Tuesday 6 September 2016

Saturday 9 May 2015

Soyinka and Armitage and Oxford Prof of Poetry

Wole Soyinka and Simon Armitage have now (as well as myself) been nominated. I'm a big fan of Armitage to the extent that I've published a book about him, and I think he'd be great in the role, and a brilliant antidote to fashionable incomprehensibility. Even the current Professor of Poetry, Geoffrey Hill is guilty of that, and I attended one of his lectures where he repeated difficulty difficulty difficulty as a prescriptive mantra. I also reviewed Hill's Without Title and still stand by the anger I expressed about his elegy in that book for Ken Smith - I still think it's horribly inhuman to publish an elegy that has no connection to the person who has died, and is yet another self-advertisingly difficult 'late modernist' effusion. Armitage by contrast has written marvellously intelligent poems which have their difficult moments but which draw upon all the formal resources of poetry to say complex and important things about contemporary life.
However, I think that Soyinka would get my vote if I had one because the post would really benefit from a writer with his political background holding it. His Wikipedia page is one of the most memorable I've ever seen and the life story it tells reveals a very courageous and vivid personality, and he would bring to Oxford, above all, a powerful sense of how literature can still make a political difference.

Friday 8 May 2015

Ants and the Tories

I noticed today, scurrying across my bathroom floor, about fifteen ants, which seemed to hint at the possibility of far more of their kind. I wondered if they might exit from the bathroom and cross the carpet in the direction of my bedroom. My house has been invaded by slugs in the past, but never by ants. The tories, also today, have won a horribly surprising victory in the general election. There must be some occult connection - far more oblique than the rain that has fallen steadily all day, accompanied by relentlessly gloomy light - between these events.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Byron in the margins

I had some further thoughts re 'Poetry in the Margins' (my piece on the website The Conversation) while I was watching Tom Stoppard's Arcadia in Oxford last week. The play relies upon references to Byron as an historical figure everyone has heard of. But the current marginalising of poetry will lead not just to further marginalising of contemporary poetry but to poetry in general being marginalised, including the great poets of the past. As the prestige of poetry declines, even the great poetic achievements of the past will be less and less acknowledged. Donne and Milton and Wordsworth will  be whittled away in the culture. Byron's reputation may well stand up better than most because it is only partly based on his marvellous manipulation of ottava rima, but it not a great prospect to imagine him being remembered almost solely as a man 'mad, bad and dangerous to know.'

Thursday 24 July 2014

My poem is Guardian Poem of the Week


is the link

great commentary by Carol Rumens and 125 comments, mostly interesting, so far (after 24 hours)

Saturday 10 May 2014

Donald Barthelme...and Stewart Lee

Barthelme's most anthologised story 'The Indian Uprising' works like allegory, where 'Indians' stand for all the other races that the US have oppressed (especially, in 1968, when the story was published, the Vietnamese). It's also like allegory in the apparent randomness of many of its references, but where the associations become surreal.
That story isn't all that representative, though, because it's not funny as so many of Barthelme's stories are. I was just reading 'The King of Jazz' and the self-consciousness about language there reminded me of certain stand-up comedians. Stewart Lee in one of his books talks about the comic value of certain words like 'wool' for example. But one of his comic effects is based on being exaggeratedly articulate and wordy, and, when Barthelme describes an especially effective piece of jazz playing he does something similar when he says that it 'sounds like the cutting edge of life...like fumaroles smoking on the slopes of Mt.Katmai...like an oyster fungus growing an aspen trunk...like a mule deer wandering a montane of the Sierra Nevada...like coatimundis moving in packs across the face of Arkansas...

Friday 4 April 2014

Stewart Lee on observational comedy

Stewart Lee objects to observational comedy in the same way that modernists object to realism:  it's an impatience with a stale, populist and complacent consensus. Lee parodies the observational mode of calling upon the audience to agree that, eg, this is how women behave, or how children behave, because it makes assumptions, for one thing about the observer and the observed, and places the observer in a position of authority, and stereotypes the observed and implies they're thoroughly predictable. He has a great range of strategies at his own command, but an especially brilliant one is to defamiliarise observational comedy by doing it from a radically skewed point of view - from the perspective of an insect in his 'Pestival' riff, and, in his recent TV show, from the perspective of an 'oligarch' living in London. The repeated words emphasise the alienness of these points of view - 'mandibles' in 'Pestival', 'prostitutes' in the oligarch one - because they parody the stale parameters in observational material with concepts that are entirely other to 'common-sense' consensual reality. This mode, like modernist deconstructions of realism, reveals ideological assumptions in what it parodies.