Friday, 20 July 2012

Odi Barbare by Geoffrey Hill

In The New Pelican Guide to English Literature (1995), Martin Dodsworth  - in his essay on Ted Hughes and Geoffrey Hill - writes:
Hill is difficult because he says so many things at once.
It's interesting to reflect on the continuity this suggests between Hill's work before Canaan (1997) and his later obscure, condensed and allusive style. Certainly, the later work is as vital, as explosively cerebral and intensely visual and dramatic as his earlier poetry. His wonderful new collection, Odi Barbare, is composed of some of the more attractive aspects of that later style, with an added element: a sense that the end of life is imminent.  Once again, the shadows of the first and second world wars fall on the text. There are incredibly moving evocations of the English countryside interspersed with splenetic outbursts of anger. Hill also reflects on his craft.

There are some passages I cannot follow, but even those possess an urgency, a desire to say something complex, multi-faceted, all at once. As yet, I haven't got a sense of its overall design but I suspect that it will grow on me over time. Hill's work is a living embodiment of the concept of organic writing, where thought and experience are unified. In a sense, the poem is a performance of the coming into being of his thought, at the nexus between experience and the mind. And it's worth re-reading. I find new delights - and sometimes challenges - when I do so.

I'd strongly suggest that, if you like poetry, you should give this collection (which is in effect an extended poem in many sections) a go. You will be richly rewarded if you do.

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