Sunday, November 13, 2016

An 'ethical' response to 11/9 and 9/11

This post is written from Paris on November 13, one year after the brutal killing and wounding of (mainly) young (mainly) French people sitting at cafés, watching a sporting event, and going to a concert. A number of them are still in the hospital receiving treatment for their wounds. We all know what terrorism is, and the sad fact that it plays on ignorance and destroys innocent people. Brainwashing is usually required to get people to kill other people and to blow themselves up.

As we begin to cope with the fact that an alt-right candidate is now president elect of a leading democracy, and brace for further hate-crimes (these first days of no response from Donald Trump about incidents of school bullying and unleashed racist slurs do not reassure!), those who read Geoffrey Hill's poetry may feel that they have been prepared, somehow, to resist. For many Americans, that is the only course of viable action. Shocking was the way distorted language colored the campaign, and most likely distortions of language will only get worse. 

The sermon Rowan Williams gave at Emmanuel College for the funeral of Sir Geoffrey Hill actually addressed the role of poetry and language.
It is true that poetry is not ‘about’ passive endurance; just as true that it is not ‘about’ inspiring readers to political action, even political violence.
Yet --
Poetry is a real good, and not the only one. It is an aspect of the hunger for justice. It must do justice in its wording and do what it can to carry stresses that are not only its business. And, as he suggests almost casually, one of the most significant ways in which poetry does this is by memorialising the dead. Geoffrey’s readers will recognise at once the centrality of this to his own practice: if poetry cannot be either propagandist or exquisite, one thing it is singularly equipped for is doing justice to the past of words and speakers, giving voice in a multitude of ways to that always-present cloud of witness, about whose fate in one sense we can do nothing, yet whose life and voice is in some way in our hands.
Poetry, Hill's poetry (and that of Auden, MacNeice, Pound, Yeats, Sitwell, Hernández, Celan...) may be the language the United States needs most now. And plenty of satire will also be needed. As Hill said in his Paris Review interview (2000), "genuinely difficult art is truly democratic." It counters propaganda's binary simplifications.

I would venture to say that Sir Geoffrey might have been singing along to this melody.

Broken Hierarchies, published by Oxford University Press.
Rowan Williams, "Sir Geoffrey Hill," PN Review 43:2 (2016).
"Geoffrey Hill, the Art of Poetry #80," Paris Review 154 (Spring 2000).

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Glad and Proud to be English Working Class

Matthew Bannister reminds listeners on BBC Radio 4's Last Word program (July 8 and 10, 2016) that Sir Geoffrey Hill said he was "glad and proud to have been born into the English Working Class." Let the great poet walk around in your mind's eye by listening to his wife and Robert Potts speak about his poetry.

Robert Potts situates Hill as a religious poet in line with George Herbert and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Alice Goodman recalls that Seamus Heaney suggested in 1978 that she read Geoffrey Hill and David Jones, as the most important poets of Britain, while she was an undergraduate at Harvard. Her encounter with Hill's poetry only happened after she had the experience of Hill as lecturer. "He was wonderfully funny," she said, describing how the humor she felt was both intentional and unintentional on his part. Hill's voice reciting passages from his poetry may also surprise — as though they were directed to events of this past week.

The eight minutes or so devoted to Hill in this BBC broadcast occur within the context of other recent losses, including Elie Wiesel, described by Barack Obama as "one of the great moral voices of our time." Menachem Rosensaft speaks here of his "imperative to bear witness."

Matthew Bannister, The Last Word, produced by Dianne McGregor, BBC Radio 4 (July 8 and 10, 2016).

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Private Eye Tribute to Sir Geoffrey

Not British myself, nor a regular reader of Private Eye, I gather it is primarily a journal that satirizes politics and society, so this tribute is particularly meaningful for a poet who was always thinking about shaping a better world.  This is the cover of the current issue:

Monday, July 4, 2016

Geoffrey Hill, June 18, 1932 - June 30, 2016

If there is a poet's heaven, it might well look like this  ———

But one could also make an argument that a poet's paradise is wherever his or her heart is happy. There is no doubt that Sir Geoffrey's heart was happy with Reverend Alice Goodman, and in his last home, at The Rectory, among the dogs and cats. There he often wrote poetry in the garden, next to flowers planted by his wife. Alice gave him just the right circumstances to write in, and she was also his perfect critic, a reader (and writer) whose judgments of his words he valued and trusted. He drew colorful sketches for her of a World War I poilu, and several of his later works were dedicated to her.

She was also the one to announce his death to the world in a tweet. A tweet is such a small sound, a bird singing, not heard over the louder noises of the world, not heard over the traffic of cars, over the machinery that inevitably never stops moving. Yet a tweet arrives to family members all over the globe in seconds. It can be quickly seen by dear friends. The electronic tweet in 140 characters or less, offered the constraint of containment. It was sent just before noon on Friday, and said:

Please pray for the repose of the soul of my husband, Geoffrey Hill, who died yesterday evening, suddenly, and without pain or dread.

A tweet is also a public statement, in that when it is noticed, social media and the press will eventually follow. But this tweet is quiet.: 'Please pray', 'repose', 'soul'.  It offers comfort: 'without pain or dread'. The sheer hard factual impact of the middle words 'who died yesterday evening, suddenly' has been carefully composed. And then, one may perceive, that there is yet a flood of pain: 'my husband'.

He was not just the greatest living poet in the English language, he was also a husband and a father.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Sir Geoffrey Hill, Oxford Professor of Poetry, has been celebrated in France in large part thanks to René Gallet who encountered his work in the late 1960s, and read King Log as a young man. His translations of Hill's poems, especially Scènes avec Harlequins (1998), and Le Triomphe de l'amour (2007), led to larger interest in Hill in France, and since the 1990s, he has been the object of numerous doctoral theses. Hill made occasional visits to France, drawing inspiration for his poetry there. His visits also included readings at the University of Caen (2008), the Collège de France (2008), the Ecole Normale Supérieure (2012), and the Institut Catholique de Paris (2013). Accompanied by Kenneth Haynes, Hill made a public visit to Charles Péguy's grave at Villeroy in 2013.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Sir Geoffrey Hill died on June 30, 2016, amid the loud noises of Brexit that managed to drown out the 100th anniversary commemoration of the carnage of the Battle of the Somme. His passing was immediately followed by the death of the greatest living French poet, Yves Bonnefoy on July 1, and then on July 2, by Elie Wiesel and Michel Rocard. All four were strongly marked by World War II, and lived their lives trying to promote a more just and peaceful world. As circumstance has it, both Hill and Wiesel were teaching at Boston University at the same time, in the Professor's program, where Hill's office was located on the floor above Wiesel's.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

While Sir Geoffrey probably never typed a tweet or used Facebook, I suspect he occasionally looked over his wife's or daughter's shoulder to find out what was being said. If he is still somehow there, looking over his children's shoulders, here is what he will be seeing:

Geoffrey Hill has died. If there's a greater poem published in my lifetime than The Triumph of Love, I haven't read it. -- Tim Kendall

I am heartbroken by the thought that this great poet, this great European, died so close to the tremors of our national crisis. His poetry has been a fierce and intelligent solace in dark times over this past week -- Karl O'Hanion 

A tremendous loss. He was a poet and a person to be reckoned with. -- Dylan Willoughby

I first encountered Sir Geoffrey Hill's poetry in the 1980s, as a young law student in Washington DC, picking up a remainder copy of 'The Mystery of The Charity of Charles Peguy'. No other poet has had more of an impact on me since. -- Clif Wiens

What Hill said of Stallworthy also applies to himself: "He was a luminary of our time." -- Christopher Lee Miles

Geoffrey Hill, the greatest British writer, has died. A ridiculous week concludes with the most appalling loss. -- Bryan Appleyard

We have lost a great poet in Geoffrey Hill.  -- Mark Oakley

He was gifted with an astounding technical knowledge which placed him in a tradition running from Chaucer to Ezra Pound -- Rodrigo Petronio 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *


Matt Schudel, Geoffrey Hill, often hailed as Britain's greatest poet, dies at 84, Washington Post (July 4, 2016).

Matthew Sperling, Geoffrey Hill, An English European, Economist 1843 (July 4, 2016).

Sir Geoffrey Hill, Fiercely intelligent curmudgeon hailed as our greatest but most difficult poet, Times (July 2, 2016).

Robert Potts, Sir Geoffrey Hill Obituary, Guardian (July 1, 2016). 

Sir Geoffrey Hill, Obituary, Telegraph (July 1, 2016).

William Grimes, Geoffrey Hill, Dense and Allusive British Poet is Dead at 84, New York Times (July 1, 2016).

Samir Raheem, Geoffrey Hill: 'poetry should be shocking and surprising', Telegraph (July 1, 2016).

Rodrigo Petronio, Poeta Geoffrey Hill morre aos 84 anos, Estadão (July 1, 2016).

Anna Leszkiewicz, Poet Sir Geoffrey Hill dies aged 84, New Statesman (July 1, 2016).

Poet Sir Geoffrey Hill dies aged 84, BBC News (July 1, 2016).

Testimonies, other articles, poems, audio 

David Yezzi talks to Curtis Fox, The Achievement of Geoffrey Hill, Poetry off the Shelf at Poetry Foundation, 17 minutes (early July 2016).

Rowan Williams remembers Geoffrey Hill, Guardian (July 9, 2016).

Lauren Jeal, Tributes paid to renowned and popular poet Sir Geoffrey Hill, Bromsgrove Standard (July 9, 2016).

Rev. Alice Goodman and Robert Potts with Matthew Bannister (on Caroline Ahern, Elie Wiesel, Sir Geoffrey Hill, Lord Mayhew, Michael Cimino), produced by Dianne McGregor, BBC (July 8, 2016).

Alan Jenkins reads from "Scenes with Harlequins" by Geoffrey Hill, TLS Voices (July 7, 2016).

Ishion Hutchinson, Funeral Masque: An Elegy for Geoffrey Hill, Literary Hub (July 7, 2016).

Oriane Vialo, Décès ce 30 juin de l'un des plus grands poètes anglais, Geoffrey Hill, ActuaLitté (July 4, 2016).

Andrew McNeillie, at Clutag Press (July 3, 2016). 

Tamsin Omond at Top of the World Blog (July 3, 2016).

Geoffrey Hill at 3 Quarks Daily (July 3, 2016).

Liam Guilar, Sir Geoffrey Hill 1932-2016, Liam Guilar's Blog Lady Godiva (July 2, 2016).

Geoffrey Hill, tributes, Guardian (July 2, 2016).

Geoffrey Hill, Queen Mobs Teahouse (July 2, 2016).

Cynthia Haven, Book Haven Blog (July 1, 2016).

George Simmer, Great War Fiction Blog (July 1, 2016).

Clarissa Aykroyd, The Stone and the Star Blog (July 1, 2016).

Allison Flood, Geoffrey Hill, 'one of the greatest English Poets', dies aged 84, Guardian (July 1, 2016).

Robert Potts, Remembering Geoffrey Hill, Times Literary Supplement (July 1, 2016). 

Other Links, Other Memories

Paris Review, The Art of Poetry 80, Geoffrey Hill (2000).

Geoffrey Hill's Ash Wednesday sermon (2008).

Biography of Geoffrey Hill at the Poetry Foundation (

Adam Tavel on Broken Hierarchies, Rain Taxi (July 2016).

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Kenneth Haynes on "Geoffrey Hill's Error"

This coming Tuesday, Kenneth Haynes will be speaking at the Sorbonne in Paris. 

Chères collègues, chers collègues,
L'EA 4085 VALE (Paris-Sorbonne) va accueillir Kenneth Haynes, Professeur à Brown University et spécialiste de Geoffrey Hill,  pour une conférence intitulée "Geoffrey Hill's Error", le mardi 5 avril à 17h30 à la Bibliothèque Louis Bonnerot de l'UFR d'Etudes anglophones (en Sorbonne, escalier G, 2ème étage).
En raison du plan Vigipirate, l'entrée se fait par le 17 rue de la Sorbonne (cour d'honneur).
Nous espérons vous voir nombreux !
Pascal Aquien, Elisabeth Angel-Perez, Françoise Sammarcelli, Marie-Céline Daniel

Thursday, March 24, 2016

In Praise of Charles Williams

Sir Geoffrey Hill's review of Grevel Lindop's study of Williams is critical of the subtitle of the book, yet gives Lindop credit for writing a full biography, taking into account the material conditions of Williams's childhood and adulthood.

Along the way, reading this review one learns of the beneficial influence of editor Anne Ridler on "Williams's later poetry." For Hill, the "spiritual shocker" novels by Williams are still worth the read. And he particularly recommends Williams's critical works, The English Poetic Mind (1932) and Reason and Beauty in the Poetic Mind (1933).

Williams is "powerful and weird in essential ways." Find out more:

Geoffrey Hill, "Charles Williams: mightier and darker" TLS (23 March 2016).

Monday, January 25, 2016

"I have a book of rap"

This is a wonderful reading, which I have just discovered today, and makes an excellent introduction for newcomers to Hill's poetry. Go to it students!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Move over St. Patrick, the GLP is here

No doubt it has escaped no-one that today is St. Patrick's day. The Chicago River was green this weekend, and around the world Irish-inspired events are taking place, with or without leprechauns. Maybe that's why the timing on this piece by Matthew Sperling couldn't be better, that is, if you assume that there's some kind of relationship between the GLP and Sir Geoffrey Hill.  Check this blarney out:

Friday, May 9, 2014

Charles Péguy next week

For those interested in Charles Péguy, this centenary year is particularly rich with events, and this coming week condenses a very high number of conferences and talks about Péguy including:

La pensée de Péguy, 1914-2014, a conference held at Ecole Normale Supérieure and Institut Catholique de Paris (14-15 May)

Péguy is the featured writer at Saint Rémy la Calonne's annual event, Le Printemps du Grand Meaulnes (16-18 May)

Péguy will also be spoken about at the Salon des écrivains croyants in Paris, Mairie du 6e arrondissement (May 17).

For those who want to follow the calendar of events provided by the Péguy Association l'Amitié Charles Péguy, please join the association (it's a non-profit dedicated to keeping the memory of Péguy alive, at  a mere 10 euro fee per year, to which you should add another 40 euros for the quarterly review about Péguy). ACP maintains a website where you can get more information about Péguy (in French).

Those interested in Sir Geoffrey Hill's The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy may wish to visit the Facebook page of the association, as featured here:

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Murphy's Hill = integrity

Well, at last Kenneth Haynes has been mentioned with some admiration for having tackled the task of getting Hill's twenty-one volumes together for us, the consuming readers. Hayden Murphy's review of Broken Hierarchies in today's Scotland Herald reveals a bit about the company he keeps with Dominicans and Jesuits. That must be good training for writing a fair-handed and subtle review.

Since the reviewer has been reading Hill's poetry since the 1960s, it can be assumed that he has had time enough to digest the material, though for him like the rest of us, coming to an assured space of complete comprehension of the Daybooks is not something humanly possible after only one reading. And thinking about the limits of our meager human intelligence—compared to the omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and immutability found among the theologian's list of God's traits—reminds me of Saul Bellow's description of  how happy God would be to sit down incognito and relax at a café in France. This anthropomorphism has often entertained me: with such a list to cope with, why wouldn't God be tired and want a coffee or a drink? With further joy, I rather imagine God's lingering in the café—ordering a second drink—while reading the Daybooks. I bet She would understand everything on a first reading!

I shall look forward to reading a bit more of Mr. Murphy.

Hayden Murphy, "Geoffrey Hill: Broken Hierarchies - Poems 1952-2012 (OUP)," Scotland Herald (January 11, 2014).

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Rahim's Hill = expressiveness

The interview with Sir Geoffrey Hill in today's Telegraph, by Sameer Rahim, the deputy literary editor of the journal, is excellent; and the photos by Clara Molden are as grand as the text itself. Hill claims he is after "expressiveness" in poetry.

Sameer Rahim, "Geoffrey Hill: Poetry should be shocking and surprising," Telegraph (December 14, 2013).