Thursday, December 8, 2016


Listening to the British Library's British Poets CD, which Robert Mitchell kindly gave me the other day because, disappointingly, it was a dud: his expectations of disc 3's WS Graham, Amis, Edwin Morgan, G. Mackay Brown et al, dashed upon the rock'n'roll of Ferlinghetti, Bukowski, Ginsberg, --the American disc slipped incorrectly into the British box-set. And it is a shock on the ear let alone sensibility; the speak easy vs the elocution lesson… The contrast's the greater because one's probably missing Whitman's introduction, from whence the long century of a determined modern cultivation, mostly all free one imagines, even as Ashbery's sestina or Sexton's parables, the colloquial messing up the old poetical.

On the 2nd English disc, Dylan Thomas follows George Barker, and it's his dramatic  diddledy-di which upsets the decorous continuum, as far as annunciation's concerned, from C Day-Lewis through John Betjeman (full of fun, a poetry that sticks in the ear, history recorded via nostalgia and as true as comedy allows), Spender, Auden. Sorley MacLean is different & not only due to the Gaelic (that is, the Gaelic's thoroughly not-Englishness); and R S Thomas in another way. But Dylan Thomas is something else, the strong & continuous flowing, the rhymes & rhythms, the repetitious or better said, the apparent circularity of image & rhyme; in the spirit of Hopkins & Yeats, accessible to their great spirits.

The British disc is an entire lesson, whether or not in the largely bypassed diction --a lesson in the old craft by its late practitioners, the mid 20th Century's sages & stars who were the main men on the shelf when I was beginning, hardly beginning, early '60s ℅ Southampton's public libraries. I got into my own stride by rejecting the lot of them. I was looking for W C Williams not Charles on the poetry shelf!

Listening to the American disc, I can imagine the converse surprise of the American poetry buff, the  horror listening to Larkin or Hughes instead of John Ashbery or Le Roi Jones… And I can hear how Adrienne Rich connects with Anne Sexton & I'm sure Sylvia Plath too. Incantation by which didactic is kept sweet to the lyric. Question : How remain individual (retain eccentric personality) in the vortex of the topical (perhaps the involuntary generality)? How save individual in the maelstrom of the everyday (one's 'particular narrowness' as per Celan)? How prevent the signature American poetry (the declasse vernacular to which all accents adhere, Walt's 'democratic idiom') convoluting to artless prose? My questions, only mine, never finally put away…

(December, 8th, '16)

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