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SHORTLISTED FOR THE FORWARD PRIZE FOR POETRY 2011 SELECTED AS THE ECONOMIST POETRY BOOK OF THE YEAR
Shortlisted for the Forward prize for poetry 2011
It is not immediately obvious what Clavics is about. What is apparent that it is an elegiac sequence, mourning for the musician William Lawes who was killed at the Battle of Chester in 1645; delicately constructed, each page is comprised of a section made up of two stanzas, together forming the shape of a key. Before long, however, the tone makes it clear that nothing is to be taken at face value; amongst the lines are provocations and incongruities, playful references and about-turns. Clavics is a celebration of seventeenth-century music and poetry, yet is confrontational and sometimes shockingly modern. From one line to the next you may be pulled out of a potently evoked moment of history, thrust up against the wall of sexual politics and strained meaning in contemporary language, and then dropped back onto a battlefield.
‘It is impossible in a short space to convey not merely how good, but how important Hill’s writing is ... There is no one alive writing in our language about deeper or more important matters, no one saying such interesting things.’ – A. N.Wilson, Spectator
Geoffrey Hill’s work is at the centre of a debate about how poetry should develop to find its place in contemporary society. Should it embrace the superficial potency of much of modern culture or turn back in upon itself with ever more complex layers of meaning? Should poetry attempt to gain a broader audience and engage ‘the market’ or consolidate its role as an increasingly obscure bastion of the intellect? Since his election to the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry, Geoffrey Hill has not shied away from these questions in his addresses. Now in his first book since he took his place amongst the highest of poetry academics, he has provided his provocative answer.
Clavics is meticulously and lavishly produced, with a purple and gold printed dust-jacket over grey cloth boards and gold-lettered spine. Inside, beyond the corrugated silver endpapers, the uniquely arranged verses are typeset in Eric Gill’s Joanna and printed on Munken Lynx Rough, 120gsm paper.
‘Over 32 poems Geoffrey Hill traces an elegiac sequence for William Lawes and his music, intermingling the historical events around his death with flashes of the everyday.The result is a collection that delights in eccentric incongruities. Ben Jonson will appear a line after a popular instant coffee blend has been mentioned, Dante will be found next to a mime artist, Marcel Marceau, and Lawes himself figures auditioning for Ronnie Scott. Mr Hill actively seeks out such juxtapositions. He will audaciously rhyme “haruspex”, an Etruscan soothsayer who saw prophecies in the entrails of victims, with “bad sex”, his poetry delighting in “a dissonance to make them wince”.Yet, as Mr Hill writes, when speaking of Lawes’s tendency to jar different musical themes, “the grace of music is its dissonance”. This discordance is part of his wider belief in the public nature of poetry. Refusing to be a “light entertainer” like the hypocrites in Dante’s inferno, Mr Hill presents a difficult world as he sees it. His gift lies in making such difficulty momentarily understood.’ – Economist
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