On Philip Terry

Colin Burrow

If the world of experimental poetry makes you think of pseudy dudes in black 501s and Doc Martens, then I would prescribe a small daily dose of Philip Terry, for whom being experimental chiefly means being thoughtfully rebellious and funny. In his translation of Dante’s Inferno (2014), Terry is guided through the hell that is the University of Essex (where he is professor of creative writing) by the Beat poet Ted Berrigan. They pass throngs of venal departmental heads and VCs (‘“It’s you and your like who have put the ‘vice’/in ‘vice-chancellor’, you should be ashamed.”/And as I ranted on at him like this,//Like I do when I’m completely pissed’) into the depths where Bobby Sands (Terry’s equivalent of Ugolino) gnaws at the head of Margaret Thatcher. In 2010 Terry produced a postmodern rewrite of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, where notes by editors, bits from newspapers and Shakespeareish phrases are mashed up with Joysprick: ‘Not marcasite nor the gilded moolvees/Of the Prince of Darkness shall outlive this powerful rhythm and blues.’ Sonnet 50 (in which Shakespeare grumbles about his horse) becomes: ‘Don’t talk to me about Raymond Queneau,/I’ve had it up to here with French theory./Since Althusser died/I spend my days on eBay.’

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[*] Quennets by Philip Terry (Carcanet, 144 pp., £12.99, July 2016, 978 1 78410 268 5).