Monday, 7 March 2011

Sinclair as Poet

  Although Iain Sinclair is now known primarily for his prose, his poetry is equally worthy of attention. I first came across him in the seminal anthology A Various Art (1987, ed. Crozier/Longville), ostensibly a showcase for the 'Cambridge School' of JH Prynne and Veronica Forrest-Thomson but really quite a diverse grouping of non-mainstream poets including Roy Fisher, Douglas Oliver and Peter Riley. The poems by Sinclair stand out even among such distinguished company for their slanted takes on urban locales, the language denser and more given to surreal, grotesque or mythic tangents than in the prose-books.
   What strikes me, re-reading the brilliant shorter pieces, is in fact how contemporary these 30 year-old poems feel; their influence seems to be apparent in a number of younger London poets writing now. A piece by Tom Chivers called 'Civic Block Print', for example, that appeared recently on his blog This is Yogic (link on blogroll) seems to me pure early Sinclair:

The building is a fang
this building is a pyramid

spine of unreal glass
split across the tracks


  1. I think those lines occurred when I lost my way in the poem! I'm happy with the first section, before the ***, but then it fizzles out.

  2. It presents an interesting angle on Sinclair's Hackney psychogeog - also caught my eye because I bus up Kingsland Rd from Bishopsgate at present.(Been meaning to get 'How to Build a City'and yr London anthology)

  3. Thanks Oliver. Yes, that route is extraordinary isn't it. Roman of course. Like a leyline.

    If you wait a week or so, I'll be selling annotated copies of HTBAC from my blog. They'll be expensive, but every single page will have explanatory notes and personal confessions hand-scrawled all over them. I'm testing new income streams, or something.

  4. Ok I'll take a look. Are you looking for contributions for Hand & Star at present?