I was at a session in the Edinburgh Book Festival today which looked back at the 1962 Conference, and the memories came flooding back.
I was then working as a barman in the old North British Hotel, and I managed to attend the Scottish Literature session on my day off. So I was there when Trocchi told everyone he had written everything of value in the past twenty years, and MacDiarmid made his ‘cosmopolitan scum’ comment.
John Calder and Jim Haynes were both in good form today, and John made the claim that the Conference had helped to open up society, not just in Scotland, but in other parts of the UK. The relaxing of censorship, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and a flowering of literature, had their beginnings here. It’s a big claim to make, but certainly the time before it and the time after were different.
I can only attest to the effect it had on my own writing. I had earlier discovered American poetry in Jim Haynes’ bookshop, The Paperback, in Charles Street, but the 1962 Conference was the first time I had come across a platform full of writers who were happy to express a huge variety of opinions on anything under the sun. The effect it had on me was to solidify my ambitions – it would be a good thing to be a writer, and to keep such company. It also gave me permission to experiment in writing, to break away from a historical approach to literature, and to look beyond the boundaries of my own country. And although I would later experience a 20-year hiatus in my writing, I still look back on the period as one which set my course as a writer, and I’m still grateful to John and Jim for making such an exciting and inspiring event happen.
So what’s next? John talked about the Drama Conference of 1963, and the ‘happening’ which stopped the series of conferences dead in their tracks, but he said he’d had plans for an international poetry conference for 1964. Could we maybe start thinking about that for 2014?