Monday, July 29, 2013

Geoffrey Hill, Robert Graves, Heresy.

In his most recent Oxford lecture (30th April 2013), Geoffrey Hill said:

Rather to my belated surprise Graves is becoming a key figure in this series of lectures.
He went on to say:

Two of Graves’s early prose books ‘On English Poetry’, 1922 and ’Poetic Unreason  and Other Studies’ 1925,  I would certainly recommend for autodidactic, self apprenticed deeply eccentric young poets.

I may not be young, but I’ll accept the other terms.  

I know Graves’s later criticism well. He is my favourite writer on English poetry, bracing in his iconoclasm. Reading him one is constantly obliged to remember that that what is on offer is a personal opinion, a well informed, deeply considered opinion based on years of study and thought, underwritten by personal practice. But an opinion which at times could be wrong and which, driven by its own honesty, could arrive in places that can only be described as bizarre.  You can never take him for granted, or simply parrot what he wrote. I don’t think anyone should ever do this with anyone:  the reader’s duty is to weigh the verdict on offer by going back to the poems and poets under discussion. 

The gift of Graves’s criticism is the obligation it places on the reader to think; the proffered courtesy is his assumption that the reader is intelligent and responsible enough to do this.  

I knew of the books Hill mentions from various biographies, but had never read either, so tracked them down.  When I have read “The Meaning of Dreams” which he doesn’t mention but sits between them, I’ll discuss all three.

They are awkward reading. They seem so… different to what passes  as contemporary literary discourse. Firstly, Graves wrote clear elegant prose. Even when he is at his loopiest in things like ‘The White Goddess’, the writer of “The reader over your shoulder” never lost sight of his obligation, as a writer, to communicate. He has something to say and he wants to communicate it to the reader. What a quaint old fashioned idea!  How bizarre that seems coming out of reading someone like Derrida or Lacan.  He doesn’t need a secondary exegesis; but you are constantly aware of the complexity of the thought on offer.

Had he been central in the way Eliot was, the self-supporting, self-important  circus of critics who make careers out of explaining what that other critic meant in her explanation of yet another critic might never started.  
Secondly, he is writing about poetry from the perspective of someone who writes it, nagging at an attempt to explain the process of creation. Which makes his writing uncomfortable. It’s like reading Freud where I hope he’s not right because if he is I’d have to admit to thoughts and feelings the day light world says I shouldn’t be having.

If Literature had not ridden into the university curriculum on the back of the kind of nonsense written about poetry by Shelley and Emerson, Pound, Eliot, and more recently by Dana Gioia, so that three years of an intelligent person’s life could be spent learning from self appointed ‘experts’ how to read like said self appointed expert for an ill defined purpose; if Literature had been studied not as surrogate religion or cultural prophylactic, not as something to read with reverence but as something to produce, then Graves would be central to the curriculum in ways Eliot and his blather about impersonality and strips of platinum could never have been.

And the recent passion for literary theory in creative writing courses would never have happened. And twentieth century poetry would have been almost unimaginably different. Because once you have reception as your focus, the circus demands the kinds of poems that HAVE to be explained.

Hill also said, explaining his surprise at Graves’s growing importance.

Incessant self-education is one of the recurring pleasures of my kind of work.

I am edging towards the opinion that self-education, with all its false starts dead ends and frustrations, might be the only game in town worth playing.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The 2013 Bad Joyce Award

And the winner is


And in case the link dies here is the effusion with hitherto unpublished explanatory notes in purpule. What intrigued me is how easy it is to do this badly and how that underlines why doing it well is so insanely difficult.

Jay's son and the Fish Herman
By J.W.Winebar

Yes, G O’logical, harmed with prick and stammers, is evacuating my fallacious period, hoping to find dinner saucers.
This began as a totally meaningless play on Geological because I liked the idea of my “fallacious period”…I had no idea what it meant. The geologist is armed with prick, not pick, and this then sets up, again unintentionally, all the sexual references to follow. Dinner saucers a meaningless play on dinosaurs.

Back then I was on the royal road to the sub-constable, running from the veryneesy,  anal trickcyclist , Siggy, who was arrested for a fraudulent slit.

The royal road to the subconscious is Freud’s description of dreams, hence Siggy the Vienese psychiatrist, or psychoanalyst. I've  always liked the idea that anal is in psychoanalysis.  Though for me references to constables=the third policeman so the Royal Road=The rocky Road to Dublin…Freudian slip=fraudulent slit (linked to prick above, as well as “leers” in the “pubelick louse”)
G.O, I says, says I, while nostalgicating alcofrolickally over a few leers in the pubelick louse:
q) Cans’t shell  me eggs acterly what eventumanated?
a) Whilst imprisonyated by the sub-constuble, under sub section fifty spew, parachute 3, sub selection hive of the indecency fact,  inside the sub-vestibule  he did endite a tome, hight, in the vernacular, “The interpolation of creams”   The interpretation of dreams…exonerating his fraudamunt slit. And fleeced us all for gold.the first of several Jason and the Argonaut references and at the same time the idea that the book “fleeced us”…is in itself a kind of fraud….
q) Ah G.O  me dear, have some cold cheese, (Argo (Jayson’s ship), Medea, (his wife) Colchis, where he went to) which picks up Fleece above and then runs into the idea of the quest which follows)   slurp your grin bionic and tell to me in words spain and dimple of the subconstabo hoo buouillion.  Where id ego? 
a) the royal road to the subconscious has become the rocky road to Dublin…here introduced by the usual nonsense rhyme of an irish chorus…Whack his folderol he diddled his dildo on the rocky road to bubbling, from galway’s bay to the swine dark tea(irish=tea drinking…swine dark is obvious though it links to a run on pig jokes)
q) You can’t pig snore ham, canoe? (You can’t ignore him, can you?)  But doing what, tell me tell me. Give me the goss.
A) well, as I’ve heard it said, he was burning hairs all the way. (The chorus to rocky road is “hunt the hair and turn her/ all the way to Dublin/Whack fol ol de ra (and god alone knows what “hunt the hare and turn her” is supposed to mean )
q) That and that alone?
a) this now riffs off on Yeats’ “The Wanderings of Aengus” which is another quest narrative…what follows is obvious word play if you know the poem… Nah, he wanted to arrestimacate a deviant old fish  Herman, Aengus his mythical moniker.  Clammed to have cast his line and caught a dish, a silvery stout! .  When he laid his crutch upon the tyre, it burned into a simmering churl, with apple blossom round her fair, who flashed her bits at him and ran, into the dark king’s lair. Singing “maids, when you’re young, never bed a cold ham” (The last bit is “maids when you’re young/never wed an old man” a song giving reasons why young girls shouldn’t do this…and which gives the silent girl in Yeats' poem a bit of a voice. The pig reference is obvious and leads back to Pig snore, but also to tea (cut ham for “tea”…) )
q) Anne Heeded? (And he did?)
a) No no, that was not her nam. Some think she was a fig meant  for his imagined nation. (Obvious) He Followed up the airy mountain and down the rushy glen, (there’s a famous poem with this line in it…a dig at the essential sillyness of Aengus) with his blackthorn stick on the gravel walk, along the mountain road  (OK, After the rocky road there’s now comes a run on tune titles ) 
Q)  Your mystical musical jigging code leaves me reeling…a gentle nudge in case the point is missedbut tell me, tell me…by the lord Harry Doodlums…the porpoise  he proposed, to himself if to no other, not his father or his mother or his sister or his brother, the desired, to him, termination of his endless vagabondation, of his up goings and down comings, on his hay down treaders across ridges and cwms, his wadings through streams, his weddings through corn, his windings through sheds and beds and streets and sheets, his lookings and his lostings, his hopings and gropings , his endless leavings and arrivings? this is fairly obvious….though Hay down treaders is a passing reference to Seamus Ennis’ awesome “Don Niperi Septo” (Which Carson prints as “The Dairy Maid” in 'Last Night’s Fun')…...Ennis is one of the great Pipers, and he introduces “the smokey house reel" with an brilliant bit of storytelling about a little girl who gets hired by a strange man who teaches her to rename everything in the house. The punchline goes: “ Rise up from your Barnacle, Dom Niperi Septoe and put on your Fortune’s crackers and your Hay–down treaders and come down the Wooden Hill because white faced Simony has a spot of Hot Cockelorum on his tail and if we don’t pour Pondelorum on it quick the great castle of staw Bungle will be in hot cockalorum”….
a) Merely to osculate. (I avoided the obvious play on “pluck til time and times are done')  Repeatedly, when he finally came to hour down. ( another song lurks here, Aitken drum(there came a man to our town etc…and his hat was made of the good roast beef”)  after a dinner of the good roast beef, against her ruby slips (which links back to all the slit references earlier but also suggests his attentions may be unwanted ), and to fondle her digitals with his phone.

Jay son I’d not walk all the way to fork for that, I’d be interpolating creams to be sure eye wood,I’d want to see her very dinner saucers at the very least and fondle her blooms day after day. 
Time, said the barmanminder, time to go Yes to G.O  says I, Yes. (Ok, the absence of  absent punctuation in the last section is obvious and so is the last word.)