Before Moy Sand and Gravel I enjoyed almost everything the man had written, since then it feels like Muldoon has been writing The Muldoon Poem. It's vBefore Moy Sand and Gravel I enjoyed almost everything the man had written, since then it feels like Muldoon has been writing The Muldoon Poem. It's very clever, it's full of word play and rhythmic mastery and the pyrotechnics are always dazzling. But the poems feel empty. It's like turning up to a concert and watching a superb musician demonstrate how fast he or she can play scales.
No stars because in one sense these are excellent poems but a type of poem that seems to do little but draw attention to how clever the poet is. ...more
The version I have looks as though someone has typed the pages on an old manual type writer, but apart from the odd typography a fascinating collectioThe version I have looks as though someone has typed the pages on an old manual type writer, but apart from the odd typography a fascinating collection of responses to Eliot's work as it appeared. ...more
Apart from the strange typography, the edition I read looks like it were typed on a manual type writer, this is a a fascinating collection of responseApart from the strange typography, the edition I read looks like it were typed on a manual type writer, this is a a fascinating collection of responses to Eliot's work as it appeared. It's hard to judge the bias of the selections but one thing that is missing is any review or discussion of Eliot's critical prose. ...more
The key term is "A personal essay". Fascinating as a historical document: the thirties poets are weighed by a thirties poet and even if Auden and DylanThe key term is "A personal essay". Fascinating as a historical document: the thirties poets are weighed by a thirties poet and even if Auden and Dylan Thomas were friends, MacNeice is nothing less than judicious in his handling of them. It's interesting to see how Eliot, Yeats and Pound were regarded by a representative of "the next generation' without the benefit of hindsight. MacNeice discusses what was then "the new poetry", the 'poetry of pylons", in terms of its rhythms and diction and imagery and is far less doctrinaire than many who followed. His preference is for the poet who is living outside the library:
'I would have a poet able-bodied, fond of talking, a reader of the newspaper, capable of pity and laughter, informed in economics, appreciative of women, involved in personal relationships, actively interested in politics, susceptible to physical impressions'. (198)
The idea that a sense of humour or reading the news paper were revolutionary qualifications for a poet says something about the world he was living in. It seems ironic that if you degendered poet, the statement would still seem revolutionary.
The essay is also an insight into MacNeice as poet, as three of the eleven chapters are his "case book", a survey of the development of his own poetics in which he critically reviews his younger self with its affectations and enthusiasms.
As criticism it offers a salutary reminder that "Modernism" was not the only game in town and it remains a testament to the idea that a poet doesn't have to look down his or her nose at everyone else:
Further I had to earn my own living, and that is antipathetic to a purely aesthetic view of life. And lastly, living in a large industrial city, Birmingham, I recognised the squalor of Eliot was a romanticised squalor because treated on the whole as decor. The 'short square fingers stuffing pipes' were not brute romantic objects abstracted into a picture by Picasso, but were living fingers attached to concrete people-were even, in a sense, my fingers. ...more
There's a genre of travel writing in which the eloquent and perceptive author travels to the foreign place and writes eloquent perceptive sounding phrThere's a genre of travel writing in which the eloquent and perceptive author travels to the foreign place and writes eloquent perceptive sounding phrases about it, supported by serious research into the history, economy culture and politics of said foreign place. The author has attitudes the foreign place either supports or challenges. Travel is usually tough, the natives dangerous or childlike, and our hero stoically suffering to bring back the news from where ever it is he or she decided to go suffer.
This is not that kind of book. In the 1930s MacNeice was offered a commission to write a book about the "Western Isles' of Scotland. He knew little about the place, and was surprised to discover that Gaelic was still the main language, which he didn't speak. He needed the money.
The book is what the editor of this edition describes as a "Promiscuous Hybrid". It contains passages that read like they've been lifted from a journal, flights of fancy, poems which range from the jocular and parodic to the magnificent Bagpipe Music, a spectral pair of irritating London acquaintances who are tracking MacNeice in order to write an expose about him, an argument with a Guardian Angel, a discussion between Head and Foot in Rhyming couplets, some very good parody, and passages of fine descriptive prose.
What saves the Hybrid is MacNeice as unpretentious narrator; his refusal to be what he is not, and his ability to describe people and things. Sometimes the book tips towards overdone whimsy: the last fictional letter from Hettie to Maisie (which is almost too long and nowhere near as funny as it should be), the conversation with the Guardian Angel, or even the pair of fantasy characters who dog him thoughout the book, are all in danger of outstaying their welcome but seem to depart just before the"skip this chapter' thought appears.
The honesty is literary artifice. From the narrative you'd be forgiven for thinking he was on his own in the first visit to the Islands. He doesn't acknowledge his companion, which raises the question of how the drawings got there. The poems dotted throughout the book feel like he's tuning up for Bagpipe Music, and the chapter 'Or one Might Write it So" contains fine parodies of Pater, D.H.Lawrence (very good), Yeats and Hemingway and ends with an short murder story written by A.N.Other.
It's an enjoyable and entertaining book, not a classic of any kind, and not one to read if you want to learn about the Islands in the 1930s. ...more
This is a collection of MacNeice's journalism, a companion volume to his selected criticism. As such it feels ephemeral..but at the same time interestThis is a collection of MacNeice's journalism, a companion volume to his selected criticism. As such it feels ephemeral..but at the same time interesting and enjoyable reading...if it's journalism it's MacNeice's journalism.....so it contains many good things: the parody chapter from 'I Crossed the Minch', extracts from Zoo, and then a range of good pieces on a variety of topics rom Rugby to Dogs, the best of which seem to be his 'letters' from London during the Blitz which are a beautifully observed and intelligent record. Or at least a record of an intelligence trying to observe and report in a precisely controlled language balancing the personal horror against the visual experience.
It's also interesting as a social document..it's difficult now to realise (or remember for that matter) how alien America seemed before the world was flooded by what passes for its culture: having been there, returning to England for the War before Pearl Harbour, MacNeice was asked to write and speak about "what it was really like". He does it with humour and punctures the stereo types on both sides of the Atlantic. What makes it interesting is that he records the stereotypes before demolishing them.
Not essential reading unless you're a MacNeice fan but very enjoyable. ...more
A "Radio parable play' which riffs on a combination of Browning's Childe Roland and 'Everyman' or 'PilgSo the edition I read only had the Dark Tower.
A "Radio parable play' which riffs on a combination of Browning's Childe Roland and 'Everyman' or 'Pilgrim's Progress'.
the opening announcement quotes Browning 'and yet/Dauntless the slughorn to my lips I set/ And blew "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came"' and makes the point 'Note well the words, 'and yet'. Roland did not have to-he did not wish to-and yet in the end he came to: The Dark Tower.'
As a reading of Browning this might rely too heavily on two words, but in MacNeice's version Roland, like all his family reaching back to George, has to travel on a quest to confront the dragon in the dark tower. He is trained for this from childhood, but isn't convinced it's what he wants to do, or even if it can be done.
The danger with parable and allegory, as MacNeice was well aware, is that they degenerate into a kind of unconvincing mechanical equivalence...Love=the girl, life=the quest etc etc....There has to be something more which makes the allegory stick in the reader's mind. Browning's Childe Roland works because while strongly suggesting that it "means" something it resists complete analysis. There's a powerful sense that the story is happening on the edges of one's vision rather than clearly in plain view.
MacNeice achieved much the same. He takes the parable, which reduced to prose would sound horribly banal, and allows it to escape from the algebraic confines of such thinking by presenting it as a dream. This means that significance is never simply this=that. This could represent a great deal of things, or just be itself. Mother is mother but Mothers, and the Sea Journey is a sea journey in a luxury liner complete with on board affair and dodgy steward and yet it could represent the real attractions of avoiding the dangers and discomforts of a task imposed by inheritance.
Obviously written to be heard, playing the tricks available (some of the scene shifts must have been very effective audibly, as when the Soax imagines a pub and the orchestra builds it for him) it still reads well....more
I read this when I was in primary school. I blame it for so much. I found a second hand copy and reread it. By today's standards it's very very dated,I read this when I was in primary school. I blame it for so much. I found a second hand copy and reread it. By today's standards it's very very dated, but what an introduction to History. ...more
I told a friend I was researching Graves' early work which was inspired by W.H.Rivers, and I'd read Rivers' 'Conflict and Dream'. He suggested i shoulI told a friend I was researching Graves' early work which was inspired by W.H.Rivers, and I'd read Rivers' 'Conflict and Dream'. He suggested i should read this, so I did. It's very good. There's not much to add to all the other reviews here, except that having read Rivers first I can vouch for the skilful way Barker folds history and fiction together, to the point where the dreams discussed in 'Conflict and Dream" are skilfully used to develop characters in the novel. ...more
A very detailed Look at Lomax's life; if you wanted to know 'where he was when' this book would tell you. It's fascinating to see the way Szwed slursA very detailed Look at Lomax's life; if you wanted to know 'where he was when' this book would tell you. It's fascinating to see the way Szwed slurs over some things, and emphasises others. The cast of characters is daunting. If you're interested in Lomax's type of music they are all here. And it all seems to belong to a different world. Disputes over the educational value of radio, the possibility of oral history, the idea of putting a subject in front of a microphone and getting them to talk about their lives, were all novel ideas in Lomax's lifetime.
It's fascinating to read this against or with "The land where the blues began' not just for the different information but for the very different styles. And it's also interesting to read it against Seamus Ennis's 'Field Diaries'. (Ennis appears briefly in Szwed when Lomax visits Ireland.)
Lomax appears as a driven, doubting, hard-working character. Whether he bent the information he collected, whether he misrepresented or invented "the blues' or whether he bent the stories about the collecting, his enthusiasm for what he collected was genuine, and his appetite for work was undoubted and the amount he got through more than impressive.
Szwed situates Lomax's work in the gradual development of a distinct American National Identity.
The most striking thing about the book is that the sub title is really not an exaggeration. He really did get around with his recording gear.
This is a fine selection of Essays. It is driven by a shared desire amongst the writers to generate interest in a book they find interesting. And whatThis is a fine selection of Essays. It is driven by a shared desire amongst the writers to generate interest in a book they find interesting. And what a book.
"The White Goddess" is unique: lunatic, provocative, and equal parts fascinating and frustrating. Perhaps the only thing that comes close is Yeats' "A Vision". Graves was burrowing down in an attempt to explain to himself where the poems came from and how the poet should live. He had discarded his work from the 1920s which had extended W.H.R.Rivers' work on Freud, and he had become obsessed with the figure of the White Goddess.
There may be people who take 'The White Goddess' at face value as a factual historical investigation, but that has always been a difficult position to hold and increasingly so given modern knowledge of the literature Graves was using. To write intelligently about it, to be enthusiastic without trying to hide the awkwardness, to be scholarly about a book that thumbs its nose at scholastic method, is a challenging task. The range of essays here do not shirk the critical problems: Graves' scholarship was dodgy, his "history" debatable, his method 'unique' and his sources unreliable but they each make a case for the book's value while admitting its flaws. For example, Celtic scholars have always been wary (for good reasons) and there's a good essay here by Mary-Ann Constantine called "The Battle for "The Battle of the Trees" which sums up the case against Graves and then suggests why his book might still be worthy of a celtic scholar's interest.
The one thing missing is probably an essay called "Was Laura Riding THE White Goddess?". It's taken for granted by some of the writers, but as Frank Kersnowski points out here, in an argument he later extended into a book length study, "The Early Poetry of Robert Graves", the idea of the Goddess was present from very early on. Riding claimed the ideas in the book were hers. Maybe it no longer matters. But I think assuming that Graves wrote the book to write Laura into a manageable figure in his private mythology is to reduce this remarkable book to something polite and easy to deal with: a mistake most of these essays don't make.
I think Paul O'Prey sums it up in more ways than one at the end of his essay "The White Goddess: A Proselytising Text": He wrote, Graves had a "quasi religious commitment to poetry" which was "without parallel amongst all his contemporaries".
That can make Graves a very uncomfortable writer to deal with. There was no pretence of scholarly objectivity, instead an intense personal commitment to what was essentially a private mythology, and it's the intensity and the subjectivity that can make readers uncomfortable if not dismissive.
O'Prey's last paragraph continues:
'Of all the twentieth century's strategies to regenerate English poetry...this was the most idiosyncratic and even the most radical as well as curiously the most convincing, because it addresses not stylistics or rhetoric (like most other such strategies) but the moral and cultural foundations on which poetry is built. Although the strategy is unworldly, it is not unpolitical. 'The White Goddess' was Grave's somewhat jaundiced view of what had gone wrong with western society, and was a stirring call for poets to lead the way in its reform. And for him the poet would not succeed in this by extra-literary interventions to heal the wounds in society, as he had somewhat grandiosely announced as his intention in "Poetic Unreason' twenty years earlier , but by rather more humbly and realistically trying to heal himself."
This is what might poetry might have looked like “before the rules made it a pedant’s game”.
And before going further, not only do Carcanet need to beThis is what might poetry might have looked like “before the rules made it a pedant’s game”.
And before going further, not only do Carcanet need to be applauded for publishing this but whoever saw to the back cover got the blurb right. He or she wisely kept the ringing endorsements from Bunting and Ginsberg that graced the back of Tiepin Eros, Pickard’s selected, and then added comments from Paul Macartney and Annie Lennox. This might look like a grab for a different market, but in reality it’s a testimony to the breadth of the collection.
What characterizes Pickard’s poems as a reading experience is that you’re never sure what’s going to be on the next page. Most single author collections settle to a recognizable form and subject matter, but Pickard’s don’t. He is one of the few English poets who can write directly about sex in all its forms and variations without sounding coy or crude or clinical. The political poems rage beside carefully observed pieces that let the wind and the birds into the landscape, and the intricate mess of human relationships is dealt with in all its baffling complexities.
His style is his own, but like any style evokes its own ghosts. There’s occasionally a whiff of the Mersey beat poets, without their self-conscious desperation to be wry. Most often he writes like a hard core imagist from 1912, except it’s hard to imagine a hardcore imagist with a sense of humor or rage and a willingness to write directly about the world as it is.
He had the minimalistic style under control from the start.
sitting in firelight your face in shadow the little gold glint of your ring.
At times the ghosts of the high modernists drift in the background, but Pickard writes poems with both feet in the daylight world of jobs and joblessness and messy relationships and blackberry picking, not in a theoretical library or a seminar room. This is not poetry that deliberately references other poetry with a knowing wink.
Holding this all together is the pared down traditional ballad, with its economy and rhythm, obvious in “The ballad of Jamie Allan” his ballad opera which closes out the book, but throughout the collection.
These three elements combine to make something that is stripped down and spare, but moving rhythmically and at its best melodically. Before the fools made poetry a pedant’s game, to misquote, a poet might not need to carry a whole baggage of cultural references and academic expectations; or spend its time worrying about conceptualizing the art: a poet might be an intelligent, eloquent, independent human, full of curiosity with a gift for arranging words into memorable patterns. The makar lives outside the library, reflects on life, and organizes those reflections into patterns of words. So the poems are angry or tender, bemused, political, personal, a way of responding to and organizing a life. The skill and knowledge are in the craft and the making, and it would be a horrible mistake to think Pickard is artless.
The poems are then offered to the reader, with out apology. They offer a space for thinking through and in language, which requires nothing but an honest openness to the words on the page.
Somewhere in this book each reader, if he or she is honest, is going to find poems he or she finds offensive, or dull or pointless. I think this is a good thing. Poetry that is always being polite and clever, soliciting quiet poetry orgasms from those in the know, the kind of poetry you need a library or a degree in poetry to explain, is all very well for writing essays about in a library or for buying for your elderly maiden aunt, but it’s becoming an utterly pointless self-perpetuating exercise.
Finally one of the many things I have admired about Pickard’s poems since I first encountered them is a strange ambivalence. On the one hand these are often very personal poems. It’s difficult not to read them as personal responses to personal situations. We’re light years away from Eliot’s claim that the aim of art is to escape from personality.
But despite this, the poems are not what Geoffrey Hill recently described as the poetic equivalent of a selfie. The pared down language, the rhythm and the melody seem to be heading towards a hard won anonymity. The non-Pickard poem which reminds me most of Pickard is:
Westron Wynde when wyll thow blow The smalle rayne downe can Rayne Cryst yf my love were in my Armys And I yn my bed agyne.
Aldington tends to survive as a foot note in histories of either Modernism or Imagism or as a walk on part in various other writer's biographies. So iAldington tends to survive as a foot note in histories of either Modernism or Imagism or as a walk on part in various other writer's biographies. So it's fascinating to read his poems stripped of other people's prejudices and commentaries. Although he gets drafted amongst the verse revolutionaries, the majority of these poems are formal and enjoyably conventional. If you set them against the poems Pound wrote up to the end of the first world war it would be difficult to pick between them.
The poems in Images of desire sound more physically direct than a lot of early 20th century poetry, and it's refreshing to read someone from that period who doesn't seem appalled by physical contact. That said he is very much a man of his time and class and habits and occasionally this jars. The poems in images of war are an intelligent eloquent man's response, but the poems don't stand out in any way. Towards the end of the Volume, which is arranged chronologically I think, Aldington experiments with long rambling freer verse forms, (Memory says he was competing with Eliot at this point but I don't know if thas the case) These are hard going and often read like bad prose.
For anyone interested in the History of poetry, Aldington's introduction is fascinating for the version it offers of his perception of the role he played in various historical moments. ...more