Sunday, August 10, 2014

imagine singing

What about the other poets in the Anthology?

The first time I read Bertram Stevens' choice I came away with a quick impression of softness and grandness or quietness and grandness, the language of grandness (“gold,” and “purple” objects, verbs happening “oft”) without royal aggression: here were people who would rather talk about roses than say anything satirical, here nostalgia was the fad, never comedy – and even on a second and third look it's not a funny book, Stevens not a man who cared about humour in poems (see his selection from Banjo Paterson -- nature things and Clancy of the Overflow), and Walter Murdoch in 1918 wasn't mad keen either, in The Oxford Book of Australasian Verse – still, the different level of attention in the second and third go-arounds penetrated that first impression and now I realise that a few poets like John Farrell (1851 – 1904) had the impatience that I smelt faintly, faintly when I was reading Bathgate's Sydney.

“The noisiest find quiet graves,” is the way he sums up the deaths of British adventurers abroad in Australia to England (1897), which may not look like much but when I saw him write in close phrases through the whole poem I thought that here was a poet whose ideas came to him so vividly that they came as song.

“I imagine singing I imagine | getting it right,” wrote Geoffrey Hill once, and Paul Muldoon, talking about T.S. Eliot in 2011, said, “He has a great ear, a rarer and rarer commodity these days, even among fairly highly regarded poets.” Ezra Pound is an advocate of song in The ABC of Reading. It's possible that Hill, who admires Pound, was echoing the ABC when he associates “singing” with “getting it right.” But Hill is hard on himself and uses absolutes. Not “getting it acceptable” but “getting it right.” “Either the thing moves, RAPMASTER, or it | does not,” is what he believes* in Speech! Speech!, the enjambment reminding me of the same before the word “mute” in Wordsworth's There was a Boy, which I would not have thought of if Himadri at The Argumentative Old Git hadn't written about it in July.

The moment of silence before the admission of incapacity, that's what I'm looking at, does not speak in one case, does not work in the other. “Hopefully, RAPMASTER, I can take stock | how best to oút-ráp you.” There's always something to live up to. (The Moldovan bots have overtaken the Russians in my stats.)

* He challenges the value of movement ("I disclaim spontaneity, | the appearance of which is power") but not the fact of it. "I wíll | mátch you fake pindaric for trite | violence, evil twin."


  1. A feature of your writing, of the flow of the posts, is that it is a challenge to re-enter after a two week vacation. But I have found my way back in. The turn to Bathgate and Hill has been interesting. Have you seen the recent Forthnightly Review piece on Hill by Alan Wall?

    1. I hadn't seen that Hill but now that I have, I think I'm going to put it on my sidebar. And Wall mentions Bohm, who is one of the rare physicists that the physicist-criticising mathematician admires, because, he says, Bohm followed his theories where they took him, even if it made him look like an unserious eccentric.

      I've looked at the time and realised that I have to drop this and get to work, but, quickly, when I see Wall say that Hill interrogates language, I think of a piece I saw earlier today, about the Sovereign Citizen movement, and their "cargo cult" or "magical" approach to words (believing that if they cite the right phrase from an obscure document then the normal laws of the land will dissolve and let them through). Would it be possible to argue that modernism is opposed to magic?

      (I appreciate your patience, going back through those posts. Bathgate was more interesting than I've made him sound. Pioneering Kiwi conservationist and park-builder.)