“…it’s very difficult to break a habit of seventy years. The fascination of tinkering with rhythms and meanings and verbal structures is, after so long, a deeply engrained habit.”
Thanks to Dave Lull for alerting me to an interview with Geoffrey Hill in The Oxford Student, the newspaper at Oxford University, where Hill serves as the Professor of Poetry. The interview is conducted by a student, Jessica Campbell, who betrays no familiarity with Hill’s work. She is well-intentioned but seems unusually interested in the poet’s reputation for “difficulty.” Hill’s speech, always courteous, resembles his poetry in its mania for precise expression. He is, Campbell says, “intensely concerned about being misrepresented.” And who isn’t?
Hill celebrates his seventy-ninth birthday on June 18. Ten days later, Enitharmon Press will publish his new book of poems, Clavics, in the United States. I put in my order a month ago. In the interview, Campbell asks, “Does it matter if poetry is unpopular?” and Hill replies, with admirable forbearance:
“Not at all: I cannot understand the contemporary clamour which insists that unless poetry is popular it is somehow failing. Poetry will survive however few its readers.”
His faith is touching but one wonders how many Americans, even among the infinitesimal sliver who bother with poetry for adults, will read Clavics? Not to read Hill is comparable to serious readers in the nineteen-twenties or -thirties refusing to read Eliot or Yeats, regardless of their feelings about these poets. If Hill is right and poetry (writing it, reading it) survives, our time will be remembered by the happy few as the Age of Hill. Here is “Epiphany at Hurcott” from Without Title (2006):
“Profoundly silent January shows up
clamant with colour, greening in fine rain,
luminous malachite of twig-thicket and bole
brightest at sundown.
“On hedge-banks and small rubbed bluffs the red earth,
dampened to umber, tints the valley sides.
Holly cliffs glitter like cut anthracite.
The lake, reflective, floats, brimfull, its tawny sky.”