Tim Atkins is, along with Jeff Hilson, Caroline Bergvall, Miles Champion, and Redell Olsen, one of a group of British writers who came of age in the London poetry scene of the 1990s. Folklore is his first volume to be published in England.
Folklore 1-25, published in 1996 in Paris, was the result of meeting and living with the poets Laird Hunt and Eleni Sikelianos in San Francisco. “I lived in San Francisco in 1993, and New York in 1995” says Atkins “..and worked with Carla Harryman in her Poets Theatre, Kevin Killian in his poetic performances, and read with many of the younger poets then appearing on the West Coast. In New York, I became friends with Lisa Jarnot, Tim Davis, and Brian Kim Stefans, and they are my initial influences. Folklore 1-25 was printed at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and brought out in Paris. Tim Davis published To Repel Ghosts in New York, and 25 Sonnets was published by The Figures.
As a writer, Atkins has followed Jack Spicer’s model of writing (and thinking) in books. Each of his volumes has explored discrete themes and technical challenges.
Folklore 1-25 (1996) was written as a response to the realisation that a Worcestershire childhood was exotic to most of the world: as exotic as the writings of Gertrude Stein or the paintings of DeChirico. The issues of identity and dissolved narrative “I” that Folklore explores appear in their complete and original form in Salt’s Folklore. Published by Laird Hunt’s Heart Hammer Press, this extremely rare volume’s scarcity is in part due to the fact that the entire second edition was lost by the US Postal System in 1998
To Repel Ghosts (1998) was written as a reaction to Folklore’s exploration of pastoral isolation. Using collage techniques and clearly autobiographical texts, the cartoon-like texts bump into each other, contradict and slip, and generally elbow each other into a poetic site where the author (as in Folklore) is seen as being the sum of his parts, as opposed to being the organising force who sums up his parts and the wider world. Ron Silliman wrote about The New Sentence: the aim of To Repel Ghosts was to write the new paragraph.
25 Sonnets (2000) took on the challenge of John Ashbery’s lines from the beginning of The New Spirit “I thought that if I could put it all down, that would be one way. And next the thought came to me that to leave it all out would be another, and truer, way.” 25 Sonnets’ aim was to replicate the type of reading necessitated by Sappho’s fragments, the fractured soundscapes of Dub music, the experience of reading foreign texts with partial understanding, and the childhood experience of listening to adult conversations from the top of the stairs. Ashbery’s statement also leads Atkins’ work out of the polyphony of To Repel Ghosts and explores meaning from its opposite position.
Horace (2007) Again, the experience of reading with partial understanding led to the creation of Atkins’ translations, versions, and perversions of the Latin poet Horace. “What I didn’t understand, and what bored me, I made up” he says. “I applied the post-modern translation techniques and procedures of Jackson MacLow, Bernadette Mayer, and Steve McCaffrey to Horace. I also made up a number of techniques which I am continuing to use to produce a complete translation of Petrarch’s Canzoniere. My concern is to entertain myself, primarily: and produce texts which are relevant to the concerns of 21st Century poets and general readers.”
Folklore is the result of ten years’ writing. It also comes out of thinking about Wittgenstein’s “The limits of my language are the limits of my world”. “The aim of Folklore was to reproduce the identityless state in which I existed for much of my childhood. I had always written from the earliest age; and it was this listening and writing out the world that enabled me to find, investigate, and move on from the Worcestershire that both defined and limited me. When I was writing Folklore, I was reading Lyn Hejinian’s My Life and Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons alongside many dictionaries of Worcestershire Folklore and dialect. Folklore is in many ways a mixture of these disparate sources.” Folklore has been anthologised in Faber’s The Thunder Mutters, and Etruscan’s Foil. This is the first time that the complete text has ever been available.