Thursday, June 30, 2005

Had this e-mail from Angela:

Nice to see you reading an English poet for a change Steve -your love of the
Americans is well documented! (Did I say 'love'? I meant obsession! (though it
is quite lovable)). Meg Peacocke is superb! I was very daunted when I found
myself on the same course as her, the late much-loved Dorothy Nimmo and the
ever-strong Pat Pogson. But they were all so lovely to me I stayed and learned
things. What I admire most about Meg's work is the restraint, typically English
(though George Szirtes is fab at it too) of all she puts between her lines.
There's something Jane Austeny there - something lemony. The course was Roger
Garfitt's one at Madingly Hall, about 10 years ago.

Hmmmm, restraint isn't the word I'd use for Meg Peacocke's work, except in the sense that it doesn't talk very loudly. Respect is a much better word, I feel: what she does is to respect her subject and talk directly at the matter in hand. There's nothing wasted in her lines (in that, she's like the late Dorothy Nimmo - who also doesn't strike me as being at all restrained.) It's almost - though not quite so "restrained" as - Objectivist in its concentration (an American movement largely.) If Peacocke is restrained, it's because she wants to concentrate on what's in front of her and to record the scene as accurately as possible, not, I think, through making a virtue of that restraint.

And I'm really not sure at all what "typically English" means. It may well be typical of a certain kind of Englishness to be reticent about emotion, deadpan in diction etc, but it certainly doesn't fit with the "Englishness" of Blake or Milton, or even Shakespeare. And it seems to exclude the more Celtic imagination of a Dylan Thomas, a WS Graham or an Edwin Morgan, not to mention such poets as Roy Fisher and Ken Smith. All of them male, I note. I must include more women: ok, Denise Riley, Geraldine Monk for starters. None of them restrained, frankly by anything. "Lemony" I do agree with, though, and the Jane Austen reference is probably accurate too.

I wish I had more of these responses, they make me think about things more.

Anyway, back to the Cambridge Poetry Summit. What was interesting to me was how it was not unlike what I imagine a Star Trek Convention to be like, but for intellectuals. A lot of people with a very singular obsession gathered in one place to talk about what they love the best. That's the good thing about these events; it's so seldom that you get the chance to talk to people who share poetry in such a deep way. An obsession with words in more or less formal arrangement must seem strange to outsiders more interested in bargains in T-shirts or the cricket scores. I had some great conversations and heard some great poetry, but it was still a little world we were in away from the real world.

And it was so good to do that! Like going to Arvon, I guess: but without the intense writing and having to share the cooking. If I still have some money, I'm going again next year.

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