I praise a snakeskin or a stone:
a bald head or a public speech
‘Snakeskin and Stone’
Douglas’s politics, his championing of complexity and plain truth and his hatred of lies and deceit remain ever more burningly topical on this, the hundredth anniversary of his birth. Fifty years back, apart from a handful of poets, in effect, no one knew of his work. Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath recovered it in the early sixties. For many readers of Stand
, Geoffrey Hill’s 1964 review/article came as a revelation. Here was Hill’s own commendation: ‘it is useless to brood over the loss to poetry caused by [Douglas’s] early [death]. What [he] accomplished in his short life is sufficient for our constant gratitude’. Here were generous extracts from Douglas’s poems and prose presented as evidence and invitation to read more. Here too was Hill’s own meticulous debate with Hughes’s introduction to the book under review, Douglas’s Selected Poems
: a debate not about the scale of hyperbole in Hill’s eulogy, but about the terms most appropriate to describe the nature of Douglas’s extraordinary achievement.
It changed my life – within eighteen months I had given up my lecturing post in Africa, cashed in what little pension I had accrued, and returned to Leeds to start an MA thesis on Keith Douglas. Hill had given me his support, but as he would be abroad that year, for supervisor I would have the Americanist Douglas Grant. Grant’s wife had been a dear friend of Keith’s; Grant himself had ...
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