Archive for April 14th, 2012

Geoffrey Hill on camera: comic inspiration and “anarchical plutocracy”

Saturday, April 14th, 2012
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What is it that makes normal journalists go all of a doodah when they interview poets?  The most inane questions pop up, uttered with the utmost self-reverence.  But still, in these two interviews, you get Geoffrey Hill, one of the English language’s greatest living poets (there are several), so it can’t be all bad.

You have two choices here.  You can visit the Economist interview, interspersed with pretentious text explanations – like a silent movie that has to clue you in about what’s happening.  It’s here.  “Critics suggest the anxiety of an agnostic faith often plays an important role in his work,” according to one of the texts, which would come as a surprise to those who consider him to be fundamentally engaged with religious questions, and also given his admitted “anxiety about the fate of my own soul.”  Maybe it’s because, according to another caption text, his work has “often been criticised for its seeming difficulty.” Sheesh.

His inspiration

But the lighting is warm and intimate, and you get interesting ponderings like this:  “I never began a poem knowing how it will end, and I have never ended a poem knowing how it will begin.”  Also, he comments on living in an age of “anarchical plutocracy.”  Don Share‘s blog here has a longer quote from Hill on the subject:

Until very recently I thought that I had invented the term plutocratic anarchy, but it appears to have originated with William Morris… Morris’s term, to be precise, is “anarchical Plutocracy”. Anarchical Plutocracy destroys memory and dissipates attention; it is the enemy of everything that is summoned before us in Bishop Butler’s great pronouncement of 1729; “Everything is what it is, and not another thing”. Bad poetry, bad art, also dissipate the sense of things at once exactly and numinously understood. Great poetry is an act of unfailing attention; its frequently cited “music” must so be understood.

The whole Economist interview prompted an interesting post over Bebrowed’s Blog here.

In the second film clip, you must suffer the pretentious violin music in the background.  I include the entire BBC interview below. In the film, Hill says, “My reputation is that of a solemn, dry-as-dust intellectual – and really, I’m a brawling fantasist.”  Or was in brawny fantasist? I couldn’t tell.  He admits his work is inspired by comedians.

What did he hope to do with Oxford’s professorship of poetry?  “I welcome the opportunity to go over there once a term and perform one-thousandth as well as Ken Dodd,” he admitted.

Postscript on 4/15: And now we know why: “Freud’s theory was that when a joke opens a window and all those beasts and bogeymen fly out you get a marvellous sense of relief and elation. The trouble with Freud is that he never had to play the old Glasgow Empire on a Saturday night after Rangers and Celtic had both lost.”~ Ken Dodd