Goeffrey Hill reading at the Barbican last Sunday was exhilarating and wholly affirming of the longevity of hard-hitting, deeply-wrought poetry. Rather than a coherent review I'll merely post a few of my post-performance notebook jottings, particularly trying to record Hill's frequently very amusing between-poem remarks: "It isn't stand-up comedy; they're not paying me stand-up comedy rates...I've written 8 books since 2007; could it be dementia, I often wonder? It could well be ...I tell myself as long as I can write in strict forms - such as the Sapphic odes of Odi Barbari, Clavics derived from Vaughn and Herbert, or the rhyming quatrains of my forthcoming Daybooks- then I'm still somehow in control...if you have read my books you won't be surprised by what I'm reading today; if not - if you've just drifted in out of the rain, then - you have my sympathy....my work is like iron spikes in a blasted landscape, like the paintings of Anselm Keifer which I think have been an influence on me and the poems of Paul Celan which Kiefer has so admired...this Anselm Keifer -Paul Celan tradition of art is weird and unlovely and has nothing common with Poetry Please! Thanks to The Economist for making Clavics one of its Books of the Year, fitting it should be in a publication in which a phrase lihe 'plutocratic anarchy' or 'anarchistic plutocracy' (which comes from William Morris ) might be used - as that is what in England we have now, an anarchistic plutocracy ...I finish with Hopkins' sonnet on our national genius Purcell (since the reading took place in the Purcell Rooms) ...I've always taken inspiration from the phrase that Hopkins used to one of his correspondents when they said they didn't understand this sonnet: ' it means something more than your subjective rot'..."
Hill's reading was followed by an Echoes of Geoffrey Hill event in the foyer, in which James Byrne impressed, both with judiciously-timed voicings of Hillian poems from his most recent volume Blood/Sugar and with drafts of several new ambitious pieces from a satirical sequence called 'Soapboxes'. I enjoyed Niall McDevitt's readings of his own poems, such as the excellent sestina 'Wittgenstein in Ireland', but when he began intoning his settings of Hill's 'The Pentecost Castle' with the aid of a tambourine/burren, it was my time to leave.