Friday, March 03, 2006

Well-lodged poetry

RSB reprints Michael Schmidt's superb bimonthly PN Review editorial that made me, when I read it in the magazine itself, want to rush out and buy Geoffrey Hill's latest work. That is, if clicking on my Amazon UK shortcut is rushing out.

PN Review 168 was to be the final installment of my subscription. I have an awkward relationship with poetry (PN stands for Poetry Nation BTW). I realised that I wasn't reading the poems. The latest edition has a fascinating interview with the poet Sebastian Barker (link to a publisher's page) which, again, makes me want to read his work, though, in all honesty, I suspect it's not poetry I want. So why does poetry tend not to be enough?

I think it's because I like the discursive potential of prose. Poetry is serialism to the symphony of prose. The power of poetry, however, is contained in its ability to invent language; those unique phrases that lodge themselves in one's mind and mouth like shards of the grail. Perhaps a preference for prose is a lapsed attentiveness; a wish to bypass language with language (the way 'punk writers' imagine they can bypass form with content; with vice and vice versa).

My copy of Geoffrey Hill's Collected Poems tells me that I've owned it for 12 years. I've had it all this time and yet I know only a few poems. But some lines are well-lodged. One of them is the strapline to my dumpsite with the unfortunate, though probably accurate, URL: The Gaping Void.


  1. Do you wanna read some poetry that's usefull? Come check out my blog...

  2. Interesting that you use the word "discursive" Steve, since it reminds me of one of my favorite discussions of the differences between poetry and prose (in Herbert Read's Engliah Prose Style):

    "Poetry is creative expression; prose is constructive expression. That is perhaps a summary way of expressing a distinction we may hope to establish as we proceed. But 'creative' is a word to be used with discretion in a critical vocabulary, and it is certainly not the antithesis of 'constructive.' There is, however, a valuable distinction to be made between mental activities that take in impressions and condense and concentrate them, and mental activities that merely disperse impressions from a store of memory--the activities of condensation and dispersion. Poetry seems to be generated in the process of condensation; prose in the process of dispersion. Ezra Pound has pointed out that the German word for poetry (Dichtung) expresses this characteristic of poetry (dicten means 'to condense' in the chemical sense, as well as 'to compose' a poem).

    Condensation leads to transformation."

    I'd disagree that prose "merely disperse(s) impressions from a store of memory," but there is something essentially true here, I think.

  3. Thanks Sam. Interesting indeed, and much more useful than some comments I can think of ... -looks up-



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