Geoffrey Hill made the mistake, as a young poet,
of stating in his biog that his dad & grandad were
both village policemen. Critics have since made
much of this. Al Alvarez recently wrote in The
New York Review of Books that Hill had a
'Working Class upbringing' though most have
pitched it as 'Lower Middle Class'. As if there is
no difference. The connexion seems to be made
between the upbringing & 'difficulty' of his poetry
that Hill is somehow calling on his family history
in trying to police the language. Back we come
to the moralistic top of poetry as being about an
essential emotion or truth that should be commun
icated clearly & without obfuscation - that speed,
density & abstraction are an abomination of the art
and of our duty to relate as responsible human beings.
That the randomness & chaos of life should not be
reflected in poetry, but made clear sense of. That
the poet should 'have' something the reader can
'get' & any poet who doesn't is ruining the reputation
of poetry for those who do. The argument is similar
to how purists saw punk in relation to 'proper' music,
although whereas punk was seen as a vile working
class corruption, non-formulaic poetry is seen as
'bourgeois'. This subconscious assumption is a
perverted assault and is why a Salford barfly
such as Mark E. Smith bites into the neck of such
one-dimensional soothsayers. Only Shakespeare,

if he was alive after Logie Baird invented television,
could have described the transportational picture box,
like Smith does, as a "tragic lantern". This sense that
sense & order should be the premise of poetry - that
it shouldn't channel-hop or flick frames like TV does.
The term 'elitist', as Hill has objected, assumes that
the 'working class' are stupid - that they are cut-off
at the neck from enjoying the art of language. There
is no word that Hill could use that a working woman
could not use their time - if they wanted to - to find
out what it meant. The point is more to do with the
relevance of poetry in the pragmatics of someone's
life - backgrounds structurally obstruct working
class people from the same opportunities as the middle-
classes (this is a fact) - so the joy of the difficult poem
often finds no place in the grind of survival. Other
considerations are differing aesthetics - as with artists -
say a favouring for mimetic realism, for example, over
abstract expressionism. What is important is that the
poem itself - once cast off from the multiple subjectivity
of the poet - assumes nothing of the reader. It is just an
arrangement of words which cannot change the world
but can potentially bring pleasure to anyone who reads it.
Every poet has the right to stand by their conscious or
subconscious artistic decisions - all that is at risk is their
own readership. Which is their choice to make. Hill has
basically been accused of something close to criminality
- but so for critics - it is criminals that keep policemen in work


Charles Carver said…
Sublime. You summed it up in one of those lines. Oh for a foreign background. What I want to know is what the fuck is Mark Hughes doing coming to City? He'll probably do a great job for our Sri Lankan fascist owner and the back to the glass piss ant fans with no idea he was red. With age I know how and why kerouc turned right wing with his poet soul abused

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