- Viewpoints: Poets in Conversation with John Haffenden
Faber, 189 pp, £7.50, June 1981, ISBN 0 571 11689 2
- A Free Translation by Craig Raine
Salamander, 29 pp, £4.50, June 1981, ISBN 0 907540 02 3
- A German Requiem by James Fenton
Salamander, 9 pp, £1.50, January 1981, ISBN 0 907540 00 7
- Caviare at the Funeral by Louis Simpson
Oxford, 89 pp, £4.50, April 1981, ISBN 0 19 211943 5
By and large we are interested in the thoughts, opinions and intentions of writers we are interested in, and by and large writers are keen to express these things in reviews, essays and memoirs subsidiary to their main work. A critic lurks, an implicit presence, in every creative writer, and though most of them are starved of a Boswell to transcribe and irradiate obiter dicta as facets of the creative life, they are none the less eager to shine their light on their own work. At its best, self-consciousness is forgotten and the act of self-explanation becomes a part of the self-vindication of the work and even of the creative process in general.
Vol. 3 No. 17 · 17 September 1981
SIR: Alan Hollinghurst’s examination of Craig Raine (LRB, 20 August) usefully emphasises a neglected aspect of his poetics – a degree of cultural sophistication often ignored in the critical fascination with his technique. But Raine goes beyond Imagist practice in his often value-laden metaphors. All of Raine’s images are interlocking, none exist in isolation. The most obvious parallel is with Stevens. ‘The Season in Scarborough’, from A Free Translaton, for example, is not only, as Hollinghurst suggests, ‘referential and knowing’, but conditioned by a kind of moral pattern which emerges frequently in his best work. It is quite true that Raine has not been ignored by the media, and that such attention has its dangers – mostly of deformity. But when attention finally shifts from technique to theme, he will not, I believe, be found to have been overvalued.
Georgetown University, Washington
Vol. 3 No. 18 · 1 October 1981
SIR: I have no wish to be made to seem curmudgeonly about the talent of a poet who has given me as much pleasure as Craig Raine has; I felt it essential to approach his new book in the way I did, and Mr Hirsh (Letters, 17 September) acknowledges the justice of this. On the other hand, I did not say that Raine is an Imagist, and I considered it too obvious to mention that his imagery is interlocking and contributes to a moral statement: indeed I criticise the habit of the too-easily-won memento mori. Mr Hirsh seems finally to suggest that ‘theme’ has value in itself, regardless of the quality of technique, an opinion from which I demur. If Raine’s ‘theme’ has not yet been assessed, it is hard to see how it could, or could not, have been overvalued. As a matter of accuracy I should add that I do not consider Raine (or his work) to be deformed.