Sunday, June 29, 2008

a psalm, a spasm

The first line of "Cycle, William Arrowsmith, 1924-1992", published in the TLS, December 25, 1992, is "Natural strange beatitudes" and the third section of the poem ends: "a spasm / a psalm".

The words spasm and psalm had been used in conjunction previously by Hill, when was interviewed by John Haffenden, in Viewpoints, Poets in Conversation (1981):

Do you actually hold certain religious, philosophical or ethical convictions which you think it is not the place of poetry to formulate as absolute statements?

If poetry has any value, that value must presuppose the absolute freedom of poetry to encompass the maximum range of belief or unbelief.  I would have thought that this problem had been solved already for European poets by the poetry of the Psalms, the Book of Job, and the Divine Comedy.

One critic has said that your poetry has the air of mystical utterance but lacks a true feeling for the passion of religion.  Could you comment on that criticism?

Isn't such a comment based on a radical misunderstanding of the relation of poet to topic, on the most naïve and simplistic sens of how poetry funcitons, on the supposition that the poem is merely a vessel to contain the spontaneous efflux of some kind of direct, unqualified, unmodified, unfiltered persona spasm?

(Viewpoints, pp.88-89).