Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Geoffrey Hill, "Without Title"

I got Geoffrey Hill's "Without Title" from the Poetry Book Society right before I went to the United States ten days ago, and finished it on my trip.

Hill's work runs completely counter to the direction my tastes have been developing in the past few years (as I become more and more critical of unnecessarily convoluted stuff where poets are trying to be deep or "difficult" but are just being boring), but he offers so much even before I begin to "understand" what he is getting at:

Thou canst grasp nothing except through appetite.

That's the conclusion of "Improvisations for Hart Crane" (varying the line from Crane that Hill starts with: "Thou canst read nothing except through appetite"). With Hill, there's always the sound of his words and of his mind at work to stimulate my appetite so that I become interested in first reading and then potentially even grasping his poems.

"Without Title" also contains "Improvisations for Jimi Hendrix" (proving that Hill's tastes are not only poetic) and a series of 21 "Pindarics" that respond to passages from Cesare Pavese's diaries. The last concludes:

Patterns of lines, mostly, raw in appearance.
I see I have just defined a poem. Something I'd say
held over, deep in reserve, so that it may strike.

Even within Hill's dense work, there is always his reserve, ready to strike at any moment.

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