Sunday, August 21, 2011


Hopefully soon, I'll be able to include a couple of reviews of books I've read recently. In the meantime, I've been thinking about poetry again, and expectations.

There was a comment I came across in an article, to the effect that there were these "bastions of neo-modernism", and it caused me to ask who they might be. Two possible candidates came to mind: Geoffery Hill and JH Prynne. They're both "difficult" poets and they could both be described as "neo-modernist"; but I wonder how much either poet sees themselves as "bastions" of anything. Personally, I lost contact with Geoffery Hill about the time of the The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Peguy, which I remember being very good, but then he was silent for years and came back with a rush of books I've never really had time to keep up with. My loss no doubt; but there's so much to read it's not possible to keep up with everyone.

JH Prynne I know through pieces in anthologies, some of which I find frankly baffling and some of which I find bafflingly beautiful. Which means I don't know what they're about, but I kind of like them. But again I haven't really followed him up to the Collected, and perhaps I should.

But it leads me to thoughts about influence. Another article, a review of the Selected Edward Thomas, informed me that he was a really important poet for the development of English poetry. And I guess he is, but again all I've read is the stuff in anthologies. Or - I tell a lie - I have picked up his Selected in libraries and read a few poems in them, probably more than either Prynne or recent Hill. If this amounts to influence, then I'm influenced, but not much.

Of the three, I probably like Hill the best; but I can't say that any of them mean that much to me. They don't - to use a lovely Quaker phrase - speak to my condition. Other poers who may be influenced by them, or by some aspect of them, maybe do; but I don't see much influence of Prynne in, say, Lee Harwood or Tom Raworth, for instance.

Edward Thomas and Prynne, and probably Hill too, are important to some for particular reading of English poetry. Edward Thomas leads to Larkin, leads to Armitage and Duffy, say; Prynne leads to the current crop of avant garde poets; Hill, no doubt, to another kind of poet. And then you start to take sides: Thomas vs Prynne vs Hill.

I like all three poets in their way. I like Hill's depth of reference, the strange surface music of Prynne and the quietly assertive values of Thomas. But not so much that other poets don't come first on my reading list. Maybe I'll get round to Prynne; I should probably have kept up with Hill; and Thomas would be pleasant to look at. But poetry in England is not one line, or two lines, or three; it's a field full of folk, and there's so much more to listen to. I'll be missing something by not studying all three, of course I will; but then I'll miss other stuff if I don't pursue that too.


Matt Bright said...

For me, Prynne points more towards America than England. I find myself using the same muscles when reading Olson, some language poets...

Steven Waling said...

I don't often reply to my own threads - but I would have that Celan was there as well as Olson. I'm also wary of saying that someone points this way or that - as a fan of English modern jazz I can see how it's both influenced by American music and by its own environment. The same would happen in poetry, surely>