Wednesday, March 05, 2008

`Casting About for New Methods'

David Yezzi writes a thoughtful review of Geoffrey Hill’s most recent collection, A Treatise of Civil Power, in the March issue of The New Criterion. In passing he identifies a rare quality embodied in Hill and, I would add, other first-rate poets – Basil Bunting, John Berryman, Edgar Bowers, J.V. Cunningham, among others:

“Some poets dote on their signature styles. Drawn by Siren-calls of praise to produce poems similar in shape and tone to those that made their names, they adopt a formal cautiousness that betrays an indifference to form. The effect on their work can be disastrous, stultifying, each book a slough of enervating repetition and embarrassing self-parody. Other writers (Joyce was one) never settle for comfortable modes; having wrestled one style to ground, they are immediately off, questioning previous strategies and casting about for new methods.”

As Hill writes in “On Reading Crowds and Power,” his meditation on Elias Canetti’s book, included in the new collection:

“But think on: that which is difficult
Preserves democracy; you pay respect
To the intelligence of the citizen.”

1 comment:

Ron Slate said...

This is such an interesting subject -- when signature styles slip into dullness, repetition, safety. Some critics, simply disliking a poet's given style, see only its reiterations. What often saves a poet, especially given to a particular tone, perhaps even confined by that tone, is intelligence, ideas, breadth of materials, or if not breadth, then a resonating variety. There's almost always some "doting," don't you think? What works, works. But most poets I know, some of whom are easily identified by their styles, are very conscious of "questioning previous strategies." A tangle, this topic. Thanks for bringing it up ... Also, thanks for leading us to Denis Donoghue's ON ELOQUENCE, which I took up on my site. Ron