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This article is taken from PN Review 133, Volume 26 Number 5, May - June 2000.

Inspired Triangulation: Thomas Hardy and British Poetry James Keery

'Illiterate is only just too strong a word for criticism so nearly of McGonagall quality.' Mc...what? But it's a classic, it's inspired... 'What piffle!' Piffle? What do you call piffle?

In Hardy's 'Overlooking the Stour', a moorhen darts out 'planing up shavings of crystal spray' and swallows like little crossbows fly round like figures of eight. Comment: The virtuosity of this poem 'is of a kind impossible before advanced technology', birds 'are transformed into machines, the swallows into crossbows, and the moorhen into some sort of lathe'. Is...the item of Victorian technology? Is this moorhen whirling round at speed? No, this moorhen is planing, like a plane ...

Er ... okay. Maybe lose the moorhen, but ... 'I am not convinced by declarations that much dry, rightly neglected verse by particular living poets isn't dry, or rightly neglected ... I am bored, bored, bored by sentences which begin, "As Schniedau and others have hinted"... '

And so on, for three vitriolic pages. In 'A Very Technological Matter', Geoffrey Grigson takes no prisoners, even warning Donald Davie's students against taking him seriously. Perhaps that's why the editor of the New Statesman spiked the piece, which appears only in Blessings, Kicks and Curses (1982). His counterpart on the Listener, J.R. Ackerley, once confided in Stephen Spender that '[t]o send G a book to review was an act of hostility against the author'. As if Davie couldn't stick up for himself!


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