Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Alistair Noon's review of Gael Turnbull's Collected is now up on Litter. Turnbull is a good example of how a good, perhaps great, poet, can slip through the net. He's from the same mould as Roy Fisher and Charles Tomlinson; indeed, regarded by both as a mentor and trailblazer, but was less well-known than either during his lifetime. In fact, his work, until recently, was unknown outside samizdat circles, despite the 'accessibility' of much of it. I'm not sure why this is - maybe he was too various a writer to fit into a marketing or academic category. Maybe he confused people by living in more than one country, or offended them by taking an interest in American and French poetry. Whatever the reasons for Turnbull's lack of visibilty, his career certainly proves that writing very good poetry is no guarantee of recognition.


cj allen said...

I don't know Turnbull's poetry that well - I mean I haven't read that much of it. But what I have read seems to have a strange sort of tonal 'flatness' to it, to be unshowy almost to a fault - which might help to account for the relative extent to which it has been ignored by history. Some of the pieces quoted in Alistair's review put me in mind of Prynne, too - the way they take language from other sources & re-present it, as it were. And while I'm making random connections ...I'm reminded of that line from Ashbery's 'Paradoxes & Oxymorons', where he starts out by saying that the poem is 'about language at a very plain level...' which feels like some of the Turnbull poems. But as I say, this is - on account of my slender acquaintance with Turnbull's work - a somewhat incomplete view. Besides which I sense I'm beginning to ramble. Probably my age.

Alan Baker said...

He shares that 'unshowiness' with Fisher and Tomlinson, but he started earlier than either of them. In fact he started out under the influence of modernist American poetry at the very time (early 50s) that The Movement (Larkin, Amis, Enright etc) and their academic supporters were gearing up their attacks on... Modernism and, to some extent, 'foreign' poetry. So that's a factor in his history.

I don't think you're old at all Clive, just the right sort of age to be in fact.