MIGRANT Press (Revisited)
Sonia Boyce, Mark S Gubb, David Blackmore
Curators / Writers Emalee Beddoes, Michael Hampton
Looking back it is hard not to conclude that the little poetry magazine Migrant, co-edited by Gael Turnbull and Michael Shayer from 1959-1960 was a creative writing venture that generated a critical context for itself without ever becoming a platform in the local sense (hence the complete absence of ephemera in the Worcester City Archives), as it was short lived and innovative, ahead of its time but also obscure.
Mimeographed on a Sears Roebuck duplicator by Turnbull in his garage in Ventura, California, and supported by Shayer from an address in Worcester, Migrant’s original run of 8 bi-monthly issues only found its unique graphic style from number 3 onwards: a powder blue cover with the title in sans serif block capitals, and stapled pale lemon pages that hosted a range of poems and short prose printed out in a Courier typewriter font; slightly smudgy, also faint here and there.
As a shoestring self-publishing project with largely modernist content, Migrant was a reflection of the values and aspirations of its organisers, a critical reaction to the dull conformity of the Movement school, but also ambiguous about American Beat poetics.
According to Roy Fisher, Turnbull kept “clear of the activities of self-congratulatory but incurious amateurism”, so “he could roam free in the floating world of little magazines and quixotic publications”. As such Migrant could be said to represent a third way: a hybrid of Objectivism, Black Mountain College aesthetics, with a nod to English provincial vernaculars, a groundbreaking part of what Geraldine Monk has called a poetry “insurgence” that was located away from London in unfashionable northern conurbations.
Run on a voluntary subscription basis, a chat room for poets by poets, Migrant had affinities with Vorticism and Mass-Observation too, occasionally including collage and tape transcript, both novel for the time in England.
It could be argued that the aims and method of distribution of Migrant were a form of early mail art, whereby a loose grouping of like-minded writers got to know each other and their work via contributing to the magazine, and being part of a postal network.
Zinelike Migrant exerted an influence on subsequent countercultural publications such as Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Poor. Old. Tired. Horse., Jeff Nuttall’s DIY My Own Mag and Bob Cobbing’s Writer’s Forum stuff.
After the discontinuation of the magazine, Migrant Press was established, leading to a series of pamphlets such as Birmingham born Roy Fisher’s protopunkish City (1960) -described by critic Andrew Duncan as “the first modern book of British poetry”- Michael Shayer’s Worcester ode Persephone (1961), and Cream lyricist Pete Brown’s Few (1966). Following his return to Worcester/Malvern in 1964, Turnbull would retool Migrant Press as a distributor of American imported material, a think-tank for new poetics as much as a label, with a strong emphasis on performance too, eventually resulting in the Live New Departures gig at the ICA in 1975 that featured voices associated with Migrant Press.
Questions remain about the extent to which a regional cultural product/producer such as Migrant can be said to be still present today as an early aquarian revenant or spectre in terms of poetry, visual art or psycho-geography, and how its hermeneutic reawakening both via archival evidence as well as the noise of developing conversation, ie methods that embrace the possibility of unexpected outcomes here and now, actually enables a resonant contemporary space of meta-creativity to emerge, one whose objects and indeed post-objects (ie immaterial work) go well beyond the narrow remit of heritage.
But as Daniel Penny asks in ‘The Irrelevant and the Contemporary’ “Why is poetry #trending in contemporary art?”, neatly taxonomising the influence of the muse as/on dry goods, concept, performance and post-internet.
Michael Hampton 29 October 2016
Duncan, Andrew. Origins of the underground: British poetry between apocryphon and incident light, 1933-79 (Cambridge: Salt, 2008).
Horowitz, Michael (ed). The Children of Albion: Poetry of the ‘Underground’ in Britain (London: Penguin Books, 1965).
Monk, Geraldine (ed). Cusp: Recollections of Poetry in Transition (Bristol: Shearsman Books, 2012).
Turnbull, Gael. There are words: Collected Poems (Exeter: Shearsman Books, 2006).
Turnbull, Jill & Hamish Whyte (eds). More words: Gael Turnbull on Poets and Poetry (Bristol: Shearsman Books, 2012).
Wilkinson, Bruce. Hidden Culture, Forgotten History: A Northern Poetic Underground and its Countercultural Impact (Penniless Press Publications, 2017)
Biographies / Artists
Sonia Boyce MBE (b.1962) is a British Afro-Caribbean artist who lives and works in London. She studied at Stourbridge College, West Midlands. Boyce’s early work addressed issues of race and gender in the media and in day-to-day life. She expressed these themes through large pastel drawings and photographic collages. Her work has since shifted materially and conceptually by incorporating a variety of media such as photographs, collages, films, prints, drawings, installation and sound. Her recent work collaboratively brings the audience into sharper focus as an integral part of the artwork, between artist, vocalists and audience, demonstrating how cultural differences might be articulated, mediated and enjoyed. Boyce’s significant exhibitions include Five Black Women, African Centre, London (1983); Sonia Boyce: For you, only you, Magdalen College, Oxford and subsequent UK venues (2007 – 2008); and All the World’s Futures, 56th Venice Biennale, Arsenale and Giardini (2015). Boyce is represented in the permanent collections of Arts Council England and Tate Modern, London. In 2007, Boyce was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to the arts. She is currently Professor of Fine Arts at Middlesex University, London and Professor of Black Art and Design at University of the Arts London.
David Blackmore (1981) is a European artist born in Dublin. He initially studied Photography at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art & Design and completed his BA in Photographic Arts at the University of Westminster. Over the past decade, David has exhibited internationally including solo shows at Gallery Vassie (Amsterdam), Draíocht (Dublin), Central European House of Photography (Bratislava), Schwartz Gallery (London) and SITEATION (Dublin). During this period, David’s practice has moved away from photography and now encompasses a wide range of mediums including sculpture, intervention, installation, performance, walking and utilising appropriated objects. Blackmore was named 'Best UK based artist' at the London Irish Art Fair (2015) and subsequently became a Fellow of the RSA. In 2016, David graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art with a Masters and was the Slade’s recipient of the Land Securities Studio award. Blackmore has recently had a piece accessioned to the British Museum's collection and been awarded the 2017/18 Pete Lloyd Lewis Studio Award at the Chisenhale studios. David is an Honorary Research Associate with the Slade School of Fine Art /UCL Art Museum, a Senior Lecturer at the University for the Creative Arts and a visiting lecturer at the University of Westminster.
S Mark Gubb (b.1974) lives and works in Cardiff. Born and raised near Margate, Kent, he works across a range of media incorporating sculpture, video, sound, installation and performance. The subjects for his work are drawn from the social and political culture he grew up in; an equal fascination with things he finds so great and so terrible about the world we live in. This often takes the form of a re-evaluation and re-interpretation of contemporary culture and history, provoking us to consider our contribution to the world we live in. His work has been widely exhibited in solo and group exhibitions including Turner Contemporary (Margate), Dublin Contemporary, Aspex Gallery (Portsmouth), Postmasters Gallery (NYC), Matthew Bown Gallery (Berlin), Mostyn (Llandudno), Castlefield Gallery (Manchester), ICA (London) and PS1 MoMA (NYC). Residencies/fellowships include URRA International Residency, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2011), Standpoint Futures, Standpoint Gallery, London (2010), Cove Park, Scotland (2008), Arts Council of England’s International Fellowship at Bunkier Sztuki, Krakow, Poland (2005) and The Wheatley Fellowship at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (2005). Permanent public works include commissions for Grizedale Arts, Nottingham Contemporary, Aspex Gallery (Portsmouth) and The Welsh Assembly Government. He is a Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at The University of Worcester.
Biographies / Curator and Writer
Emalee Beddoes (b. 1988) works as Curator of Art and Exhibitons at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum where she manages the museum’s fine art collection, as well as curating exhibitions including David Cox and His Contemporaries, Illustration Beats Explanation and This Green Earth: Bridget Macdonald and the Landscape Tradition of Claude Lorrain, Samuel Palmer and Peter Paul Rubens. Through these exhibitions, Emalee has established fruitful partnerships with the British Museum and New Art West Midlands, among other regional and national institutions. Emalee has a Pg.Cert in Management and Leadership (heritage) from the University of Worcester, as well as an M.Phil and first class BA in the History of Art from the University of Birmingham and University of Plymouth respectively. In 2015, she won an Arts Council England professional development bursary and a place on the British Art Network Early Career Curator’s group, dedicated to developing specialist knowledge and supporting creative practice in regional arts institutions. Her interests lie in historiography, understanding the past through contemporary practice and developing regional arts ecologies.
MICHAEL HAMPTON (b. 1957) is a freelance writer, and theorist who has contributed to numerous magazines, journals and catalogues including The Blue Notebook, Frieze, Geschichte, The Lost Diagrams of Walter Benjamin, Monika, The Penguin Collector’s Journal, Rapport, Schizm, /Seconds, Tears in the Fence, Uniformagazine, The White Review. In 2015 his revisionist history and tool-kit for book arts practitioners Unshelfmarked: Reconceiving the artists’ book was published by Uniformbooks, Axminster; and he regularly writes reviews of new artists’ books and pamphlets for Art Monthly. Hampton’s interests range from Auto-Destruction (he gave talks for the late Gustav Metzger at Spacex, and Instal 08, Glasgow), countercultural history, and the interface between the contemporary visual and literary -with special reference to the library as an emerging performative space. In 2011 his tableau Old Baxter based on a story by M.R.James was shown at the Hancock Museum, as part of ‘Gallery of Wonder’, a project run by the Fine Art Department at Newcastle University. In 2016 Bibliomancy a lithographic print on 250gsm silk paper was included in ‘Reading Matters’, curated by Information as Material at Printed Matter, New York. A limited edition pulp box The Beauties of Decomposition will be launched by msdm in autumn 2017.