Geoffrey Hill bids farewell to Oxford: “The craft of poetry is not a spillage but an in-gathering.”

Asked if he liked a particularly severe photograph of himself, he replied: "It terrifies me."

Characteristically vital, vexing, and invigorating.

Over at Forms of Loving: Readings in Poetry, poetry critic Maria Johnston noted maestro Geoffrey Hill‘s final lecture as Oxford Professor of Poetry (it’s a four-year appointment), which the social media suggested was “a characteristically vital, vexing and invigorating critical event,” she wrote.

You can judge for yourself: a link to the May 5 talk is here, and a link to his previous lectures is  here.

Johnston celebrated the event with some of his “greatest hit” remarks from his inaugural lecture, “How Ill White Hairs Become a Fool and Jester,” delivered on 30 November 2010. We’ll share some of them, too:

“Do poets approach language as the neutral instrument for confessional themes – on occasion, themes of perjury – or do they, in the very act of writing, manifestly reveal language itself, particularly language twisted into poetic shapes, as a substance of imagination radically perjured?”

“I am a traumatised old man, and my opinions on the matter of poetry in English, particularly contemporary poetry, are decidedly peculiar. I do not have any great desire to encourage the presence of contemporary writing in the university because I believe that contemporary poetry already receives far more encouragement than is good for it.

Blackmur wrote in 1935, and I regard it as one of the great modern, or Modernist, formulations of what poetry is: ‘The art of poetry,’ he says, ‘is amply distinguished from the manufacture of verse by the animating presence of a fresh idiom. Language so twisted and posed in a form that it not only expresses the matter in hand, but adds to the stock of available reality.’ My God, if only I could have written that!

brokenhierarchies“If I were to offer anything to the conventional young poet (apart from the proverbial revolver and a bottle of brandy) I would say: Don’t try to be sincere, don’t try to express your inmost feelings, but do try to be inventive.”

“The craft of poetry is not a spillage but an in-gathering; relevance and accessibility strike me as words of very slight value. I have written elsewhere that accessibility is a perfectly good word if the matter under discussion concerns supermarket aisles, library stacks or public lavatories, but has no proper place in discussion of poetry or poetics. Poetry of the new millennium is as it is because of what English poetry has been during preceding centuries and a degree of humility when faced with that fact would not come amiss from our latest celebrities.”

“What is needed from a contemporary critical mind that has both depth and reach of a capacity that few have at any given time but which Ricks has demonstrated super-abundantly, is an analysis of how the skim of contemporary culture relates to, is inextricably part of, the gigantic scam of our times: the bankers’ scam, the Blair-Brown scam, the coalition scam, the big society scam, the education scam, the national happiness scam.”

Stay tuned for Johnston’s review of Hill’s Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952 – 2012, to appear in Poetry Ireland Review later this month.

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One Response to “Geoffrey Hill bids farewell to Oxford: “The craft of poetry is not a spillage but an in-gathering.””

  1. BillWoodbridge Says:

    Thanks for all you do to keep the literary ball rolling.

    I’ve listened to many of Sir Hill’s lectures over the past few years. I’m always left stunned–in a good way!

    Thx for the link to Little Star, too. Interesting.

    One last item: Is Ellendea Proffer’s Brodsky Among Us available in English??? I can’t find it if it is.