Oxford professor of poetry attacks Duffy’s praise of text language, and compares hers to Mills & Boon.
By Alison Flood
Carol Ann Duffy might have won numerous literary awards and become the country’s first female poet laureate, but Oxford professor of poetry Geoffrey Hill has nevertheless compared her writing to that of a Mills & Boon author.
Hill, who frequently earns the sobriquet of the English language’s greatest living poet but whose learned poems are also often described as “difficult”, was giving a lecture at Oxford University when he laid into Duffy. Taking umbrage with an interview the laureate gave to the Guardian in September 2011 , in which she said that “the poem is a form of texting … it’s the original text”, Hill sonorously laid out his reasons for disagreeing to gathered students.
“When the laureate speaks to the Guardian columnist to the tremendous potential for a vital new poetry to be drawn from the practice of texting she is policing her patch, and when I beg her with all due respect to her high office to consider that she might be wrong, I am policing mine,” said Hill, in a lecture entitled “Poetry, Policing and Public Order”. The Oxford professor of poetry has previously described difficult poems as “the most democratic because you are doing your audience the honour of supposing they are intelligent human beings”, saying that “so much of the popular poetry of today treats people as if they were fools”.
Speaking in Oxford, he said that he “would not agree that texting is a saying of more with less, and that it in this respect works as a poem”. “As the laureate says, poetry is condensed. Text is not condensed, it is truncated,” said Hill. “What is more it is normally an affectation of brevity; to express to as 2 and you as u intensifies nothing. Texting is like the old ticker tape: highly dramatic and intense if it’s reporting the Wall Street Crash or the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, not through any inherent virtue of the machine. Is the breaking news which runs at the foot of the screen on the BBC news channel condensed and consequently poetic? I fail to see how anyone could rationally claim that it is. Again texting is linear only. Poetry is lines in depth designed to be seen in relation or in deliberate disrelation to lines above and below.”
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