Remembering Geoffrey Hill
Geoffrey Hill made time to read my poems in 1967. He had been the undergraduate tutorial partner at Keble of my friend Peter Jones (they were implausibly referred to, I was later told, as ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee’). Peter sent my poems, and Geoffrey replied with a careful, full and serious letter. He made it clear that I had a very long way to go. But he had taken time, real time, and care.
Fifty years later Stand, the magazine that meant so much to him, is celebrating his work, the way that Agenda did a few times. The first Hill Agenda was, I think, in Spring, 1979. I have before me a later issue, Agenda’s Hill-sixtieth-birthday issue (Spring-Summer 1992) with seventeen more or less substantial contributions. Four years later came a ‘Tribute Issue’ with six further substantial pieces, including Jeffrey Wainwright’s resonant essay ‘History as Poetry’.
In this little tribute, I take my bearings from C.H. Sisson’s contribution to the 1992 Agenda, in which he recalls the reading tour he and Brian Patten took with Hill to Canada, marks their cross-generational friendship, and raises a fundamental question – about the ways in which what seems the same history is lived and experienced by writers divided by only a couple of decades. Sisson gives a précis of a review he had written for PN Review almost ten years earlier, of The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy. Somehow his judgement in abbreviated form seems harsh: Sisson was growing older and at the same time increasingly exasperated by the directions the ...
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