Monday, June 15, 2015

Geoffrey HIl's last lecture as Oxford Professor of Poetry

So the Rancorous Old Sod [His term, not mine] has finished his five year stint as Oxford Professor of Poetry.  It seems a long time since the scandal that cleared the field and lead to his election. If he wasn't one of the initial frontrunners,  it has been fortuitous that he got the post.

The current batch of candidates for his place don't offer anything like the same possibilities.

The Field of Cultural production that is poetry is characterised by the bitterness with which the inmates attack each other. Opinionating on poetry litters the media, facebook is full of it, and anyone who wants to can set him or her self up as a "poet" or "critic" and mouth off.

So it's good that someone like Geoffrey Hill got the opportunity to argue his version of poetry in a  public forum.  It's not a popular version. As one commentator noted after the first lecture, students were being exposed not just to someone who cared, but to someone who had spent his life scrutinising the art. It's lunatic to think you have to agree with everything anyone says.  But the challenge here is to be able to articulate the objection.

The lectures, like Hill's published criticism, aren't "easy listening".  They don't walk a straight line to a soundbite.  There was no final summing up in the last lecture and he resisted the temptation to go out with all guns blazing. Perhaps he has been a little too aware of the dignity of his office, but the lectures were always thought provoking.

A vote of thanks to whoever decided to make them available as podcasts.

Hopefully, they will soon be published.

Hill said in this last lecture there is not one simple narrative of poetry in English, but narratives. It has been a privilege to hear his version. It's not comfortable, but it comes out of a sustained consideration of the art of poetry which produces work and opinions that require and reward an equally sustained consideration.

But for those who want sound bites he sums up his position with a quotation:

"I am not interested in self-expression: I am interested in expressiveness."

You can find the last lecture at the link below.

Hill's last lecture

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