Sunday, 24 November 2013

Cats and Dogs

I read a review this morning in Saturday's Guardian of Geoffrey Hill's new collected poems, Broken Hierarchies, by Nicholas Lezard.  Like Woody Allen, Hill made some accessible early works -- I'm a fan of Mercian Hymns -- then went off down his own personal rabbit-hole.  He's clearly a great poet, but why or what about is hard to say.  It's a big book -- 992 pages! -- and this comment made me laugh out loud (that's LOL for younger readers):
From the word go, Hill gave some of his readers problems with his style, which, to use the most boring word about it, is "difficult", and there was some small, perplexed part of me that hoped one of the reasons this book is so big is that the answers are printed in the back.
As did this:
The editor of the 1960 Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse, Kenneth Allott ...  said of the poem finally chosen: "I understand 'Annunciations' only in the sense that cats and dogs may be said to understand human conversation, i.e. they grasp something by the tone of the speaking voice, but without help I cannot construe it".
In conversation I have something of the same problem, these days.  My partial deafness and tinnitus mean that, in less than ideal conditions, I only have the vaguest impression of what anyone is saying.  I had a great evening out with friends on Wednesday night, and we ended up in a rather fine restaurant called Fish! in Borough Market (I recommend the sausage and mash); but it was full to capacity, and there was a cacophony of voices simmered in that enclosed space to a perfect white-noise jus.

In answer to the question "Why do you favour images over words, these days?" (at least, that's the question I heard), I said it was because it accessed an important, non-verbal part of my mind which had been given short shrift in my education.  Boys with a talent for taking exams were not encouraged to pursue other talents, especially of a hands-on, non-academic kind.  If I have any degree of visual originality, this may be because it has never been educated out of me.

But another answer might have been that I have a taste for difficulty, and visual difficulty is more accessible and less off-putting than verbal difficulty.  Many people will find themselves liking a work of visual art without feeling a need to understand it and, without realising it, hanging the equivalent of a Geoffrey Hill poem on their wall.


Kent Wiley said...

I too was out on the town Thursday evening, in a bar crowded with folks 20 - 30 years my junior, who appeared to have no difficulty making themselves heard above the din of conversation and recorded music. It becomes increasingly difficult to focus on one voice in these environments. We've become like undifferentiated microphones. It's the fragmentary nature of the interpretation of the sound that makes it so difficult to grasp a complete conversation - at least in "real time".

Surely the most frustrating aspect of aging is this loss of senses, particularly hearing and eyesight. I've been told we weren't designed to live this long.

Mike C. said...


I'd certainly be easy prey for any lurking sabre-tooth cat these days (especially if it was anywhere near a waterfall or a forest of rustling leaves)...


Zouk Delors said...

Fish sausages?

"appeared to have no difficulty making themselves heard above the din of conversation"

They will, they will.

Mike C. said...


Don't be silly -- fish mash.