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Index: Notes & Comment

England as a pelting farm.

A Fortnightly Review of Labour’s Identity Crisis: England and the Politics of Patriotism Tristram Hunt MP, Editor University of Winchester, 2016 | 85pp | available online [gratis pdf download] By MICHAEL BLACKBURN. HAVING SPENT YEARS profiting from its promotion of identity politics the Labour Party at the last election eventually found itself hoist by the […]

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The far side of Farage.

A Fortnightly Review of Enemy of the State by Tommy Robinson The Press News Ltd., 2016 | 344 pp | £15.00 $9.99 By MICHAEL BLACKBURN. PERHAPS NOBODY’S NAME evokes so much self-righteous shuddering among the bien pensants of Britain than Tommy Robinson’s — not even that of Nigel Farage. They’re both routinely labelled right wing, […]

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Refer Madness.

Robert McHenry: ‘It is perhaps telling…that in his prologue to the book Lynch uses the words “information” and “knowledge” an equal number of times, but when, in the epilogue, he turns to Google and Wikipedia, he writes “information” twelve times and “knowledge” not once.’

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Peter Lanyon’s ‘Soaring Flight’.

David Nowell Smith: ‘Lanyon took advantage of a different sensation of speed, a different view of earth and sky, so as to blend the layering and juxtaposition of perspective so prevalent in these early works with a reimmersion in sensual experience. The drama of the gliding paintings lies in the encounter of a finite, frail body with the multiplication of perspectives, of intimacy with power.’

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Scruton and ‘the nonsense machine’.

Michael Blackburn: ‘It’s a compliment to the quality of Scruton’s writing that he makes this journey through the execrable inanities of modern leftism enjoyable, informative and often amusing. He’s happy to be vitriolic. I like his spearing of Eagleton, for instance, who passes “all art and literature through the grievance mangle, so as to squeeze out the juice of dominance,” which is reminiscent of Harold Bloom’s description of the leftist literary project as “the School of Resentment”.’

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With Warhol on the move.

Charles Plymell: ‘One can learn more about the aesthetic of the movement of the age and its art from this book than from all the museum tracts and critical treatments, more about its neuromorphic seeds, its painting, its poetry (of the MacLeish dictum “doesn’t have to mean but be”) than from all the modern art history books. Symbol becomes icon, icon becomes symbol. ‘

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Translating André du Bouchet.

Hoyt Rogers: ‘…there’s no such thing as a perfect translation. If readers have little or no French, then we owe them—not a word by word translation like those old interlinear texts we used to crib with in Greek class—but the best poem the translator is capable of making while staying true to the basic meaning, and above all the spirit, of the original. To paraphrase the parting shot of [Peter] Riley’s review, when I am reading a translation of poetry from a language I don’t know, I’d rather be overpaid than shortchanged. I want to know what the poem says; but to some degree, I also want to know what it connotes, what it evokes, and how it would sound if the poet had written it in English. In poetry, some things are lost in translation; but as with Bonnefoy’s version of Yeats, quoted earlier, other things are gained. In any case, there is far more to poetry than a simple string of words.’

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The apophatic poetry of André du Bouchet.

Peter Riley: ”Modernist’ seems a good category for du Bouchet, placing him in such wildly disparate company as Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens, Paul Celan and many others, all arguably united in spite of everything, by some kind of prioritising of the word which disrupts articulation. The main trouble is that that prioritisation is taken as more than descriptive but also prescriptive, and poets not committed to it wholeheartedly become ‘compromised.’

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The poet as ‘strategic’ ironist.

Alex Wong: ‘I think it is fair to say that postmodern culture has been both good and bad at irony. Some of its most interesting achievements, and some of its most boring symptoms, have been in the realm of irony. Certain ironic effects, certain elements of ironic sensibility, have flourished in genuinely vibrant ways, but the prevalence of low-level irony has reached a dismaying level, and it has offered an excuse for all sorts of dullness.’

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Fear and loathing in the Royal Festival Hall.

Anthony Howell: ‘There is a lack of breadth that still dogs the selection process, I think as a direct result of prize-winners apotheosising into judges. In the end it all begins to feel samey. There are far too many “of”s – usually attached to death, love, or something equally gloomy, and so the poems not only feel samey, they feel doomy. Again and again we were urged to confront the death of a loved one or our own death. Surely there is more to poetry than a maudlin sense of nostalgia for those no longer with us?’

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Montaigne’s ‘genial scepticism’.

Robert McHenry: ‘By actual guesswork I estimate that half of all reviews of volumes of essays take the time to discuss the etymology of the word “essay,” back through Middle French “essai” to the Latin exagium, landing always on the senses of “trial,” “test,” or “attempt.” They are not always clear about what it is that is being tried, tested, or attempted in any given essay. Even less clear is what they mean when they refer to any particular literary composition by that label.’

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Poets once young — with books received.

Peter Riley: ‘Interviewed in 2008, Harwood said, “I think in your early work you have this drive and confidence, and then later on you’re looking more carefully, possibly, to get the words right, not to allow any foolishness, to make it just right — fine tuned.” This quality is present in the precariousness of his tentative scenes at the same time as the sense of an old and practised hand at work.’

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Bigotry from birth.

Tom Zoellner: ‘The rest of the world now comprehends Rwanda as a post-genocide state alongside Germany — the very worst expressions of mankind’s fear-virus — but the basic causes of the violence are too-often left as a matter of conjecture as to how otherwise decent people can be reprogrammed to kill their neighbors. This luminous novel never mentions the genocide but deals with it sternly nonetheless. It explores terrain that previous characterizations of the violence have skirted: the “peaceful” slow boil right up to the moment of the first drawing of the knife, the time when fear of internal traitors germinated so gradually and under the cover of normal political jingoism that almost nobody outside Rwanda grew alarmed.’

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The poet and the dictionary.

Alan Wall: ‘Geoffrey Hill’s poetic career has been mediated through his engagement with the dictionary. And that dictionary is first and foremost the OED. There is no greater dictionary in the world, and its making constitutes one of the great intellectual events of the twentieth century, though it started life in the nineteenth. There had never been anything like this before. Now the language itself has become the documented labyrinth of its own manifold meanings. Now history can be traced uttering itself thus and thus in one mutating word after another. The thought of a poet writing in English who would not grow excited turning the pages of the OED, or clicking on the electronic version, is so dismal that one wishes such a personage an even smaller readership than modern poets normally manage to acquire.’

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Peter Dent’s ‘starmaps left for night’.

Harry Guest: ‘You are more on your own reading Peter Dent’s work than with perhaps any other contemporary poet. Yes, you are reminded of W.H.Graham’s pursuit of the sayable, but Dent, asking “what thought thinks about”, is in a curious way both more lucid and more elusive – or you may compare him with a novelist like Pinget who is simultaneously precise and baffling, although Dent with his “wish to find perfection in the incomplete” gives us recipes for complicity in his research. His admiration for Lorine Niedecker’s “eagerness to know and learn” is understandable and he shares her sense of wonder plus her intensely delicate focus on the immediate – in his case, red bars of an electric fire that “glow and hum” or a woodlouse “rolling up”.’

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