Monday, December 10, 2007

Ian Patterson

Ian Patterson teaches Modern English Literature at the University of Cambridge, where he is a Fellow of Queens’ College. His latest book is Guernica and Total War (Harvard University Press).

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Michaelmas Term at Cambridge has just ended: for the last ten weeks I have hardly had time to read anything apart from the texts I've had to re-read each week for my teaching. But the pile of books on my desk has continued to grow regardless, and I've finally been able to make a start on it today. I've also had a chance to think about picking up again the books I had to lay aside back in September. Here are a few of the books I've been looking forward to reading or to taking the time to think about properly.

First of all, J. H. Prynne's extraordinary account of Wordsworth's poem 'The Solitary Reaper', in Field Notes: 'The Solitary Reaper' and others (distributed by Barque Press). This is not an essay so much as a series of interconnected and extended glosses on the poem itself, its context, and a whole world of other matters implicated in and by the poem. Not only are we led to think more deeply than usual about the actual nature of Wordsworth's lyric, and the nature of hearing and apprehending song, poem or voice, but we can also discover how the reaper's activity, and her song, fitted into the rural economy, and how the occasion of the poem and the writing of it existed within Wordsworth's (and the Wordsworths') life and writing practices. It is a lucid, learned, unpretentious, and excitingly sustained commentary. It's quite a short book, but it is a model of how, ideally, one might read a great poem.

New books of poems, too, are awaiting my attention. I'm very much looking forward to getting to grips with two, in particular: Marjorie Welish is a poet (and a painter) of rare exactitude, beauty and exaction. A Test of Spacing (Cartalia Poetry Series, Equipage, c/o Rod Mengham, Jesus College, Cambridge CB5 8BL, UK) is her most recent book, dense with investigations of what writing is, and I shall be reading it alongside Carol Watts's new book Wrack (Reality Street Editions) and Keston Sutherland's Hot White Andy (Barque Press), each of which confronts the difficult matter of writing against the Iraq war.

The other two titles which are occupying my mind on this front are Peter Cole's The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain 950-1492 (Princeton University Press), a revelatory collection of a body of work previous unknown to me, brilliantly recreated by one of the finest living translators; and a special issue of the Chicago Review (53: 1 Spring 2007) featuring four very different and very interesting poets from England, some abrasive criticism, and a clutch of helpful reviews.

I read Clair Wills's wonderful history of Ireland during the Second World War, That Neutral Island: A Cultural History of Ireland During the Second World War (Harvard: Belknap Press), before it was published in the spring, and I'm already reading it again. It uses literature, popular culture and social history as well as high politics to provide a complex and comprehensible account of the difficult dynamics of the period, and (apart from being beautifully written) it really brings that culture to life and illuminates the writing that came out of it. As soon as I've finished it, which I don't want to do too quickly, I shall plunge into Volume 1 of David A. Moody's new biography of Ezra Pound (Oxford University Press).

Talking of plunging, one novel I did manage to read was Don DeLillo's Falling Man (Scribner). It's had a mixed press, but I thought it was genuinely good. I like the way he writes, anyway, but the sometimes disorienting economy of this novel matches its scrupulous care with human voices and their beings; and the uncanny presence of the beautifully superfluous and finally redundant falling man himself effectively functions in the text as a figure for creative consciousness, inevitable memory, and the embrace of gravity, holding everything together and dying in defiance of entropy. Stunning. Next in line in the pile beside my bed is Ali Smith's new collection Girl Meets Boy (Canongate), which reworks Ovidian metamorphosis for the modern world, according to the blurb. Ali Smith is another writer with an authentic tact, and I'm really looking forward to it.
The Page 99 Test: Guernica and Total War.

--Marshal Zeringue