Nicholas Everett

Nicholas Everett is writing a doctoral thesis on Walt Whitman.

Paradise Lost

Nicholas Everett, 11 July 1991

During the 18th and 19th centuries verse surrendered its longer discursive and narrative forms to prose and confined itself more and more to the short lyric and the sequence of short lyrics. Much of this century’s verse appears to be continuing the process by avoiding paraphrasable meaning altogether. One need only point to the work of Wallace Stevens or John Ashbery to show how successfully some of it sustains our expectations while ultimately refusing to deliver the semantic goods. Having extracted a poem’s point, runs the usual defence of such teasing evasions, readers will have no further use for the poem itself: indeterminacy thus insures a poem against prompt expiry and may even keep it enduringly fresh. Furthermore, if a poem can be paraphrased, it will fail to reflect the radically ‘meaningless’, indeterminate nature of our experience. Derek Walcott’s poems, informed and invigorated as many them are by a coherent ideology, don’t conform to this negative aesthetic. Their ideology, however, is a cultural version of it.

Two Americas and a Scotland

Nicholas Everett, 27 September 1990

Whether in person or in print, self-consciousness is unsettling. Self-conscious writers, like self-conscious speakers, can’t help betraying that they’re more concerned with their interest in a subject, and the manner which conveys that interest, than in the subject itself. A poet’s earliest efforts are usually marred by self-consciousness and John Berryman’s are no exception to the rule. For most poets, however, finding a distinct and convincing voice is, at least in part, a process of shedding unwanted affectations and exaggerated self-importance. For Berryman the process was reversed. He learnt to capitalise on his self-consciousness, to seem to intend it. His detractors claim that all his work is mannered and self-indulgent, and they’re right: but the best of it – a couple of ‘The Nervous Songs’, some of the sonnets, most of The Dream Songs – opens up a saving gap between a displayed self-consciousness and the poet who lurks behind it.’

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences