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A Civil Note on the Press


Imagine my surprise, on flicking through this week’s Guardian Review to find that the book of the week is not only a collection of poetry but a new book by Geoffrey Hill, A Treatise of Civil Power*. At last! The Guardian has been supportive of Hill for a while, but I don’t remember the last time the Review gave that accolade to any volume of poetry. Nonetheless, I was disappointed to find no other poetry reviews in the paper. A ridiculous situation. After all, you wouldn’t expect there to be no further fiction reviews if the book of the week was a novel.

*Strictly speaking, this isn’t really a new book as far as I can gather, given that a volume of the same title was published by Clutag Press in 2005. Penguin’s page for the book doesn’t show the contents, so I can’t ascertain whether the volumes are identical, although the titles mentioned in the review seem to indicate that they are at least substantially the same. The Clutag edition is now sold out; I wasn’t quick enough on the mark to get a copy, but I think it was signifcantly dearer than the Penguin edition anyway!

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Rob permalink
    18/08/2007 23:07

    Yes, it’s not really a new book, although I haven’t read any of it. Sounds interesting, but will be a lot of time and a lot of work. That’s the problem with Hill – unless you don’t plan to read anything else for a few months, his later poems will remain largely impenetrable.

    Strange too that Peter McDonald writes about, “the beautiful, but syntactically strange and disorienting, long poems of The Orchards of Syon (2002)” – a collection of 72 poems, each of 24 lines, or you could view it as single poem in 72 sections, which makes me wonder if PM has actually read it!

  2. Andrew Philip permalink
    19/08/2007 09:13

    Quite. That comment struck me as odd too. Twenty four lines is not exactly long. I’d certainly regard The Orchards of Syon as a single poem, whereas Without Title is definitely a collection.

  3. Matt Merritt permalink
    20/08/2007 09:12

    That annoyed me too, Andrew. Nice to see a volume of poetry heavily featured, but why nothing else? I hope the flimsiness of the Review at the moment (no letters, little or no diary) is just a temporary thing, or it’s going to start looking less than essential.

  4. Anonymous permalink
    21/08/2007 18:07

    Hope this works – a rare intervention from me, Andrew. Peter McDonald was my tutor at Cambridge and has been insinuating himself with GH for some time, appearing at the same festivals, etc. McDonald is a shrewd critic and a furiously career-driven poet who is not shy of his own opinions. That said, I’m sure he has read “Syon”, though I disagree with his opinion. And Rob, might I suggest reading the later Hill as one could Finnegan’s Wake, allowing sense to occur to you as it does, enjoying the rhythms and music, rather than as an exercise in what Joyce might have termed gastro-etymology? Cheers – James Wood

  5. Andrew Philip permalink
    21/08/2007 20:02

    Matt, I’ve noticed that the Review tends to get flimsier over the summer months. In past years, that has tended to mean the poetry reviews have vanished until autumn, so I suppose we should welcome the fact that it’s different this year.

    James, thanks for your comment. I agree. Hill has one of the best ears at work in the business at the moment, so I don’t mind quite so much not getting what he’s getting at. I do mind not having the time to dig deeper, but I’d rather enjoy his more surface pleasures, which are considerable, than let laziness and lack of time hold me from them.

  6. Anonymous permalink
    29/08/2007 01:08

    The Clutag contents as follows, over 35 pages:

    * On reading Milton and the English Revolution
    * To the Lord Protector Cromwell
    * A Treatise of Civil Power
    * Coda
    * On reading Burke on Empire, etc.
    * On reading Blake: Prophet, etc.
    * On reading Hazlitt: Lectures, etc.
    * A Cloud in Aquila

    Main difference is the 42-section ‘Treatise’ poem in this, which has been plundered for new poems in the Penguin edition, e.g. ‘Before Senility’.

    I have copy 109 of the 400 … very nicely printed.


  7. Andrew Philip permalink
    29/08/2007 20:27

    Thanks, Andy. That’s interesting to know.

  8. Anonymous permalink
    30/08/2007 00:11

    Slightly mis-read yr. post Andy, thinking you were after the Clutag contents. Penguin has:

    The Minor Prophets
    Citations I
    Citations II
    On reading Milton etc.
    Holbein I
    Holbein II
    Parallel Lives I
    Parallel Lives II
    Harmonia Sacra
    On reading Blake etc.
    To the Lord Protector Cromwell
    On reading Burke etc.
    A Cloud in Aquila
    In Framlingham Church
    De Necessitate
    After reading Children of Albion
    Integer Vitae
    On looking through 50 Jahre etc.
    A Precis or Memorandum of Civil Power
    G.F. Handel, opus 6.
    An Emblem
    The Peacock at Alderton
    In memorian: Gillian Rose
    Johannes Brahms, opus 2.
    In Memorian: Aleksander Wat
    Before Senility
    On reading The Essayes or Counsels etc.
    In Memorian: Ernst Barlach
    On reading Crowds and Power
    The Oath
    Lyric Fragment


  9. Andrew Philip permalink
    30/08/2007 14:07

    Thanks again, Andy. As the Penguin book runs to 64 pages, I presume that not all the pieces in it are plundered, to use your word, from the Clutag edition. Is that a fair assumption? And how much has the plunder been melted down, or has he just resprayed it?

  10. Anonymous permalink
    30/08/2007 18:36

    Ah, that would require a comparative work-out for which I just don’t have the legs at the minute 🙂

    Now I look, though, Citations I and II are culled from the original ‘Treatise’ poem as well, with modifications.


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