Friday, March 02, 2007

Robert Crawford

On a rare Wednesday evening off work, I went to see Robert Crawford reading at the Scottish Poetry Library – the Scottish Robert Crawford, that is, not the American one - at an event held by the Poetry Association of Scotland.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d read a few of his poems, but I’m not familiar with his work. At present he has six collections and a Selected Poems, so I’m way behind. I knew he was Professor of Modern English Literature at St Andrews University, so I thought he might have been dry and academic, but nothing could have been further from the truth.

He was an excellent reader, dramatic without being over-the-top. His poems fell (from my point of view) into two categories. There were the poems reflecting on science, technology, identity, and language itself, which were clever, funny, and perceptive. And there were a group of more personal poems reflecting on fatherhood, death, and faith, which managed to find new slants and perspectives on their timeless themes.

One pervasive aspect of his poetry was the strong presence of rhythmic and sonic effects. You could never confuse these poems with prose, even without knowledge of where the lines were breaking. There was a music about them that immediately defined them as poems. Not that prose can't be musical (good prose should be), only that these poems simply couldn't have been prose! I can't easily define the difference, but I could hear it clearly.

Defintely a poet I plan to read more of. His Selected Poems is probably the place to start.


G said...

Ooh, thank you for this post. Crawford sounds interesting and I'll give his Selected Poems a try.

I'm also reading Simic at your suggestion from way back, too, and enjoying him very much - although not always understanding him, my own shortfall.

Anonymous said...

I've never lost interest in Robert's poems in 20 years - he's one of the few poets whose books I always buy.

I have a few favourites by him, but 'Pilgrim' is maybe my choice. Start with the Selected, but get the back catalogue too - with protean poets like Robert, there's a great deal of pleasure in the 'slighter' poems which lose out when a Selected is done.


Cailleach said...

Do you not find that when you've heard a poet that's been particularly engaging to you, for what ever reason, you are much more inclined to purchase their wares and read it, with a much more pertinent realisation of their take on the craft?

Rob said...

Angie - Simic draws on quite a surreal tradition and couples it with a deceptively plain style. I doubt anyone understands everything he writes, but it's nonetheless engaging. I find the same about a lot of poetry.

Roddy - I picked up A Scottish Assembly from the SPL. Looks good. I love the lines from Scotland:

Among circuitboard crowsteps

To be miniaturised is not small-minded.
To love you needs more details than the Book of Kells -
Your harbours, your photography, your democratic intellect
Still boundless, chip of a nation.

Barbara - yes, it makes a difference to my reading and buying habits, and when I read an author's poems, I can often 'hear' them in the author's voice.
Conversely a bad reader can put me off buying books.