Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

"My Grandmother's Glass Eye" by Craig Raine (Atlantic Books, 2016)

The inside cover says "There is something Johnsonian in Craig Raine's common sense - an elegant wrecking ball used with precision and delicacy to pick off the pretentious, the platitudinous, the over-promoted". Chapter headings include "Vagueness and Accuracy", "Rhythm", "The Line", and "Metaphor". He deals with these issues in a way that poetry readers might find useful.


  • "I am against poetry which is vague, pretentious and exaggerated. I am against neither difficult poetry nor pellucid poetry", p.x
  • "Bad readers, like the poor, are always with us. And their badness takes the form of the complacent confusion they bring. Poetry isn't diminished by clarity", p.xx
  • "It seems odd to me that we are still trapped in the idea that art and sincerity are logically incompatible to poetry", p.2
  • "both music and poetry appear at once unspecific and all-encompassing. If a single meaning cannot be assigned with any conviction, then perhaps this is because both arts are too profound to be paraphrased", p.12
  • [of Ricks] "What is the procedure, the methodology here? To notice a pun, notice it is irrelevant, yet explain its 'function' - as a suspect to be eliminated from enquiries", p.36
  • "the first task we require of poetry is to mean something. Second, when we read, we eliminate unhelpful connotations of words and look for the relevant meaning - the one which unlocks the sense of the poem. Deconstruction is no way to read poetry", p.155
  • "Banville is not alone in this preference for imprecision, for indistinctness, for fog", p.125
  • "Paul Muldoon's 'Quoof' is a genuinely difficult poem. Here are three critics - Tim Kendall, Clair Wills and (not sorry about this) Tom Paulin again - all getting it wrong", p.148


  • He quotes several poets who claim that the rhythm of a poem came before (sometimes years before) the words - e.g. "Words fall into rhythms before they make sense. It often happens that I discover what a poem is about through a process of listening to what its rhythms are telling me", Anne Stevenson, Poetry (March 2007)


He compares the execution of some attempts tackling the cemetery-city trope - e.g. "Manhattan mocked by the packed verticality of the headstones" (Julian Barnes), "citylike miniature eternity" (Allen Ginsberg), and "headstones presented the appearance of an overdeveloped city of the future" (Ian McEwan), "the high-gloss obelisks of the new burial plots, a miniature Chicago of the dead" (Julie Maxwell) - trying to identify what makes a successful metaphor -

  • "The conceit is the opposite of the epic simile which maximises the distance between the two things being compared - to maximise the satisfaction of closure when it eventually comes", p.84
  • "What makes a bad metaphor? Metaphor which is vague, metaphor which is pedantic, metaphor which is slow", p.95
  • "For a metaphor or simile to work, there must be an obvious distance between the tenor and vehicle ... The effective simile is also a self-conscious simile", p.82


  • When a poem (e.g. "Stopping by woods on a snowy evening") seems too simple, it's worth delving. The poet often leaves clues - "a surface 'inadequacy' that prompts further searching", p.120
  • "the simplicity, the fit of this solution to the words on the page, is how we know the meaning is right", p.144

Other reviews

  • Sarah Crown (The book, it becomes clear, was born out of Raine’s frustration with what he sees as the indulgent and at times ridiculous mystification of poetry, and his corresponding desire to strip it back and show us that poems do, actually, have concrete, graspable meanings. ... it soon transpires that though his aims may be high-minded, his methods are frequently anything but. The cogency of his arguments is warped by their interspersal with what amounts to a series of vendettas waged against other, lesser critics whose fatal misapprehensions and vanities Raine is determined to expose. ... This is an undeniably gripping book – in part because Raine’s own close readings can be insightful and elegant, but also because of the sense you have, holding it, that you’re in a front row seat at a boxing match. Still, there is a fine line between invigoration and assault, and alas, it’s a line that Raine regularly fails to observe. Despite his neat trick of implicating his readers by cosily including us in the circle of his brilliance (“we realise”, “we understand”, “we are all familiar with … ”) the ad hominem nature of his attacks becomes first wearing, then distancing and ultimately alienating)

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