Wednesday, 21 May 2014

'BOGG': History Of An Irreverent Poetry Magazine

'Bogg no.10'


‘Bogg’ was an anarchic poetry magazine 
that defined the irreverent attitudes of the 1970’s 
yet thrived and survived into the 2000’s. 

Bogg is a quagmire, a fen, a mire, a swamp, a marshland. That it’s also slang for toilet is entirely appropriate. That was a deliberate part of the plan when George Cairncross launched ‘Bogg’ as a poetry magazine. Those lavatorial inferences, of poems ‘flushed down the bogg’, were part of its irreverent humour. The cover of no.12 makes this meaning unmistakably clear, with Joe Hirst cartoon-art showing the inside of a toilet-cubicle, seen from the pedestal perspective, with the uncoiling reel of tissue-paper to the right, and graffiti on the door warning ‘Beware Of Limbo Dancers’. ‘Bogg’ was also one of the first underground arts magazines I encountered. There were lots of serious, pompously stern journals with titles such as ‘Poetry’, ‘Poetry Today’, ‘Poets And Poetry’ which took a reverent attitude to verse and the implications of verse. ‘Bogg’ made it fun. ‘Bogg’ was part of an attitude that saw poets and poetry as part of an extended and extending party.

By a series of uncertain but enthusiastic steps I’d first discovered a magazine called ‘Sad Traffic’ which was published by students from Bretton Hall college in Barnsley. I immediately loaded everything I owned into my battered auto, drove down the motorway, and moved in with them. They were in the process of launching a full underground newspaper called ‘Styng’. I knew something about print-layout and design. I started hanging out there as issues were coming together. Word about ‘Styng’ got around the global counterculture network, and review copies, trade issues and salutations were soon deluging in from every place. I sat there, read them, made notes. In a kind of proto-internet each publication carried the address details of others with similar mindsets and attitudes. These in turn led to yet others. They came from everywhere. I sent out my writing. Some of it vanished. Some was picked up and used. I soon had poems included in ‘Headland’, ‘Viewpoints’… and ‘Bogg’.

'Bogg no.12'

But more importantly, the connection with George Cairncross and the motley crew of disreputable contributors to his ‘Fiasco’ venture involved a sense of loosely playful community, a rough and tumble shared vision that was battered, a little unseemly, and with a definite awkwardness to all things arts-establishment. Each issue was a riotous dialogue of voices. George was ‘Zack’, or ‘Kapitan Mog’, the impish Lord of Misrule around whom the revels revolved. He was ‘the only loony on the East Coast able to go in a pub penniless and come out blind drunk.’ He claimed anarchism as the guiding ethos, and where there was unused space at the foot of pages, he’d insert inflammatory quotes from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin or whoever came to hand. Sometimes it might equally be thoughts snatched from graffiti, or Pop culture. But largely it was contrarian for the sake of being contrary. Which is not to say there were not serious points to be made. Irreverence is a valid ideology in itself. One that chimed with the counterculture, with underground arts and poetry, with the populist movement of the times that sought to radically uptilt elitism and literary art-for-art’s-sake ivory towers. Fun can be a tool of insurrection too.

‘Bogg’ began in 1968, no.1 consisting of ‘work by our insane selves under our own names and pseudonyms’, the early issues assuming strange pre-A4 shapes. They were spirit-duplicated, a now long-obsolete lovingly hand-cranked Fordigrapher office-technology using alcohol-based ink solvents that resulted in distinctive mauve print (aniline). The copy was typed onto a two-ply master in George’s distinctive Remington typewriter face, familiar over the decade from successive issues, as well as from his chatty entertaining letters with gossipy news updates about contributors, spin-off projects and the artworks he stashed in his studio. But it was a reproduction-format with its own built-in obsolescence, the master soon deteriorated and then disintegrated, determining that every number was a limited-edition. Mailed out in hand-written envelopes, individually stamped.

31 Belle Vue Street, Filey

Fiasco Publications, as it was styled, operated from no.31 Belle Vue Street, above George’s parents shop in the sleepy resort of Filey, on the East Yorkshire coast. It’s fair to say that none of his customers, the day-tripping tourists or the elderly locals, suspected that this was also a subversive hub disseminating smut and outrage. Although Joe Hirst’s art, recurring in each issue, has the robust ribald quality of a Donald McGill seaside postcard, with a four-frame ‘Fanny Makes The Trip’ recounting how the Big Bad Wolf chases the Red Riding Hood look-alike’s nude granny through the woods. He created ‘Pans Scrubbers’ in response to TV’s Pans People. And the lavatorial covers continue, no.24 shows the dilemma of a bog-seated man with no toilet-paper, torn between using either a postage stamp, or a pound note.

The colophon extends a welcome for fresh input with ‘Wanted: Poems, articles, short stories, cartoons, humour, reviews, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid’. Extending the list to ‘anything printable, or otherwise’, plus ‘the bloke who nicked Captain Mog’s trousers when he was out swimming in the sea on New Year’s Day’. Writers include Liverpool’s David Ward (‘I learnt my sex from dirty jokes / and you / were the dirtiest joke of them all’), the hyper-prolific Steve Sneyd from Huddersfield, the cerebral William Oxley, Gina Gregory, Eddie ‘Everard’ Flintoff and Opal L Nations, as well as such American links as John Elsberg.

 There’s a poem “Tribute To Jimi Hendrix” by John Freeman of Doncaster, and a Pop Art take on the second coming by Clifford Nicholas from Kings Lynn, ‘will you take the Tribune when you come / and smoke pot / or join the Monday club / and that lot / Will you protest with CND / or be a coward like me…’. There’s no argument when double-issue no.10/11 advocates the breathless immediacy of ‘one must write for now, not posterity’ – apart from the slightly formal ‘one’. Derrick Buttress catches the attitude when he asserts ‘I don’t know whether it’s a poem or not, and I don’t think it’s important, what is important is that it’s original and true to a real experience.’ While Eddie Flintoff sets the bar by adding ‘I wish I could write one poem, half as witty and at the same time sad, as these graffiti.’ When Robert Webb writes “On The Pleasure Of Farting” at least he adds an escape-clause dedication to Salvador Dali.

'Bogg no.16'

Sure, there’s a hard-core of familiar names, so each new issue is a virtual meeting-up with a regular bunch of amusing friends down the local, swapping and competing their latest poem-form anecdotes. As Mark Williams writes, ‘warm toilet seat / shared lives’. There are requests to locate rare copies of Andy Roberts ‘Home Grown’ or Roger McGough’s ‘A Summer With Monica’ LP’s. But there’s always space for sharp newcomers too. The ‘contributions wanted’ notices for new mags – ‘Ostrich’, ‘Pink Peace’ or ‘Sandwiches’, and for the free-for-postage booklets described as ‘the most important publication since the Martian State Papers were released’. I first read Tina Fulker’s amazing razor-edged minimal lines in ‘Bogg’, and she launched her own ‘Moonshine’ – its first issue (August 1971) printed on cut-up rolls of wallpaper, from its contact-listings. Other significant incomers included Pete Faulkner’s rich mix of Beat symbolism and picaresque bohemia, Dave Wright with his working-class Western epics and Nottingham’s Derrick Buttress, writing tense compressed mythopoetica resembling incidents plucked from some greater broken-narrative.

If groups such as Scaffold, the Liverpool Scene or the more scatologically-confrontational Fugs formed a kind of working model, along with the ‘Mersey Poets’ and the anti-establishment names of the celebrated 1965 Albert Hall ‘International Poetry Incarnation’ – Adrian Mitchell, Spike Hawkins and Michael Horovitz, then the other aspect of that event – Allen Ginsberg, Greg Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, formed its complementary pole. Decades before Amazon, elusive Beat texts, available only from hard-to-find specialist bookshops, circulated in well-thumbed novels, anthologies and American magazines, while their energetic stylistic and thematic freedoms fuelled the arsenal of techniques seized upon and adapted into new forms by ‘Bogg’ writers. The hallucinogenic machinations of Dada-shock and Surrealism’s malleability were present too, even when possibly channelled through Bob Dylan’s lysergic lens.

'Bogg no.24'

Pete Faulkner thumbed down from Dundee. We hitchhiked across to the east coast, slept overnight on Dave Wright’s front-room floor in Bridlington, then hopped up-coast to visit George in Filey. Piles of Pop-Art collages were strewn and stacked about his studio. A Billie Holiday LP was playing. And there was a huge keg of beer, ‘if I open it, we’re going to have to finish it.’ He opened it. We finished it. George as fast-talking as ever, a rapid cascade of anecdotes about his three-year art-school days at the James Graham College in Leeds, where the seeds of ‘Bogg’ were planted. ‘The campuses, back streets and pubs were awash with such literature, everyone who had access to a duplicator was setting up his own magazine.’

 It began in performance poetry with the Exploding Umbrella group, George with Trevor Greenley and sound-poet Jim ‘write yer sod’ McGowan. ‘We of the piss-taking brotherhood didn’t really take anything seriously, and were rather pleased to have a go at anything.’ Joe Hirst, a few years older, shared the same studio with George. He became the other centre around which the ‘Bogg’ identity was forged, the ‘only person to have appeared in every issue to date.’ Around the same month I was chinwagging with George, I also visited Joe in his stone-built terraced house outside Denby Dale. His gift of instant intimacy drawing me into his enthusiastic unpretentious creativity.

When pagination increased beyond the straining limits of side-stapling, George shifted the reviews into a separate section, variously called ‘Lazy Lob’ or ‘Sucking’ (no.23). Beyond all reasonable expectations the magazine thrived, and even when forced to ditch its aging duplicator for print-form, and increasingly became ‘A Journal of Anglo-American Writing’ as John Elsberg assumed greater editorial input, the Joe Hirst feature-cartoons lent continuity, along with a turn-over of new and familiar names, from Ron Androla to Tina Fulker, from Belinda Subraman to Cheryl Townsend and John Yamrus.

 John Elsberg, a fine American poet, had been studying for his Ph.D in Cambridge when Gerald England ‘visited him unannounced in September 1970’, as Gerald recalls. The following year John and his partner Connie visited Yorkshire and Gerald took them across to Filey to meet George. They became friends and collaborators, until the more George withdrew from ‘Bogg’ through the late-seventies, the more John assumed a greater share of contents, as ‘Bogger-in-Chief’. Meanwhile, there was anniversary hoopla in Filey, with a tribal gathering of the extended family. I remember Andy Robson, Graham Sykes and others. A hyperactive George presiding. Anecdotes were exchanged. Beer was consumed at the Foords Hotel, on Filey’s Queen Street. ‘It will be a sad day for ‘Bogg’ if ever it is struck down by sanity’ quoth George.

Me, George Cairncross & Graham Sykes in Filey

Andy Robson ('Krax'), Me & George Cairncross in Filey

Although, since ‘it moved to America in 1980’ (from no.44), the title was safe in John’s hands, and began to build steady credibility (my letter in no.48 laments ‘the infiltration of politeness in the review section’ while missing ‘the roaring thunder of abrasive rhetoric’), maybe there are indications that George retained a hankering for older more disreputable days. He produced two spin-off titles, two issues of ‘Renegade’ with Eddie Harriman collages and poetry from Bryn Fortey (of ‘Target’), Geoff Stevens (of ‘Purple Patch’) as well as Pete Faulkner and Steve Sneyd, plus five defiantly-duplicated issues of ‘pirate child’ ‘Boggers All’ (from October 1993 to December 1997) under the guise of Demijohn O’Rhubarb, with Joe Hirst at his most saucily provocative and a ‘motley collection of old Boggers’, all the usual suspects – Derrick Buttress, Dave Wright, Steve Sneyd, Gerald England, Geoff Stevens, Andy Robson, Pete Faulkner… and me. Kapitan Mog reiterates that ‘yes, dear readers, poetry should be fun, not locked up in the Universities and Colleges, to be dissected by the Profs and students; it should be writ large on street hoardings, scrawled across pavements, recited at madcap parties, given free with cornflakes, printed on bogg-rolls; in fact it should be everywhere to be enjoyed and laughed over by everyone. It is not a serious business as some would have us believe nor a clever and intellectual exercise. Leave that to the pseuds.’ Which is pretty much where we came in.

'Bogg no.47'

‘As always, editing is a subjective affair’ insists no.47, ‘and we publish what takes our fancy.’ Through the 1980’s – typeset A5 from no.60 (1988), it was possible to detect a growing editorial schizophrenia infiltrating the issues, John Elsberg pushing his half relentlessly upmarket with real literate reviews, interviews and artistic credibility, while George – equally determinedly, continued cranking up the lunacy ratchet with his aggressively mimeo-mindset silly names and daft limericks (with a glancing-backwards ‘Old Boggs’ reprint page). Yet the fierce independence is a constant, for real strength and energy came from their artful collusion. They never applied for, and never received any kind of grant-aid. Joe Hirst catches the transatlantic split by satirising Margaret Thatcher as a flirty 1944 Grantham schoolgirl soliciting gum and nylons from passing GI’s, then as a skirt-billowing Marilyn Monroe (no.64 carries George’s obituary to Joe).

As George steps down, John concedes that ‘Bogg’ has ‘evolved in various ways over the years, but we have always tried to stay true to its essential character and ‘tone’.’ Yes, but perhaps this second-phase Anglo-American ‘Bogg’ deserves its own, separate feature. To be written some other time, with a slightly skewed perspective on what had come before. One in which Gerald Locklin, Kit & Arthur Knight, Jim Watson-Gove and AD Winans are the names to look out for. With Lyn Lifshin (an interview in no.60), Ann Menebroker (‘Bogg’ chapbook with no.62), Todd Moore (featured poet no.64), and Ruth Moon Kempher (featured poet no.71). But Billy Childish and Charles Bukowski are in there too. Richard Peabody writes of the “Guitar Player” whose ‘fingers know secrets, that eyes can’t understand’. Maybe that’s true of a poet’s pen, typewriter or laptop too. For it’s also all one, because ‘that identity in turn is clearly rooted in George Cairncross’ original intent.’ By 1992 the issue numbering was climbing into the upper-sixties, each one announced by that solid thump of the envelope erupting through the mail-slot and whumping down into the welcome-mat beneath. Until a double-issue ‘Journal Of Contemporary Writing’ no.73/74 came in two parts, dated 2006. And although issues had become more wide-spaced, it was only John Elsberg’s death in 27 July 2012 that finally brought the ‘Bogg’ adventure to an end. It had been a great party.


Gerald (SK14) said...

Brilliant commentary _ I must print a copy out and send it to John Frances Haines.

Andrew Darlington said...

Thanks Gerald. I've had lots of good feedback on this one...

Unknown said...

Excellent piece, Andy. Bogg dropping through the door was such a treat. (Frances McNeil)

Rip Mimeo said...

Andy - I tried to post a response but it was too long. I have posted instead at

Or get it through

Rip Mimeo said...

Andy - tried to leave a response but was too long. Instead I have posted it at

or get it through

Blogger said...

You might be qualified to receive a $1,000 Amazon Gift Card.

Unknown said...

My favourite ever poetry magazine. 5o unpredictable and witty. The Echo Room was also great.