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Monday, March 05, 2018

A review of my critical volume The Meaning of Form by Hilary Davies in PNR 44/1

I have just re-subscribed to PN Review, but not soon enough to catch this review of The Meaning of Form, which appeared late last year.

PN Review 237, Volume 44 Number 1, September - October 2017.
Hilary Davies: ‘What is the Wind Doing?’ Robert Sheppard, The Meaning of Form in Contemporary Innovative Poetry (Palgrave Macmillan), £66.99.

It's long, detailed, not entirely sympathetic, but so what? Its level of attention is important. If she doesn't like my style, my academic language (it's an academic book), that's OK by me.

A couple of things did rankle, though: I thought I invented the aphorism: 'Paraphrase is amnesia of form'. She says it's a quote from Angela Leighton. It's the sort of thing she might have said. Davies also ploughs through the innovative/mainstream opposition, which is not central to this book (unlike The Poetry of Saying; see here), since it has a wider application, though my specific interest - not dissimilar to, say, Susan Wolfson's focus on the Romantics - is in formally investigative writing (some Americans in here too). (My previous volumes are The Poetry of Saying (Liverpool University Press, 2005; access its main thesis here) and When Bad Times Made for Good Poetry (Shearsman, 2011), and they are much more historical than this new one. 

I did take exception to: 'he’s keen to assert street cred through examples of innovative poetry that draw on post-punk, transcripts of harrowing rape trials, the hereditaments and detritus of a post-historic, post-modern world'. My interest in Barry MacSweeney's work or Vanessa Place's is not to get-down-with-the-kids, but to make deliberate formal analyses of work that would seem to be so obviously content-based. The book is not arguing that content doesn't matter (there's a hint that I'm saying this, but I'm not), but that content can only be read through an awareness of form for a fully literary reading (as Derek Attridge would say), that what Veronica Forrest-Thomson (who Davies doesn't mention, but I do, at some length!) calls 'internal expansion' takes precedent over 'external expansion'.

If you can't access the PN Review, read the first review on the Tears in the Fence website by Ian Brinton. Thanks for this consideration too. Here.

If you're not familiar with the arguments being touched on here, a good deal of the book was discussed on this blog, indeed some posts are deliberately loose dry runs of chapters. Read more about the book here.  Or go straight here.You can purchase individual chapters electronically.