Sunday, 18 March 2012

Geoffrey Hill, The Orchards of Syon (2002)

This week's Unexpected Coming Across The Name Of Connie Willis In A Book In Which I Really Did Not Expect To Find Such A Thing is Orchards of Syon by the abstruse Geoffrey Hill ('The greatest living poet in the English language', Nicholas Lezard; 'the best writer alive in the English language', A N Wilson). The book is a long poem, seventy-two 24-line blank verse stanzas that's sort-of about versions of Eden, but also of course about all the classic Hill themes: difficulty, attentiveness, respect for tradition (English social and national tradition, European poetic tradition), death, darkness. Not a bag of laughs. Tom Payne's Telegraph review is nice insofar as it refuses to play Hill's game, but also contains this nugget:
He writes about things that matter, such as the horrors of history and abuses of language. Better still, he tries to redeem language by honouring his words' etymologies and exploring their potential. In this collection he comes closest to attaining that redemption, with bursts of rapture and occasionally colourful landscapes. It is, we learn, a kind of Paradiso, making, together with his previous three books, a kind of Divina commedia. That said, you might laugh more reading Dante. In a periodical called Stand (whose latest issue is mostly devoted to Hill, coming as it does from Leeds University, where he used to teach), one friend lets slip that secretaries used to call him "Chuckles".
I was, at any rate, surprised to find this in stanza 50:
Covenants, yes; outcries, yes; systemic
disorders like the names of rock-plants, yes;
right side for creativity, yes; and well
if none of us / fails our prevision.
Re SEVENTH SEAL: prefer bright Connie
Willis to glum Ingmar? Pass.
Doomsday Book, presumably (something about The Black Death, that is); and more to the point, irony, presumably.

4 comments:

ukjarry said...

Connie Willis in the sense that she is upbeat, humorous, etc. My recollection of the poetry papers and lit crit journals at this time is that everyone was rather taken aback that Hill had admitted that he was now taking anti-depressants. This precription seemed to manifest itself in (1) a sudden torrent of poems, and (2) and a compratively more upbeat approach in his poems.

Jo Walton said...

I think it's talking about Willis's _Passage_ ("pass") and its cheerful upbeat stuff about life after death.

Adam Roberts said...

That hadn't occurred to me, Jo; but now you say it, it makes perfect sense.

Manoj Kusshwaha said...

Nice book to read