Practising in Brick Lane
My friendship with Geoffrey is framed by Isaac Rosenberg. While a student at Oxford, I had asked my friend Edward Larrissy (himself later to become a Professor of English at Leeds) which contemporary poets he would recommend. Geoffrey Hill was among them. I bought King Log at Blackwells and, at the same time, Isaac Rosenberg’s Collected Poems, the Gordon Bottomley and Denys Harding Chatto edition. I read ‘Funeral Music’ on the spot then opened the Rosenberg at ‘August 1914’. Both voices – the astonishing sureness of their tread – made an immediate, physical, impression. In my mind a connection between the two poets was forged that felt more a matter of affinity than contiguity. Some years later, when I was being interviewed for a lectureship at Leeds, it was my mention of Rosenberg that caused the dark head of Professor Hill, bowed in what I had construed to be despair at the calibre of this candidate, to lift up and his gaze quicken into interest. Isaac Rosenberg got me the job.
I was ignorant then of the long association between the University of Leeds and Isaac Rosenberg: the Brotherton Library having held a retrospecive exhibition of Rosenberg's work, curated by Jon Silkin, in 1959.1 The Leeds School of English, through Jon Silkin and Stand then and since, as well as through Geoffrey Hill, has consistently upheld and actively championed the importance of Rosenberg. I was equally ignorant of the fact that Rosenberg was a poet whom Geoffrey Hill most particularly revered and that one of Hill's earliest poems, ‘For Isaac Rosenberg’, had ...
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