Geoffrey Hill, poetry and the media

In these dark days I’ve been flicking between reading the budget report, John Matthias’ ‘Trigons’ and looking at the media reports on Hill’s recent elevation. Let me say at the outset that only the Matthias has given me any kind of optimism for the future. The budget did surprise me because it drove me back to the class warrior position that I found so comfortable back in about 1974 but I don’t think I’ll take to the barricades this time around.

The case of Geoffrey Hill is an entirely different matter, most of the reports dwell on the previous Padel fiasco and then briefly mention that Hill might be quite good but ‘difficult’. The Padel thing is an obvious non-starter, poets have always been the most extreme petty-minded bitches and have managed to combine this with political ineptitude.  Then again, the media can sound-bite bitchiness but really struggle when it comes to encapsulating good, serious poetry.

Readers of previous posts will know that I’m an enormous fan (I choose this noun carefully) of Geoffrey Hill even though I recognise that he can be infuriating. The broadsheets repeat some of the old clichés (early stuff- very good, later stuff – decidedly patchy) and never fail to mention that all of the work is both serious and ‘difficult’. The Times referred to the “professor of the opaque” whilst the Guardian gave space to the distant runner-up who whinged about Hill’s prose in ways that I couldn’t understand (and I think I’ve read most of it).

My first point is that none of this reportage will encourage readers to acquaint themselves with Hill. I do appreciate that encapsulating  some of his themes may prove a little tricky but at least some mention of memorialising the dead and the English countryside may have encouraged some interest. One or two quotes from the work may also have inspired interest, if you’re looking for soundbites then Hill in full flow can be relied upon to provide them.

My second point is that Hill vies with Prynne as being the most important poet currently writing in English and the broadsheets fail to reflect this. There is a blog that quotes Steiner as saying that Hill is the most intelligent man on the planet but doesn’t tell us why the work is so important. There’s an implied league that starts with Nobel prize winners and then there’s Hill. This cartoon view is an example of lazy journalism at its very worst.

My third point is that Geoffrey Hill is actually quite good copy. His politics and his faith are idiosyncratic enough for a whole bundle of pithy one-liners. Any cursory glance through the files would have thrown these up by the score yet the ‘quality’ hacks prefer to concentrate on the overdone Padel business with a fleeting glimpse at Hill’s reputation.

My fourth point is that I’ve come to appreciate Jeremy Prynne’s much criticised strategy vis-a-vis the ‘unwitty circus’.  Whilst in full agreement with Debord’s description of malappropriation, I have shared some of Archambeau’s misgivings about Prynne’s refusal to have anything to do with the English poetry scene.  Hill’s recent treatment by the media now makes me much more sympathetic to that position.

4 responses to “Geoffrey Hill, poetry and the media

  1. Interesting stuff! And I’m happy to hear about your reaction to Matthias, who seems to me to rank right up there with Hill and Prynne in importance and intellect. I don’t know if I’d call my feelings about Prynne and his reticence ‘misgivings,’ though — in what I wrote about him I tried to be descriptive, rather than side-taking. Of course one can only approach disinterest by degrees, so perhaps I’m not as in touch with how I came across as I thought I was.



  2. Bob,

    Sorry but I read them as misgivings but that is probably because I have misgivings about the Prynne strategy and I probably read into your piece my own view.
    Matthias continues to impress me and I think that he’s technically better than anyone else I’ve read (with the possible exception of Olson). He’s also very, very clever which is always a good thing. I’m progressing backwards through the work slowly (mainly because I keep re-reading the same poems with great pleasure) so I’ll certainly post more on him in the future.



  3. Most intelligent man on the planet is preposterous. Ed Witten? Steven Weinberg? Grigori Perelman?

  4. Having checked this out, it’s unclear whether Steiner was referring to the world of the UK- he does cite the brilliance of ‘Mercian Hymns’ to back up his claim

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