chatterley ban is lifted against Penguin; and, after Kennedy's election, we get the first episode of Coronation Street.

This has also been the 50th anniversary of films: Psycho; Elmer Gantry (one of my favourites); Spartacus and The Apartment.  Also, Beat Girl; College Confidential; The Magnificent Seven; Where The Boys Are; and Peeping Tom (another Eyewear fave).

In music, this is the 50th anniversary of songs such as "Walk Don't Run"; "The Twist"; "Cathy's Clown"; "Tell Laura I Love Her"; "Beyond The Sea" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight".

It is, in short, half a century since the era of post-war American dominance became complicated by the shifts about to erupt, in the Cold War, in the continuing decline of Britain, in culture, computing, sexuality- with an increasing darkness and licentiousness - "camp" and confessional urges emerging.  The Age of Anxiety had become The Psycho Age, the Age of Twist and Shout.  Born in 1966, I can still recall these films, these songs, these political and cultural currents, gleaned from the styles, and talk, of my parents, and from the Mad Magazines of my beloved Aunt Bev.  Here come the Sixties!  Within this coming decade, hopefully, I too will turn 50.


Ian Brinton said…
One of the interesting comments upon British poetry of the late fifties is that Tomlinson's volume 'Seeing is Believing' could find no publisher in England and was first produced by Macdowell, Obolensky of New York in 1958 before finally being accepted by O.U.P. for publication in 1960. For comments on this it is worth reading Tomlinson's splendid autobiographical comments in Some Americans, A Personal Record (University of California Press 1981) reprinted in 'American Essays' by Carcanet in 2001.

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With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.