Skip to main content

Ian Hamilton's Collected Poems

I've been reading the slim handsome new Faber Ian Hamilton Collected, recently published. It's a corrective reading, because no one else, really, writes in his style now, as Alan Jenkins observes in his intelligent, honest, and compassionate Introduction. This is impressive, because it means that Hamilton's terse, controlled, famously minimal manner seems almost unique, and as remote as from another century. Most influential and respected as a poet in the 1970s, it may be hard to believe, now, but Hamilton was, along with Larkin, and Hughes, arguably one of the three best-known and respected English poets of that decade (Heaney was of course the major Irish figure). Before the Motion and Morrison 80s, and, setting aside for a moment the other tradition being pioneered by Prynne, Riley, Crozier, Raworth, Hamilton was a major figure. Is he still?

The new edition of his work is austere in its claims and offerings. There are not many more than the famous 60 poems. What is new does not radically shift one's reading. However, what is impressive is precisely the often-mentioned austerity, and modesty, of delivery. Hamilton did not believe in poetry as research. He waited for poems to come, out of extreme moments. These he then shaped - and they feel agonisingly pared back. I can think of no other 20th century poet, writing in English, with anything like such a reputation, with such a small body of work. It is perhaps a dubious critical approach to praise a poet for extra-poetic values, such as morality, or workmanship, or modesty - but British criticism is often weighted, with such unspoken, and spoken, claims. What is often admired is precisely how character and/or values are invested in work (craft, skill, form, mastery, discipline, rigour, seriousness and so on) - so that excessive, or indeed, prolific, poets, sometimes appear unruly and can be censored as such.

The big paradox is Dylan Thomas, who was personally amoral and disordered, but apparently disciplined in his poetic craft. The Movement, of course, was all about an alternative moral or personal austerity, a controlling, that fed into the poetic style. I wonder if enough work has really been done to examine the relative meaningfulness of such a position, as ancient as Seneca, that a writer's ethics are their writing. What is intriguing about Hamilton's poems is that they read, seen again now, powerfully. Without rebuking anyone, they are artifacts of an impressive other way of writing poems, worth reconsidering. Reading them is a tonic, is bracing.

For, Hamilton, despite his attack on the Forties (he preferred the severest of the war poets, especially Keith Douglas), was no mere Movement type. He read and admired Lowell. He knew and respected Al Alvarez (whose own late poetry reads much like Hamilton's). Hamilton wanted to pack extreme, confessed emotion in to the poems, but, in a more impersonal, if not Eliotic way. As such, the form of each of his poems is an extremely striking microcosmic version of the whole; in genetic terms, each poem is a gene; the whole is the Collected.

I find myself persuaded that, for all the pathos of the tiny achievement, in terms of finished, published poems, Hamilton was a tremendously serious, gifted, and dedicated poet. He was scrupulous to the extreme. His work warrants such a new publication, and is no mere vanity project. It will last - perhaps not because he is central to what the British 80s to the present actually became, in poetry (Hamilton surely would not have enjoyed the emphasis on comedy and 'democratic voice') - but despite what happened. Hamilton has become a very intriguing road not quite taken. Never too late. I know his nephew, the fine young poet Nathan Hamilton, has been thinking along similar lines.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

DANGER, MAN

Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…

AMERICA PSYCHO

According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…

SEXTON SHORTLIST!

Announcing the Shortlist for the 2016 Sexton PrizeSeptember 13, 2016 / By Kelly Davio
Eyewear Publishing is pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2016 Sexton Prize. The finalists are, in no particular order, as follows:


THE BARBAROUS CENTURY, Leah Umansky
HISTORY OF GONE, Lynn Schmeidler
SEVERE CLEAR, Maya Catherine Popa
GIMME THAT. DON’T SMITE ME, Steve Kronen
SCHEHERAZADE AND OTHER REDEPLOYMENTS, David McAleavey
AN AMERICAN PURGATORY, Rebecca Gayle Howell
SIT IN THE DARK WITH ME, Jesse Lee Kercheval

The shortlist was selected by Eyewear’s Director Todd Swift with Senior Editor Kelly Davio. Don Share of Poetry Magazine will select the winning manuscript, which will be released at the 2017 AWP conference in Washington, D.C. The winner will be announced in October. 
Congratulations to our finalists!