Wednesday, 28 October 2020

'She goes on and on...'

 Here is a passage from Kay Ryan's brilliant and utterly disarming prose collection Synthesizing Gravity. She is writing about Marianne Moore –

'... A poet friend of mine recently said, "They should have taken away her library card." God, it's true; she goes on and on. I can barely hold on to a single poem. And at the same time I think she is the Statue of Liberty.
   In "The Ardent Platonist" she writes, "To understand / One is not to find one formidable." She's right; if one is formidable, one is not understood. But how can we not find Marianne Moore formidable since she's so hard to understand? I think we just have to read her until we can contain the complexity that we cannot resolve. That is a bigger kind of understanding. At that point, the poet is no longer "formidable". A word or two becomes sufficient to invoke the complex spirit. We feel, now, an affection, a human affection, and a receptiveness which we could not feel when we were fighting with particulars. But maybe I'm just preaching to myself here, since I am irksomely literal when I read poetry (having a palm tree where my core should be).' 

Reading that, I was thinking of another poet who 'goes on and on' and is 'so hard to understand' – Geoffrey Hill. I reckon Ryan's approach to Marianne Moore's famously 'difficult' work could be applied equally profitably to that of Hill. And, talking of taking away library cards, the lugubrious Geoffrey was a heavy user of the University of Leeds library, where the staff nicknamed him 'Chuckles'. 



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