Geoffrey Hill returns home: Feb 14 2004

Words’ Series, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

Review by John Allcock: February 13 2004

Now 72, the poet described as ‘the most enigmatic’ and the ‘greatest English’ returns to his home ground
How does a poet cope, whose critics have frequently used phrases like densely allusive’, crabbed density, compressed and elliptical’ to describe his life’s work? Remarkably cheerfully, if Geoffrey Hill is anything to go by. Returning to his native Bromsgrove at the age of 72, the man who has been described as the most enigmatic’ as well as greatest’ poet in England entertained (yes, that is the right word) a large, local and appreciative audience with his reminiscences of Goldengrove’ as he calls the remembered location of his youth, and read poems inspired by the Worcestershire countryside.

Inevitably, comparisons with A E Housman, another Bromsgrove poet, sprang to mind but, stylistically at any rate, these were soon dismissed. However, a shared love of this midland shire and its neighbours, Herefordshire and Shropshire, was clearly discernible. Indeed, the Housman Society has recently published a selection entitled Three Bromsgrove Poets [1] (the third being Molly Holden, a local poet and broadcaster who sadly died of MS), to which Hill has contributed his own personally chosen poems, some of which he read.

Classical and biblical influences abound, as in poems he chose to read from Canaan [2], as well as a particular significance with which he endows Offa, the builder of the famous dyke between England and Wales, who becomes a brooding spirit in the Mercian Hymns [3]. Local references help to set the scene Romsley, Walton, Burcot and his own village of Fairfield for those in the know – and he showed particular skill at compressing present with past: Offa becomes overlord of the M5′ while the 9thC boy-martyr Kenelm rides a bicycle and has a love of toffee (it helps to know that the Bluebird factory lies near to a church dedicated to him). There is a serious and caring tone underlying these juxtapositions, however, and the reference to Kenelm is contained in two of his Triumph of Love’ poems [4], one of which describes the huge silent whumphs / of flame-shadow’ as the young Hill watches distant Coventry burning in 1940.

There was much to enjoy in this reading, the aging academic from Boston University giving way to the eager, observant country schoolboy before our eyes. The only problem would seem to be that the reader who still finds Hill’s poetry dense’ or elliptical’ needs the poet alongside which raises an interesting question about the independence of the written word.

[1] Robin Shaw, Three Bromsgrove Poets, Housman Society 2003
[2] Geoffrey Hill, Canaan, Penguin Books 1996
[3] Geoffrey Hill, Collected Poems, Penguin Books1985
[4] Geoffrey Hill, The Triumph Of Love, Penguin Books 1999

2004-02-18 14:07:53

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