Friday, October 13, 2006

Quick Comment on Lee Harwood

I’ve been reading Lee Harwood’s Collected Poems, reviewed well here. Lee Harwood was influenced by the New York School (in fact, he and John Ashbery were together in Paris for some time) and would be seen by many as part of the avant-garde.

He seems always to be stretching to say the unsayable, even while knowing that’s impossible. What I like is that there’s a human heart beating in these poems, which sets him apart from a lot of poets who were influenced by Ashbery – too many of them are all head, but you couldn’t say that of Lee Harwood. Many of the poems are love poems or about human relationships at some level.

He has a sense of humour too. I enjoyed his poem, The Paint Box, which uses the act of creating a picture to comment on formulaic artistic endeavour of all kinds, including (and especially) poetry:

I mean the formula can be turned most ways
and it’s only a matter then of local colour
to give that touch of distinction.
The surface then appeared different –
But under the paint?
Canvas was universal – everywhere.

The painting progresses and a poem is pulled out and stuck below the painting:

Yes! And now it’s one more poem.
That’s funny isn’t it? or maybe
It’s not so funny, but scary instead.
I mean the whole routine of bare
canvas and the paints all squeezed out
on the palette and then it’s just for someone
to step out and say “GO” in a loud voice.
And the day goes by in slapping noises
as more and more paint is used up.

That’s not wholly representative of the poems in this book, but good for a Friday evening, I think. I’ll say more about the collection in due course.

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