Monday, 23 January 2012

It Isn't The Miller’s Daughter

Much as I admire Burgess (no: because I admire Burgess so much) reading through Kevin Jackson’s well-made edition of Revolutionary Sonnets and Other Poems (Carcanet 2002) was a strangely demoralising experience. So much energy, so much inventiveness and earnest play, to so little actual memorable or penetrating poetic effect. I love AB’s prose, but maybe this reaction is what the naysayers feel when they read his novels (‘not to everyone’s taste,’ Jackson notes in the intro, ‘this heavy stew’). As to why the heavy stew so often works so very well for me as prose, and so rarely as poetry ... well, that's a tricky question. The poems are all (without exception, I think) technically very well done. Some of them stand out, too, like this brief but plangent lyric, in which word-play, pared down to letter-play, pierces the carapace and touches something mysteriously rather moving:
Our Norman betters
Taught English letters
To bathe in the fresh
Warm springs of the south.

So turn your backs on
Anglo-Saxon;
The þ in the flesh,
The æ in the mouth
There’s also quite a good poem called ‘Adderbury’ about water, attributed to the fictional French poet Albert Ritaine and originally written for ‘the abandoned novel It Is The Miller’s Daughter’, the existence of which I learnt for the first time reading this collection. My interest, it is piqued. For a while last year I was in discussion with the Burgess estate about maybe completing this incomplete project. That came to nothing, tant pis; but the body of fragmentary Burgessiana still fascinates me.

1 comment:

mybolgsallgood said...

I love poems too. Didn't involve reading since ages. For now I getting excited about the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Will place some bets for sure....