Skip to content

Index: Principal Articles

Picturing language.

Jaime Robles: ‘There is a certain point when changing from verbal art to visual art that the artist’s concerns shift. Both poetry and visual art have physical and material presences; poetry in the orthography of letters, the breaks of lines and placement of words on the field of the page. This, however, is not its primary material manifestation, which is instead aural. Rhythm, metre and the pyrotechnics of sound are poetry’s primary physical reality. It is within this aural world – whether spoken out loud or heard in the reader’s interior voice – that poetry’s meaning is given and apprehended. These are the material concerns of poetry and, like those of visual arts, they focus and concentrate in the body. To accept the idea of our world being limited to or by our words is to deny the body’s sensual experience of the world. Language is a slow phenomenon relative to the body’s perception, experience and understanding of the world.’

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.’

The Bedouin of St Katherine.

Hilary Gilbert: One of the oldest monasteries in Christendom is guarded by a tribe of mistreated Arabs: ‘Bedu are barred from the Armed Forces. Education is poor or non-existent: 44 per cent of Bedouin adults have had no education at all, compared with 7 per cent of Egyptians, and professional Bedu are almost unknown. Many lack electricity and accessible water. With healthcare poor, unaffordable or absent, and a heavy-handed security presence, Bedu feel with good reason that their country is failing them.’

Venice and the theatre of memory.

Hoyt Rogers: ‘Venice teaches us that history is never dead: the humblest portico affords us a proscenium composed of centuries—but not as an album of faded recollections, settled and done. The theatre of memory unveils its meaning only when we behold it as a vital, breathing gospel of the present.’

City for sale.

Robin Saikia: ‘Venetians themselves contributed vigorously to the new hell: magnificent palaces and houses were carved up into rentable apartments or cut-price alberghi; restaurants began to serve cheap, anaemic and barely edible versions of local cuisine; the cost of everything from coffee to public transport was set at astronomic levels in the sure knowledge that the dazed visitor was faced with no option but to pay up; commercial premises in Rialto and San Marco were and are progressively sold or rented to the highest bidders, most often the Chinese; the Venice Carnival, in the eighteenth century a spectacular and beautifully-styled piece of civic theatre, has become a sorry example of gimcrack design and disappointing events: a perfect example of a hit-and-run operation designed to remove money from unwary tourists. It comes as no surprise that for over twenty years, in the wake of this vandalism, there has been a deadening sense of paralysis and resignation in the city.’

A Venetian’s view of Venice.

Michele Casagrande: ‘Energetically, many want to change things, yet in everyday life the city’s rhythms would seem to be too slow—extremely light-hearted, but fundamentally lazy. The attitude can be expressed through reactions like the following: Living in such a marvelous city, a center of attention for the entire world, why should anyone want to leave? Why should anyone want to move away from a place that can offer very high earnings to people who are basically manual workers, such as gondoliers and taxi drivers?’

2D or not to be.

Alexander Zubatov: ‘In a stifling orthodoxy, a bit of rebellious cursing and vulgar behavior are healthful antidotes, but in a polity where everyone is cursing unceremoniously and unapologetically, refusing to curse and to be vulgar and being willing to condemn those who do are the kinds of acts of rebellion we need if we are to entertain any hope of putting the brakes on our rapid descent into cultural mediocrity.’

Anthony Rudolf’s literary Wunderkammer.

Harry Guest: ‘The important thing is that silent conversations is a gloriously entertaining and a most rewarding publication. To share the reading experiences of such a poet-scholar-translator-editor-critic is a rare privilege and this book is worthy to be spoken of in company with Montaigne’s Essays, Evelyn’s Diary and Stendhal’s Vie de Henry Brulard.’

The year-end bedside reading table

Anthony Howell: ‘What makes a poet readable? There cannot be a formulaic answer. This is the problem with the standard model so lauded by our Oxbridge elite – as anally compressed as Ian Hamilton, with a closed form, forever ruled by the dictates of significance and economy, and very tightly organised on the page. ‘

Poetry of the second person.

Peter Riley: ‘I think Peter Robinson and John Welsh have quite a lot in common, but handle it differently. With Welch again the reader more-or-less inhabits the poet, and within that persona is led through a lot of streets, rooms, hospitals and cemeteries, always with a problem in mind, a melancholy or a lingering dissatisfaction, a need for resolution, suffering from an “enormous pointlessness”. But we are led further, into different places: an art gallery, the inside of a book, a performance of Hamlet aboard a ship off Sierra Leone in 1607, an Asian estate in East London… and sometimes nowhere in particular. So we do not always know where we are, and do not always need to because some poems are securely based in a conceptual focus, and sometimes we do know, except that bits of the poem escape from time to time into some unknown language laboratory, but this happens less and less these days.’

New Italian poetry.

Hoyt Rogers: ‘It would be difficult to imagine two paths more divergent than those of Francesco Giardinazzo and Marco Genovesi.’

The by-ways of John Ashbery.

Anthony Howell: ‘For the poet, at least, Ashbery is the model of the art-critic. His manner is urbane, and he refers to Satie and to Wallace Stevens more often than to Cezanne. The melange of the arts evoked by his writing suggests a cafe-society sadly missing these days, now that art-mags are no longer modeled on the Paris Review but gleam at us from the racks, like trade-journals for the purveyance of some non-applied craft.’

Martin Harrison: ‘pastoral’ without shrubs.

Peter Riley: ‘Martin Harrison’s poems are brilliant and remarkable meditations on moments of perception (or clusters of such moments) most of which take place in the Australian countryside, presumably the “orchard and vine-growing area” in which an earlier blurb says he lives for half the year. The poems have starting-points which are experiences rather than scenes – being somewhere and looking at something, often in a stillness such as dawn, often with a sense of solitude.’

Therianthropes and vents.

Alan Wall: in some of the earliest representations of ourselves that exist, we have presented ourselves as therianthropes — part human, part animal. We are engaging in that mimetic activity we have subsequently named art, and we are also engaging, as therianthropes, in the impersonation of other creatures or beings. This we can call mimicry, but it is also the activity at the root of ventriloquism, a sacred activity in our earlier history, and since ventriloquism is ultimately the craft of displaced voicings, we have also entered the realm of allegory, which displaces identity, genus and species, giving one type of being the voicing of another, or even personifying an abstract entity.


Alan Wall: ‘So much is represented as fragmented, not because something completed has been broken up, or an achievable whole not completed, but because this mosaic of discrete pieces actually constitutes the perceptual world of modernity. The camera was designed to capture this kaleidoscopic panorama visually; the essay attempts to capture it linguistically and philosophically. The essay is the formal expression of a world of fragments. Fragments can be connected, of course. They do not have to take the form of fossils, being re-assembled into a form they initially exhibited; they can be chips of stone in a mosaic, each effectively complete in itself. Or they can take the form of the facets which, once assembled, compose the figure of Ambroise Vollard in his portrait by Picasso.’