Tuesday, June 29, 2010

`Lines of Heartbreaking Beauty'

Thanks to Dave Lull for alerting me to a profile/interview with Geoffrey Hill and three of his poems – “Sei Madrigali,” “Hiraeth” and “Odi Barbare” (in all, 227 lines of new verse) -- in Standpoint. Included with “Hiraeth” is this note: “from Oraclau / Oracles, forthcoming from the Clutag Press.” That’s the press that published the first version of A Treatise of Civil Power, in 2005, recast and published under the same title by Yale University Press in 2007.

In the interview we learn Hill has completed four unpublished books of poems in the last three years and is working on a fifth – this from a man who turns seventy-eight in September. Sample the characteristic Hill density in two stanzas from Section II of “Odi Barbare”:

“Rumpus uncouth anacolutha bullish
Metamorphs treading out a line the luckless
Fetishizing blood of the lucky victims
Rote ruination”

“Rimini marred Pisa the slew of armies
Apennine muscular brusque torrents voiding
Panzers Anzacs out of the rocky slurry
Mud-wrestled corpses”

Soothe yourself with this common-sensical passage from Chris Woodhead’s profile/interview:

“[Hill’s] critics allege that his poems are impenetrably difficult. The truth is that every first reading is likely to yield lines of heartbreaking beauty (`the may-tree filling/with visionary silent laughter’; or `The marvellous webs are rimed with eternity’) and wry humour (`I wish I understood myself/more clearly or less well’). Most readers will find his range of reference (from, for example, Dame Helen Mirren to Thomas Bradwardine) challenging, but a good search engine helps pretty quickly to fill in the gaps in your knowledge.”

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