Louis Esterhuizen. Ietsie oor die elitisme en populariteit van digkuns

Geoffrey Hill

Geoffrey Hill

Op die webtuiste van The Oxford Student is daar ‘n besonder interessante onderhoud wat deur Jessica Campbell gevoer was met Geoffrey Hill, die teenswoordige Oxford Professor of Poetry. In haar inleidende kommentaar stel Campbell dit onomwonde dat hierdie nié ‘n maklike onderhoud was nie. Veral Hill se puntenerigheid en taktiese vermyding van direkte vrae word deur haar as irritasies uitgesonder. Nogtans is daar sommer heelwat pitkos weggelê in Geoffrey Hill se beskouings; iets wat uiteraard van belang is, aangesien hy naas die poet laureate (Carol Ann Duffy) sekerlik die grootste direkte invloed op die Britse digkuns het.

As lusmaker, enkele vrae met Hill se antwoorde daarby:

You have famously defended the right of art to be ‘difficult’: would you therefore defend the right of poetry to be elitist?

We have to define what we mean by elitist: considerable confusion will arise unless we can get clear in our heads what ‘elitist’ means. If ‘elitist’ means belonging to some threatened hierarchy of the intelligence then I think that the poet has an obligation to attune her poetry in that direction. There is a largely unknown order of human beings who believe in that impossible thing: intrinsic value. One must work as if intrinsic value were a reality, even though I myself know no way of demonstrating its real existence.

Does it matter if poetry is unpopular?

Not at all: I cannot understand the contemporary clamour which insists that unless poetry is popular it is somehow failing. Poetry will survive however few its readers.

Then is it worth pushing poetry as an art?

Yes; it is important that poetry should be practised just as it is important that mathematics should be practised.

What do you think of the new poetry trends such as slams and stand-up poetry?

If they amuse people, all well and good.

So you don’t see them as a ‘dumbing-down’ of the art?

Make sure you note that dumbing down is your phrase, I never said that. It could be but that seems to be the natural swing of society these days: you won’t get me to denounce it or protest against it. We live in a society dominated by commodity: there is a current commodity in poetry slams, so be it.

What is your opinion of contemporary poets like Carol Ann Duffy whose work is relatively accessible?

I’m not naming names. If theirs is the right decision their work will endure and if not it will not.

Do you feel you have a duty to promote certain political values?

No: I would recommend a poet to avoid promotion because ‘to promote’ is a word of the advertising world. He or she [the poet] will inevitably work in some way into their writing their relation to the way things stand but that promotion of a cause is no more the function of a true poet than self-promotion.

Nou ja, toe. Gaan lees gerus die volledige onderhoud.

By wyse van groet volg ‘n gedig van Geoffrey Hill hieronder.

***

September song

 

Undesirable you may have been, untouchable
you were not. Not forgotten
or passed over at the proper time.

As estimated, you died. Things marched,
sufficient, to that end.
Just so much Zyklon and leather, patented
terror, so many routine cries.

(I have made
an elegy for myself it
is true)

September fattens on vines. Roses
flake from the wall. The smoke
of harmless fires drifts to my eyes.

This is plenty. This is more than enough.

 

(c) Geoffrey Hill

 

 

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