Thursday, November 18, 2010

Herbert John Clifford Grierson

I’m not sure how things are elsewhere, but here in Ireland the collapse of the Celtic Tiger is having some all-too-predictable consequences for education, particularly at third level. On the one hand, universities with a long history of competition, if not downright hostility, are building alliances, while on the other the government debates the reintroduction of fees after a decade of a nominally free service.

Another side effect of recession is an even greater emphasis on vocational education, with both policy and public pronouncement favouring those subject areas that are seen as being most likely to facilitate recovery and future economic growth, the infamous “knowledge economy”. Inevitably, this puts pressure on such non-productive areas as the English Department with their tendency to produce social parasites like teachers and writers. What Eng Lit needs is a hero, a role model for young students to look up to. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Herbert John Clifford Grierson.

It is widely recognised that the revival of John Donne’s reputation in the early part of the last century was mainly due to his championing by T.S. Eliot, and especially to Eliot’s well-known 1921 essay on The Metaphysical Poets. What is perhaps less often remembered is that this essay was a review of Grierson’s anthology Metaphysical Lyrics & Poems of the Seventeenth Century, or that Eliot’s interest in Donne was initially facilitated by Grierson’s two volume Poems of John Donne which appeared in 1912 and which pretty well established the corpus of Donne’s verse for later editions.

As an aside here, it’s interesting to speculate about why Donne has been an influence on poetic innovators. The context in which Donne started writing was one in which the Petrarchan sonnet sequence was king. Tellingly, the only 14-line poem in Donne’s Songs and Sonnets is neither Petrarchan nor a sonnet in the strictest sense and the only one with sonnet in the title is 18 lines long. When he did come to write a sonnet sequence, the Holy Sonnets, his primary intention would seem to have been to systematically undermine all the technical requirements of the form. Donne’s poetry represents a move away from the smooth polished gems of the Late Elizabethans towards a rougher, more textured writing. In this light, it’s not difficult to see why he appealed to such poetic iconoclasts as Eliot, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Browning.

But back to Grierson; the sad fact is that good writers, even great writers, go out of fashion and can be forgotten unless someone sets out to recover them. It is in performing such acts of recovery that the English professor can most fruitfully contribute to the sum of our knowledge. If we are to fully value this work, we need to remind ourselves that knowledge is not just about a skills-based approach to wealth creation. The preservation and transmission of knowledge is essential to the good health of something much more important, our culture.

I like to think that the dustier corners of Irish universities are populated by a new generation of Griersons; they have had, up to recently at least, one fine example to follow. I’m thinking of J.C.C. Mays, the editor, amongst other things, of the definitive edition of Coleridge’s poetical works, a monumental act of recovery in itself. I’m sure there must be many more of these academic heroes in universities all over the world; thanks to the world’s bankers, life is bound to get harder for them.

Monday, November 15, 2010

hardPressed poetry

hardPressed poetry is a small press which publishes poetry that you won't often find in your local bookshop. Since 1997, we have also distributed books by other publishers.

Poets we publish and/or distribute work by include Brian Coffey, Randolph Healy, Trevor Joyce, David Lloyd, Tom Raworth, Maurice Scully, Geoffrey Squires and Augustus Young as well as ourselves, Catherine Walsh and Billy Mills.

We also published two issues of a magazine, the Journal, which is currently dormant.

We have also produced a number of card-poems and other smaller items which are not listed here. Please enquire if interested. Our e-mail is hardPressedpoetry AT (you know what to do).