Skip to main content

Only One Sort of Excellence


'I'd feel, you call this poetry?': thus Hamilton summed up his early crusades in an interview with Gerry Cambridge in 1996. He would come to look back with a certain amount of self-irony on his youthful absolutism, an absolutism reinforced by the conviction that a bad line was 'a crime against nature'. 'I'm prepared now to concede that there might be various kinds of excellence in poetry, some of which I'm blind to. I felt then that there was only one sort - which I was custodian of', he told the same interviewer. Yet the confidence and seriousness that fuelled The Review [Hamilton's critical magazine]'s stringencies were remarkable, and the stringencies themselves remarkably even-handed. True, the tone was more acerbic when it came to 'legitimate targets', 'popsters and barbarians', as Hamilton put it, such as the Liverpool poets: 'They were getting praised and enjoyed. They had an audience. There was a sort of Leavisite/Arnoldian feeling, that the Philistines were at the gate', Hamilton said, many years after the event. Not unduly hampered, in his criticism, by his otherwise highly developed sense of the rights of others, Hamilton (also, by now, reviewing regularly in the London Magazine and the Observer) set about making enemies.


- Alan Jenkins, writing on Ian Hamilton  
in Collected Poems (Faber, 2009)

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poetry in Motion

POETRY IN MOTION
Why one Reds supporter is committing his love for Liverpool FC to verse


Liverpool FC and poetry have a lot of previous – from John Toshack’s Gosh It’s Tosh collection in the late 70s, to the verse of Dave Kirby and Peter Etherington in the fanzine Red All Over the Land, to the lines written by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, a University of Liverpool graduate, in the aftermath of 2012’s Hillsborough findings. Now there’s Ben Wilkinson, Reds fan and book critic for The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement, who’s compiling a series of poems commemorating the club’s legends. “Football is part of the fabric of life, and anything that’s important to people finds its way into poetry,” he says. “Wilfred Owen’s poem 'Disabled' describes a soldier who loses the use of his legs, meaning he can never play football again. Philip Larkin’s 'MCMXIV' compares boys queuing to join the army to fans outside Villa Park. These poems have stood the test of time because t…

Way More Than Luck (Seren Books, 2018)

From the thumping heartbeat of the distance runner to the roar of football terraces across the decades, Ben Wilkinson’s debut confronts the struggles and passions that come to shape a life. Beginning with an interrogation of experiences of clinical depression and the redemptive power of art and running, the collection centres on a series of vivid character portraits, giving life to some of football's legends. By turns frank, comic, sinister and meditative – ‘the trouble with you, son, is that all your brains are in your head’ – these poems uncover the beautiful game’s magic and absurdity, hopes and disappointments, as striking metaphors for our everyday dramas. Elsewhere there are tender love poems, political satire and strange dream worlds, in an urgently lyrical book of poems that take many forms and modes of address: pantoum, sonnet, sestina; epistle, confession, dramatic monologue. All are united by a desire to speak with searching clarity about matters of the heart. Way More …

Way More Than Luck in The Poetry Review

Jade Cuttle gives her verdict on Way More Than Luck in the latest issue of The Poetry Review, in a critical essay that takes in two other debuts: Richard Scott's Soho and Zaffar Kunial's Us.

It's clear that the love of the beautiful game extends to Wilkinson's poetics, for he embraces a variety of forms and modes of address. From formally dexterous sonnets and sestinas, to epistles and endearing confessionalism, this is a book that likes to keep the reader's on their toes. Something Wilkinson does well is navigate the dark abyss of clinical depression [...] from "going about / the tedium that strings our lives / together: paperchain people, / baskets lined under strip-lights" ('To David Foster Wallace'), to shivering over a beige Cornish pasty, "ticking over / before some godforsaken motorway service station" ('You Must Be Joking'), there is tenderness and touching honesty to be found in the darker moments he describes. For this …