The Acid Tongue
Hill Floods Duffy
Selected By Cyril Wong
This one's taken from The Guardian, in which Alison Flood reports eagerly on a lecture at Oxford University given by Geoffrey Hill, the only memorable takeaway from which was the difficult poet's dig at another, more populist, poet, Carol Ann Duffy:
Taking umbrage with an interview the laureate gave...in which she said that "the poem is a form of texting … it's the original text", Hill sonorously laid out his reasons for disagreeing to gathered students.
"When the laureate speaks...to the tremendous potential for a vital new poetry to be drawn from the practice of texting she is policing her patch, and when I beg her with all due respect to her high office to consider that she might be wrong, I am policing mine," said Hill.
Hill is, at least, admitting that both he and Duffy are trying to do different things and defending their individual fields of poetic self-interest. Flood then inserts Hill's past comment here to hint at what Hill has probably always thought of Duffy's poetry:
The Oxford professor of poetry has previously described difficult poems as "the most democratic because you are doing your audience the honour of supposing they are intelligent human beings", saying that "so much of the popular poetry of today treats people as if they were fools".
And about the whole notion of poetry as texting, Hill compares it to concise news reportage and wonders, "Is the breaking news which runs at the foot of the screen on the BBC news channel condensed and consequently poetic? I fail to see how anyone could rationally claim that it is." Hill bitch-slaps her poetry in general, using one particular work, "Death of a Teacher":
"What Professor Duffy desires to do I believe – and if so it is a most laudable ambition – is to humanise the linguistic semantic detritus of our particular phase of oligarchical consumerism. And for the common good she is willing to have quoted by the Guardian interviewer several lines from a poem by herself that could easily be mistaken for a first effort by one of the young people she wishes to encourage," he said.
Hill tears further into Duffy's poem:
"...this is democratic English pared to its barest bean and I would not myself have the moral courage to write so. My simultaneous incompatible response is this is not democratic English but cast-off bits of oligarchical commodity English such as is employed by writers for Mills & Boon and by celebrity critics appearing on A Good Read or the Andrew Marr show," he said.
Flood also reports that "Hill doesn't dismiss the poet laureate entirely, however, quickly moving on to her poem The Christmas Truce, quoting the lines "But it was Christmas Eve; believe; belief / thrilled the night air, / where glittering rime on unburied sons / treasured their stiff hair":
QLRS Vol. 13 No. 1 Jan 2014
"Although 'thrilled' and 'glittering' are words that come with a standard poetry kit, treasured is beautifully, beautifully chosen and placed, and I cannot readily imagine any texted message in which it might conceivably be found to anticipate or emulate the resonance it has in Carol Ann Duffy's stanza," he said.