December 18, 2013


Geoffrey Hill: poetry should be shocking and surprising : Sometimes difficult and often very funny, Sir Geoffrey Hill is Britain's greatest living poet. He grants a rare audience to Sameer Rahim (Sameer Rahim, 14 Dec 2013, The Telegraph)

In 1964, the critic Christopher Ricks brought Hill's work to a wider audience through an article in the London Magazine. Ricks writes via email: "I bought his first book, For the Unfallen, and have never found it other than moving and mountain-moving". Hill says he was "very grateful" for the attention in what was then a prestigious publication. Over the years Ricks has been his finest critic - though they have disagreed, notably over Larkin.

"They are never of one mind, those two," says Goodman, joining our conversation. "When I was young," she says, "going from a Ricks to a Hill lecture was like going from 78rpm to 33rpm."

"She means that Christopher was quick and scintillating and I was laborious and convoluted," says Hill.

I am reminded of a Blake quotation Ricks used in a recent essay on Hill: "Opposition is true Friendship." "Exactly," Hill says.

Another contentious area for Hill is religion. Much of his verse dramatises a passionate wrestling with faith. Is he a Christian poet? "Well, it's a tag, isn't it?" says Hill. "They tag you with a convenient epithet." He pauses. "I'm reasonably au fait with the Christian documentation. I'm quite able to use theological terms." He turns to the Rev Alice Goodman: "Can I say that I dislike the Church of England in so many ways without harming you?" he asks. The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has written appreciatively on the following lines from Canaan: "I say it is not faithless / to stand without faith, keeping open / vigil at the site." One reason why Williams and other members of the clergy love Hill, Goodman claims, is "because he expresses the things about the Church and about the faith that they felt but could not in their position articulate". Yet she reminds him he has written sensitively on Vaughan's and Donne's work. "Yes," he replies, "because it's excellent and fascinating. Not because I suddenly feel that Vaughan is a brother in the faith or that reading Donne converted me to a love of Christ."

Goodman points out that he kneels at the Church altar on Sundays. Her husband, she says, is "communicant but resentful".

"When did I say that?" says Hill.

"You didn't, I just said it now."

"It sounds like me."

"I've been married to you for some years," she says drily.

Posted by at December 18, 2013 7:17 PM

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