Geoffrey Hill, Poet and Teacher
The nickname that Geoffrey enjoyed giving me was ‘young Wainwright’, as in ‘it’s young Wainwright on the phone’. I was young, indeed callow, when I first encountered Geoffrey Hill. I was a first-year undergraduate at the University of Leeds in 1962 and Geoffrey was lecturing to the hundred plus students of English on Twentieth Century Poetry. Even then these were impressive occasions as ‘young Hill’, black hair, beetle-browed, usually be-gowned over a not always shapely black suit, and affecting to regard us as unfortunates, bewildered us with references to writers like René Char and bewitched us with his readings from and of Yeats, Lawrence, Owen and Ted Hughes, in resonant, precise tones modelled, apparently, on James Mason.
One week, Geoffrey had made his supposedly unobtrusive entrance, this time with his customary black relieved by a red, slim-jim tie and the hall was settling down when the door at the foot of the lecture theatre opened and a late-coming student, John Hackett by name, dressed in a black suit, suede shoes, black shirt and a red slim-jim tie made his insouciant way past the lectern and up the steps towards the back of the hall to the eventual applause of the amazed gathering. I don’t recall that Geoffrey said anything but he smiled in recognition and evident enjoyment of the parody.
I begin with this small anecdote since I think it says something of the Geoffrey Hill that I knew. To ‘young Wainwright’ and his fellow students, and to many more since, Geoffrey Hill was a deeply serious and indeed somewhat ...
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