Friday, 1 April 2016

Celebrating CM

 The new edition of PN Review is a particularly enthralling one, containing as it does a festschrift of critical appreciations celebrating the life and work of Christopher Middleton, who sadly passed away at the end of last year. He was a poet of profound importance to me almost since I began to take an initial stumbling interest in literature. I remember first coming across him in the Penguin anthology British Poetry Since 1945 (ed. Edward Lucie-Smith) which was one of our set-texts for English A-Level and not making head nor tail of the poem 'Climbing a Pebble'; nor could my well-meaning teacher begin to elucidate its themes.               
  Equally I'm not sure if I've come fully to grips with that poem even now (is the Nares in "my Nares and Keats" really the obscure 18th century prosodist I came across in George Saintsbury? And what's the allusion to the Life and Letters of Joseph Severn about the lark-shooting cardinal with his glass tied to an owl doing at the end of the poem, although intriguingly leading back to Keats?) Such elusiveness is one of the many qualities one treasures in Middleton, the sense of an inexhaustible interplay of source-materials, ideas and connotative currents keeping the poem vibrant and inviting however many times we return to it, this well-tempered jouissance (meted out with sly Metaphysical wit) working in tandem with an almost tactile, exploratory yet always dexterous feel for language and form.
    As well as warm reminiscences from friends such as Michael Hersch and Marius Kociejowski  and a few very late Middleton poems, there are more measured perspectives on the work from Drew Milne and Tom Lowenstein but the piece I like most is John Clegg's comparison of CM's 'Coral Snake' with Lawrences' 'Snake', tracing where the two poems converge and diverge and bringing in a personal note at the end where he regrets not contacting Middleton and missing his chance "with one of the lords of life".
    I also have a piece in PNR 228, a review of The New Concrete:Visual Poetry in the 21st Century (ed. Chris McCabe and Victoria Bean), a beautiful thick art-book full of fascinating, eye-catching vis-po and really illuminating as to the possibilities of haptic text-images within the scattershot , "semantically-bleached" media-barrage of today. Christopher Middleton, who dabbled in concrete poetry himself (cf. Our Flowers and Nice Bones), would surely have approved.

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