November 28, 2011

'How Snow Falls'

‘Married to Poetry… in Love with Prose’Flaky

Peter Reading’s Vendange Tardive and Craig Raine’s How Snow Falls have a strong sense of reaching shore after testing experiences, losses, voyages. Yet these latest collections by Peter Reading and Craig Raine arrive at styles of expression that are as comparably and incompatibly different as absence and presence. Peter Reading is absent from his work, his grump ghost and voice notwithstanding. Reality is favoured by Raine, even when it cannot be borne. But this written reality is made from himself, from remembered and imagined feeling. I know that, for a critic, subject should be secondary to style. I cannot help but feel that style in How Snow Falls is partly sacrificed for the purposes of shock:

…two days before she died, a question:

would I pluck the hairs out of her chin?

There were none on the ward,
so I bought some tweezers down the road.

Every time a hair was plucked,
she sighed, almost like someone being slowly fucked.

Yes, she said, yes. Yes.
The last pleasures of the flesh.

‘I Remember my Mother Dying’

As Kate Kellaway has observed the details seem not so much intimate as disinhibited. Raine’s early poetry possessed a poise of exactitude through its artistic inhibition: the poet edited himself very tightly; selflessness of vision made his metaphors ring with invention. His images extended how we might see, connecting with the reality of things, there being no reality but in things. There is still plenty of poetic CGI for those who like the spoils of eye-made art: ‘Ski lifts tireless as a trail of ants’; ‘The firs are herring-bone with snow’; ‘Trinity lawn, effervescent with hailstones’. Raine claims in this book that although he ‘will always be married to poetry’ he has ‘fallen in love with prose’, and the recent passion shows in the length of the book, an occasional breeziness of technique, and the privileging of subject.

It seems presumptuous of me to state of a writer and editor of his accomplishments but I think Craig Raine is a far better writer and editor than he is allowing himself to be. How Snow Falls might have been a shorter, sharper book. The final poem ‘A la recherche du temps perdu’ releases brilliant, buoyant, elegiac energy (imagine a Martian Poet recreating Muldoon’s ‘Incantata’). But ‘A la recherche’ is a poem published ten years ago in book form by Picador (How Snow Falls is advertised as his first collection in a decade.). As Peter Reading is super-selective ‘eschewing utterance’ when there is nothing to say, Craig Raine is generous, but generous to a fault.

How Snow Falls, Craig Raine, Atlantic Books, hb., 168 pp., £14.99, ISBN 978-1-84887-285-1

Thanks are due to the editor of Poetry Review, Fiona Sampson, where this piece first appeared.

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