Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Critical Writings of Geoffrey Hill

Bloody hell. I was just trawling sub guidelines and online zines for the sake of Spoken/Written, when I found myself at the Blackbox Manifold Online Magazine. I looked at a recent edition, and saw that there was a review of Geoffrey Hill's Collected Critical Writings. I have to admit, that despite having all his published poetry available in print in the UK, I haven't yet read the Critical Writings - not out of laziness, but due to its cost and no longer having access to an academic library. (When asking for recently published academic books at a public city library, I was told that, well, I could order it...yes, fine. If I wanted to hear nothing for at least two months, and after that, there'd be no guarantee, and...I didn't ask what had happened to inter-library loans, just left the overworked and cynical librarian alone as they seemed to desire.)
So I was mightily interested to read this review. It was well written and extremely interesting, by Adam Piette, and almost used Hill-esque language in parts. It portrayed the book almost as an indictment of mainstream culture and the paths that literature and poetry have gone down in the last fifty years. The review itself was a remarkable description of the book, and I'm looking forward to knowing how accurate or not I think it is (fully aware of the irony of writing a kind of pseudo-review of, or at best comment about, a review...).
Another of his claims is that Hill (and I could believe that) sketches out an ethical and consistent code of poetic or artistic honour from salutary critique of the mainstream or accepted norm to moral consistency to rigorous profiting by the example of past masters of history. Piette ends by saying that no one pretty much would or could follow such a proposed example or path.
What a challenge to any admirer of Hill's work, also an artistic practitioner who exists outside the mainstream! Who themselves honour philosophy, history and a differing code of 'ethics'. (Making no claims - perhaps we follow some ways because they suit us, like choosing a degree subject in which you will do better than another, finding it in some way 'easier'. Or make scurrilous justifications of your own position, giving it explanations in tall cut letters?)
But I can't help wondering if that's really what Critical Writings says?? Is it really laying down some holy gauntlet proffered to the wary? Or is it meant rhetorically, as being already far too heavy for anyone but himself to lift?

Check out the full review at;

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