Saturday, January 14, 2012

Antidotes to sludge: Geoffrey Hill's Oxford Lectures.

So as antidote to sludge, I recommend Geoffrey Hill’s lectures as Oxford Professor of Poetry which are available here:

It says something unpleasant about poetry world that some of the people in it can be so outraged by the fact that the man dares to have opinions that don’t match theirs. In a cultural field where “transgression” and “oppositional criticism” and “subversion” are catch cries of an unreflective orthodoxy, it’s just not acceptable to criticise.

And he has a sense of humor. Which is there in the poems.

His lectures, like his prose criticism, are not easy going. If you’re expecting a single argument driven logically through a series of supporting points, you’re going to be confused. Some years ago, we set out from Laytown to drive to the Hill of Tara. It took me far too long to realize that following the road signs was the least useful way of finding the place. But of all the journeys, that one sticks in my head.

Hill’s critical work reminds me of that journey: words are so untrustworthy they have to be forced and bent: the destination may be visible but the route to it is not always obvious. The work glitters with fascinating insight but the overall direction is not necessarily obvious.

And he has a sense of humor.

Whether you agree with him or not, the world of poems needs people like this who stand their ground and talk with passionate conviction and vast knowledge about poems: about their value, and about the value of approaching them as worthy of deep consideration without marching forth behind some trendy banner daubed with slogans.

There’s something obdurate there to push against. An argument worth sifting and considering. SOmething that might be worth disagreeing with.

This following quote comes from:
Geoffrey Hill's First Lecture as Oxford Professor of Poetry
By Jeffrey Wainwright from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.

His [Hill’s] message is that contemporary poetry is only ever what it is by virtue of its past and that its history cannot be elbowed aside by the self-important contemporary.

What will students new to the voice of their new professor have learned? First and foremost, aside from any of the arguments advanced, I believe that as Hill read they will have heard poetry's visceral power and in his analyses its immediate intellectual substance. They will have recognized that the 'English studies' they may be engaged upon is no light matter or pastime. Poetry, and by extension literature, has a 'technic' and a history to be absorbed, and through that unfinishable labour its passion and importance can be known and felt.

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