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Index: Commentary on Art and Literature

Why write about war?

Andy Owen: ‘Remembrance is a complex concept in the military that all veteran writers must be aware of. As a veteran you feel duty bound to carry on the memories of those you have served with. The idea engrained in modern military thinking is that no fallen soldier is ever forgotten [and] you cannot desert that duty. When writing about Iraq I did not feel this need as much as those who witnessed wars in which casualty rates were so much higher.’

Literature, operationalized.

Chloë Hawkey: ‘After I smiled and granted that I was enchanted, I was left with the what? What does this mean to my life or to Franco Moretti’s? This deepens my understanding, in a very technical sense, of the text, but does it enrich the experience I have reading in it? And does it enrich the life I lead once I’ve capped my pen and returned the book to the shelf?’

Pages from ‘Lots of Fun with Finnegans Wake’.

Peter O’Brien: ‘I have been reading Finnegans Wake on and off (mostly off) for four decades. I recently decided to annotate / illustrate / disrupt the 628 pages of text. It’s a way for me to attempt a reading of what many consider an unreadable book.’

Zorile.

Peter Riley [from ‘Dawn Songs’]: ‘There are Zorile din casă (in the house), Zorile din afară (outside), de fereastra (at the window), al luminarilor (of the candles) and several emphasising particular figures of the poems – of the fairies, of the road, of the departure, of the rose-bush… There are also, paradoxically, Zorile subtitled la amiazi at noon, and de seara in the evening.’

Sonnets for all tastes.

Anthony Howell: ‘Satire employing the heroic couplet reads simply as a throwback to the eighteenth century – even a writer as talented as Clive James cannot bring it off. The column of satirical couplets is just too much of a cliché. However, intricate formal patterns continue to intrigue poets, whether of a modernist or of a traditionalist persuasion, and the sonnet is enjoying a revival, but has it ever failed to secure its adherents?’

Roger Fry, Walter Sickert and Post-Impressionism at the Grafton Galleries.

Marnin Young: ‘Formalism’s insistence on “arrangements of form and colour” stirring the imagination simply do not require any acknowledgement or understanding of the corresponding expressive states of the artist. They work whether or not the artist intended them to. Or rather, they don’t. Not really. But if we think they do, any effects they have are rendering meaningless by their severing from an artist’s intentions. Fry’s formalism comes to life only upon the death of the artist.’

“On her promise of recognition.”

Kay Yooung: ‘The Manager is a long poem of modern English life at the middle—middle-age, middle-income, middle-accomplishment, middle-earth—that somewhere between life and death. It is a poem that could sing in its hundred parts of the easeful comforts of middleness, but instead dwells most often in the midst of dis-easeful dissatisfactions, longings, and confusions. ‘

On Richard Berengarten’s ‘The Manager’.

Paul Scott Derrick: ‘Berengarten has on no other occasion published a book-length sequence that employs the recourse of the verse-paragraph, nor one that deals with a comparable subject matter: the peculiar and arguably grotesque modes of thinking, speaking and believing of the fauna inhabiting the corporate and financial environments of late twentieth-century England. ‘

John Ashbery Was a Quiz Kid.

Anthony Howell; ‘Ashbery created intense little collages, and he was a collage in himself. Another artist he admired was Trevor Winkfield – also a poet – and British – whose iconic yet enigmatic paintings have disparate emblems in them which never quite collide, though they ought to; something one can understand the quiz kid responding to; the paintings are full of things which might mean, but do they? A feeling one can get when deep in Ashbery’s lines.’

Shakespeare’s ‘Islamic’ poem, part II.

Nigel Wheale: ‘”Let the bird of loudest lay” is a far/near song, no song, which suggests so very much. The absolute concision, the perfection of these lines make any attempt to ‘expand’ or ‘unpick’ them seem infinitely lame; they are, in a real sense, unapproachable…The utter strangeness of Shakespeare’s poem in English literary convention is revealed by comparisons, and connections, with texts from older, more exotic traditions – Indian, Persian, Arabic, Berber Numidian, which have resonances with these verses from the English Midlands, around 1601.’

The New Beauty.

Anthony Howell: ‘As an aesthetic ideal, wealth stimulates a veritable culture of prizes, breaking down the divide which has traditionally separated art from sport. It’s an ideal that stimulates competition and incites envy, isolating one creative from another and thus ensuring against revolution. Very neatly, the rebellious “tradition” of the salon des refusés has been annulled by the oligarchs. ‘

Shakespeare’s ‘Islamic’ poem.

Nigel Wheale: ‘Salusbury the dedicatee has rarely been considered or even recalled as a context for understanding ‘the most mysterious poem in English’. What he or his family, his literary and musical acquaintances, might have made of ‘Let the bird of loudest lay’ is beyond recovery. But from a brief review of his biography and family circumstances, we can surely be confident that these were committed readers and writers of poetry, amongst whom Shakespeare’s poem circulated, and we can imagine, stirred interest. ‘

On a poem by John Riley.

Peter Riley: ‘I therefore wanted to look in detail at what was actually happening in a John Riley poem, without any developmental or contextual narrative concerning his work or anything else, and to steer clear of generalities and automative associations (such as that to some people any mid-twentieth-century English poet worth reading has to be “not unlike Larkin” in the last analysis, however distant he or she may in fact be from the Emperor of Hull). To look, then, at what the language is doing in a John Riley poem.’

Sonnets of Music and Memory.

Hoyt Rogers: ‘Naturally, Bonnefoy was well aware of the signal role of music in Shakespeare. His plays contain or allude to well over a hundred songs, many of which were probably performed with instruments as well as voices, as part of the entertainment. ‘

Arthur Rimbaud.

Francis Gribble: ‘Fame of a sort had come to him. An increasing coterie had come to recognise the merit of his verse — helped thereto, perhaps, by the scandalous association of his name with Verlaine’s. His memory was destined to be kept alive by a bronze bust, which the German invaders were destined to steal for the sake of copper. But he neither foresaw this tribute nor would have been much elated if he had foreseen it, the call of the East having, long since, upset his scale of values.’