Exemplary Reading? (Review of Bridget Vincent, Moral Authority in Seamus Heaney and Geoffrey Hill, Oxford University Press, 2022)

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Abstract

Hazardous but press on. Enjambment drags: hinge of induration not a patent success. Comparisons build tautologies yet again. What is incomparable and are we making a list?

‘Ars’, a poem from Geoffrey Hill’s Without Title (2006), begins with a playful reflection on its own versification. ‘Enjambment | drags’ as if slowed down—or bored—by the indurations of poetic form, as the reader’s eye or writer’s pen turn slowly over the ‘hinge’ of the line-break. ‘Comparisons build tautologies’, and do so ‘yet again’: tautology here might be a kind of self-repetition, as the verse of Hill’s poem performs, line by line, again and again, the pressing on which appears to be its subject. ‘Are we | making a list?’ is the kind of question a child might ask of a parent, peeping over their shoulder as they compose a poem. In the context of ‘Ars’, however, it suggests acute self-consciousness about what poetry really is as we write it. On the one hand, poetry is nothing but ‘a list’, plain words divided into lines, each with tautologous comparisons and metaphors for something it struggles to represent. But at the same time, its self-instantiating structure—enacting what it seeks to describe—can be taken to carry a certain kind of authority: an example, if you like, of what it means to ‘press on’.

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2022-08-09
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The Cambridge Quarterly
Journal ISSN
0008-199X
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Oxford University Press (OUP)