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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)