Raine, Craig (Vol. 103)
Craig Raine 1944–
English poet, critic, and editor.
The following entry presents criticism of Raine's work through 1995. For further information on his life and career, see CLC, Volume 32.
Widely regarded as among the foremost of England's contemporary poets, Raine writes allusive, erudite poetry stylistically characterized by dazzling wordplay, startling imagery, and strange metaphors. Many critics believe that he has revitalized modern British verse by leading the so-called "Martian" school of poets, a loose literary movement which takes its name from the title of Raine's book of poetry, A Martian Sends a Postcard Home (1979). Martian poetry, like Raine's early verse, features unexpected imagery, unique and metaphoric language, and an emphasis on an alien point of view that makes the familiar, everyday world seem fresh, newly discovered, and sometimes humorous. Thomas Lux has declared Raine "a poet of rare wit, originality, and humanity."
Raine was born December 3, 1944, in Shildon, County Durham, to working-class parents. He attended Exeter College at Oxford University, where he earned an honors degree in English language and literature in 1965 and a bachelor's degree in nineteenth- and twentieth-century studies in 1968. Raine attempted to write a doctoral dissertation about English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poetic philosophy, but abandoned the project in 1971 when he received a one-year appointment as lecturer at Exeter. After his 1972 marriage to Ann Pasternak Slater, the grand-niece of Russian author Boris Pasternak, Raine continued to lecture at various colleges at Oxford until 1979. During the late 1970s, poems that Raine submitted to English periodicals began attracting attention: he twice took the Cheltenham Poetry Prize and received second prize in the 1978 National Poetry Competition. The publication of his first poetry collection, The Onion, Memory (1978), generated such controversy in the English poetry establishment that Raine promptly published A Martian Sends a Postcard Home, which includes the award-winning title poem. From 1981 to 1991, Raine served as poetry editor at Faber & Faber publishers, which made him the first poetry editor for that firm since T. S. Eliot to publish his own works, including the poetry collection Rich (1984), the never-performed libretto The Electrification of the Soviet Union (1986), and a collection of astute critical essays, Haydn and the Valve Trumpet (1990). Since 1991, Raine has taught as a fellow at New College, Oxford, and has completed the epic poem History: The Home Movie (1994).
Possessing deep affinities with early twentieth-century modernist and imagist poetics, Raine's poetry represents a continuous but often witty questioning about "whether seeing is believing," according to Michael Hulse, but his later verse expands to include personal, autobiographical observations about the human condition. The poems—some have called them conceits—in The Onion, Memory feature the poet's intensely metaphoric descriptions of daily, ordinary objects and phenomena: animals, insects, gardens, vegetation, butchers, barbers, grocers. Similarly, A Martian Sends a Postcard Home contains the eyewitness accounts of an imagined visitor from Mars who describes various things used every day on Earth and amusingly reveals his incomprehension of their purpose. Rich marks Raine's movement toward a more narrative style in his poetry and furthers his experimentation with wordplay. Divided into three sections—the second consisting of a prose memoir of his father and his family background through age sixteen—the poems in Rich depict episodes in the lives of his parents, himself, and his young daughter. This volume also displays Raine's personal, autobiographical impulses and presents several poems about love and sex. History, identified by the publishers as "a novel in verse," chronicles the history of most of the twentieth century in Europe through events selected from the family histories of the Raines and the Pasternaks. Comprising dozens of individual parts written in three-line stanzas, the poem makes use of riddling metaphors, graphic sexual language, and violence.
Reactions to Raine's first two poetry collections initially polarized the English critical community, represented equally well by the extremes of infatuated enthusiasm and near-hysterical dismissal. Most critics have marveled at "Raine's odd Tightness of perception," as Lux put it, but others have claimed that his poetry is "superficial and escapist … [seeming] slickly clever rather than artistically accomplished," according to Martin Booth. John Bayley has observed that Raine's poems "frequently pull off the really difficult feat of not sounding like 'poetry' at all, but just seeming a very clever way of saying something arresting." Although most critics immediately recognized Raine's enlivening and significant impact on English poetry, some have faulted his earlier work for not addressing human emotions or concerns. Since Rich, however, commentators have detected a humane, more personal approach in Raine's writings, and they have continued to comment on his linguistic and metaphoric pyrotechnics, often mentioning the influence of Pound, Lowell, or Stevens along the way. Once relatively unknown in the United States, Raine has gained a growing audience since the publication of History. Hulse has suggested that "Raine's future development must be of great interest to anyone seriously concerned with the future development of the poetic imagination."
The Onion, Memory (poetry) 1978
A Martian Sends a Postcard Home (poetry) 1979
A Journey to Greece (poetry) 1979
∗A Free Translation (poetry) 1981
Rich (poetry and prose) 1984
∗∗The Electrification of the Soviet Union (libretto) 1986
Haydn and the Valve Trumpet (essays) 1990
1953: A Version of Racine's 'Andromaque' (verse drama) 1990
History: The Home Movie (poetry) 1994
∗This work was published as a pamphlet containing six poems, which were later included in Rich.
∗∗This work is based on Boris Pasternak's novella The Last Summer.
(The entire section is 76 words.)
SOURCE: "References Back," in Times Literary Supplement, June 30, 1978, p. 728.
[In the following review, Ewart finds The Onion, Memory "intellectually so satisfying that some triviality of theme can be overlooked."]
[The Onion, Memory] is Craig Raine's first book. At the age of thirty-four he is no infant prodigy and it is clear at once that there are qualities of thought and control here which a younger writer might not have been able to command. It is also clear, from the very first poem, that metaphor and simile rule OK. A butcher "duels with himself" and offers "heart lamé-ed from the fridge, a leg of pork / like a nasty bouquet". The new customer in a barber's shop is "another piece / of sheeted furniture to sit there and be dusted". There is also some verbal trickery—"the slap and trickle of blood", "tired as a teapot" (alliteration, in my view, is a technique by no means yet exhausted; the more nonsensical the better, in a certain kind of poem). Perhaps "The Ice Cream Man" is a little too contrived; the connection between the Darwin quote and the kids watching an ice cream man is a bit tenuous. "The Tattooed Man" (not bad) is a Hugo Williams poem from start to finish. All these are in the first section, "Yellow Pages", and they establish a pedigree, Hamiltonian minimalist, with a really remarkable sensitiveness to hidden parallels (usually visual). The kennings are everywhere....
(The entire section is 860 words.)
SOURCE: "Making It Strange," in Times Literary Supplement, January 4, 1980.
[In the following review of A Martian Sends a Postcard Home, Bayley detects similarities between Raine's poetic technique and that of the Russian formalists.]
Who but Donne would have thought a good man like a telescope? asked Dr. Johnson, and who but Craig Raine would want to wipe away the sorrows of a new laid egg?—and in so doing sympathize even with the bowl into which it has been shoved.
To want to wipe away
From this one smudged face
the mucus and the excrement,
so many final straws
and the dirt of all dried tears?
Cold beyond comfort, it rocks
in a kitchen bowl.
And what about the kitchen bowl?
its hard enamel
is chipped like a dalmation …
As the last word of the poem shows, spelling is not important in the world of conceits—Donne and his friends would not have been particular about that, however exquisite their sense of connection. In fact both Donne and Raine produce in their different ways popular and highly individualized versions of poetry's most ancient device for...
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SOURCE: "Craig Raine & Co.: Martians and Story-Tellers," in The Antigonish Review, Vol. 59, Autumn, 1984, pp. 21-30.
[In the following essay, Hulse provides an overview of the so-called "Martian" poets, discussing the different emphases on imagery and narrative technique of individual members.]
John Fuller, to whom I devoted the first article in this series, has a good title to be considered the father of that movement in poetry which has dominated the British scene since the end of the 70s: the Martian school. In The Mountain in the Sea (1975), Fuller's parlour-game approach to verse at times produced witty results that anticipate the riddle-making fecundity of the Martians, as in these lines from 'Thing from Inner Space':
Lumbering, dreamy, pig-headed: like a smooth
Cauliflower or ribbed egg it would offend
If not armoured and decently hidden.
After a moment's pause we think: of course, the brain! The aha!-effect is typical of the reading experience we have come to associate with Craig Raine and Christopher Reid's work, as is also Fuller's reference in the same poem to "the daily theatre of objects": Raine's poem 'An Enquiry into Two Inches of Ivory' programmatically posits "Daily things. Objects / in the museum of ordinary art" as his subject matter, at the same time...
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SOURCE: "Tricks and Treats," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4255, October 19, 1984, p. 1193.
[In the following review of Rich, Bromwich considers the autobiographical aspects of the poetry reminiscent of the confessional poets' technique, but reserves his highest praise for the prose section.]
Craig Raine's early poems belonged to a subgenre that the Germans call "thing-poems". They dealt with such things as "Misericords", "Houses in North Oxford" and, making allowances for compound entities, "The Fair in St. Giles" and "Demolition with Tobacco Speck". Other poems, close to these in simplicity, made up a sequence on tradesmen, including "The Butcher", "The Barber" and "The Ice Cream Man". A second sequence took as its subjects Pre-Raphaelite paintings with self-explanatory titles: "The Horse", "Sports Day in the Park", "The Home for the Elderly" and so forth. The mode that Raine adopted for these flat-sounding topics was not quite naturalistic. And yet, one never came to know the poet himself through the traits or associations of the things he described. The preferred tone was abstract, with an occasional reassuring touch of intimacy; and when a poem reached a climax of some sort, it gave notice with a mildly out-of-place simile: the barber who "massages the scalp like a concert pianist"; the grocer who "smiles like a modest quattrocento Christ". Elsewhere the same effect was produced with a...
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SOURCE: "Sweaney Peregraine," in London Review of Books, Vol. 6, No. 20, November 1-14, 1984, pp. 19-21.
[In the excerpt below, Muldoon concludes that Rich is a "substantial collection, [Raine's] best so far."]
Raine's third collection follows the procedures of The Onion, Memory (1978) and A Martian Sends a Postcard Home (1979): his poetic strategy is to present a series of striking similes or metaphors with the hope of forcing his reader to admire the justice of those similes and metaphors. Christopher Ricks need look no further (certainly not across the Irish Sea) for textual substantiation of his theory of the self-reflexive image.
Here, as before, the best of Raine's poems present something more than a concatenation of metaphors; effective though these may be. They are most effective when drawn from one area of experience, grouped around a single event or figure, or unified by a strong narrative. The tradesmen from the 'Yellow Pages' of The Onion, Memory, 'In the Kalahari Desert' (for me, his most successful single poem), 'Memories of the Linen Room' and the title-poem from A Martian Sends a Postcard Home: in all these cases, Raine has learned an important lesson from the 17th-century concettists: that the sustained metaphor in the service of an argument is the most satisfying, if the most difficult, modus operandi, that a conceit...
(The entire section is 840 words.)
SOURCE: "Prodigal Son," in New Statesman, Vol. 108, No. 2803, December 7, 1984, pp. 32, 34.
[In the following excerpt, Lucas senses Wallace Stevens' influence in Rich, but criticizes the rhythmic structure and sometimes the language used by Raine.]
Rich comes in three sections. The first contains poems about Craig Raine's immediate family and is called 'Rich'. Then there is a prose section, 'The Silver Plate', in which he writes about his boyhood and especially his extra-ordinary father, an unemployed and unemployable epileptic with a gift of tongues and overwhelming personality, someone who seems to be all appetite. The third section, 'Poor', contains poems which sometimes draw on the same material as the second section and which are about suffering of various kinds. What links the three sections is best expressed in Wallace Stevens's dictum that the greatest poverty is not to live in a physical world. Raine does not quote this, although he quotes from a great many other writers, but you feel that Stevens hovers over many of the pages of Rich.
I do not mean this to be a criticism. After all, Stevens's appetite for reality always had something slightly theoretical to it which is hardly the case with Raine. In fact, probably enough has already been said about the veracity and voraciousness of his visual appetency and it is certainly true that he is more willing than...
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SOURCE: A review of Rich, in British Book News, January, 1985, p. 53.
[In the review below, Booth blasts Raine for the "basically vacuous" poetry in Rich, although he concedes that the prose section contains "genuine attempts at true artistic achievement."]
The latest collection from Craig Raine, his first verse book for five years, is entitled Rich; sadly it is a weak addition to this famous poetry list. Previously, Raine's work has appeared from Oxford University Press (The Onion, Memory, 1978, and A Martian Sends a Postcard Home, 1979) but his appointment as poetry editor at Faber has him bringing out his own work, making him the first poetry editor for that firm since T. S. Eliot to publish himself.
One of the leaders of the 'Martian' school, the loose movement in modern British verse which has its nickname from the title of his second book, Craig Raine writes poetry characterized by its wordplay and density of image and idea, much of which is so compounded by intellectual arabesques as to make it nebulous. He is not so much a poet as a wordsmith who is captivated by the relationships of word to word rather than word to reality, understanding or readership. The result is a poetry that is superficial and escapist in that it seeks not to enter the intrinsic experience of poetry, but to bounce off it, absorbing little of its life but much of its...
(The entire section is 472 words.)
SOURCE: "Craig Raine's Poetry of Perception: Imagery in A Martian Sends a Postcard Home," in Dutch Quarterly Review, Vol. 15, No. 2, 1985, pp. 102-15.
[In the following essay, Forceville discusses the imagery of selected poems from A Martian Sends a Postcard Home, focusing particularly on the implications of Raine's metaphors and similes.]
Craig Raine is one of those contemporary British poets whose achievements have attracted considerable attention. Several of the poems in his second collection A Martian Sends a Postcard Home are first-rate, and the title poem supplied the name for what has come to be known as the "Martian" school in contemporary British poetry, of which Raine may be considered the initiator. The most striking feature of this kind of poetry is no doubt its imagery, to which the epithet "Martian" refers. In what follows I propose to discuss a few representative poems from the collection, focusing on this Martian element in the imagery and its effect on the poems as a whole.
It is no coincidence that the poem "A Martian Sends a Postcard Home" has both given its name to the whole collection and is the first one printed in it. In many respects it constitutes the key to how to read the other poems, and can be said to exemplify its author's poetic conviction that
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SOURCE: "Tales of Hofmann," in London Review of Books, Vol. 8, No. 20, November 20, 1986, p. 11.
[In the excerpt below, Morrison reviews The Electrification of the Soviet Union, noting that it is "well worth reading."]
Craig Raine's libretto The Electrification of the Soviet Union might be seen as a further strand in his continuing argument with Tom Paulin over The Faber Book of Political Verse. On the one hand, Raine here shows himself to be a writer who can step out of the domestic tunnel into the stadium of politics and history: He takes [Boris] Pasternak's novella The Last Summer, set in 1916 with flashbacks to 1914, and lets the shadow of the Russian Revolution fall across it, adding an epilogue set in 1920 or 1921. It becomes a far more overtly political work in his hands than in Pasternak's (or in the translation of the novella by George Reavey), with Pasternak himself putting in an appearance to comment on the sacrifice of lives to political causes. On the other hand, all the imaginative sympathies here are with those who stand for the preservation of family life. The central character is Serezha, a poet, too naive to be either Pasternak or Raine, but sensitive and gifted and more to be admired than his hard-headed sister, whose song in praise of the New Man, 1917 model, is undermined by the facility of its rhyming:
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SOURCE: An interview in Ploughshares, Vol. 13, No. 4, 1987, pp. 139-48.
[In the following interview, Raine discusses Martianism, the evolution of his poetry, his audience, poetic technique, and literary influences.]
Craig Raine's new kind of poetry has yet to reach a substantial audience in the United States. But, if the reviews can be believed, Raine's reputation in Britain exceeds that of any contemporary poet on this side of the Atlantic. Raine's four books—The Onion, Memory, A Martian Sends a Post Card Home, Rich, and his recent opera libretto, The Electrification of the Soviet Union—have prompted an upheaval in British poetic tastes and tempers, but not a single thoughtful article in the American literary press.
Raine's poetry still bears the label—Martianism—pinned to it by British critics several years ago. In Martian poetry, one encounters the world afresh, as an alien might, through unexpected images: "And then Belfast below, a radio / with its back ripped off"; "the lawn sprinkler's dervish"; "a fluent ideogram / of cleansing cream / across the baby's bottom." Like cold water on a hot day, such lines startle at first, then resonate through the senses: one must swim in them for a while before actually feeling wet. Raine described the process in an article called "Babylonish Dialects":
The initial obscurity, the moment...
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SOURCE: "On Craig Raine," in Ploughshares, Vol. 13, No. 4, 1987, pp. 149-53.
[In the essay below, Lux gives a close reading of "In the Mortuary" and "The Trout Farm," marveling at Raine's poetic skill.]
I discovered Craig Raine's work (first his remarkable second book A Martian Sends a Postcard Home and then his first book The Onion, Memory) about eight years ago. I was immediately struck by its eloquence, which is never stuffy or merely decorative, by the sharpness of its tone, and by the odd Tightness of its metaphors/figurative language. The poems are intensely written, never wasting a syllable and using all of the tools available to a poet. They are serious, yet there is a vein of humor that runs through both books. There's a fierce poignancy, a fresh and lucid compassion in a poem such as "In the Mortuary":
Like soft cheeses they bulge
sideways on the marble slabs,
helpless, waiting to be washed.
Cotton wool clings in wisps
to the orderly's tongs,
its creaking purpose done …
He calls the woman 'Missus,'
an abacus of perspiration
on his brow despite the cold.
And she is the usual woman—
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SOURCE: "Getting Dirty," in New Statesman & Society, Vol. 3, No. 104, June 8, 1990, p. 38.
[In the review below, French cautiously admires Raine's critical abilities in Haydn and the Valve Trumpet.]
In my local bookshop I recently saw Clive James's collection of literary essays, Snake Charmers in Texas, among the travel books. Craig Raine's eccentric title for his own essays [Haydn and the Valve Trumpet] will almost certainly guarantee them a place in the musicology section of most bookshops.
The title derives from an essay exploring Haydn's use of the valve trumpet, which was published in the Listener in 1972. The following week a letter was published pointing out that the valve trumpet had been invented nine years after Haydn's death.
Raine himself is at his most carnivorously enjoyable when catching other critics in the act. In response to the critic A. Alvarez's accusation that John Betjeman indulges in "the nostalgia of public schools", Raine points out that "there are 130 poems in Collected Poems (1958) and of them only one refers to school—a day-school, as it happens. What bone-idle, irresponsible mendacity."
For Raine, a poem or a novel is like a machine. The job of the critic is to get dirty peering among the pistons and cogs establishing how everything fits together. If they fail to do this, it is because...
(The entire section is 651 words.)
SOURCE: "Matters of Decorum," in The Times Educational Supplement, No. 3862, July 6, 1990, p. 26.
[In the excerpt below, Kemp praises Raine's "exhilarating and engrossing" criticism in Haydn and the Valve Trumpet, concluding that "it is almost always stirringly alive to the procedures and possibilities of creativity."]
[Anthony] Powell's Pall Mall prose, meticulous concurrence with the conservative, and pained recoil from the irreverent lower-class energies of Wells, Twain and their like [in his Miscellaneous Verdicts: Writings on Writers, 1946–1989] put him at the opposite extreme as a critic to Craig Raine. Where Powell exudes commendation for the genteel, Raine cordially abominates it. One of his most elegantly edged pieces in Haydn and the Valve Trumpet slices into the petrified propriety and frigid diction of Augustan poetry to expose stultified responses.
The imitative and remote from life regularly incur cutting comment. An elevated 18th-century poem about a washerwoman's day—"At length bright Sol illuminates the skies, / And summons drowsy mortals to arise"—is brought crashing down to earth with the remark "Perhaps she 'did' for Mr. Pope". Grandiose abstractions, generalities and standardized utterance—from neoclassical periphrases to the jargon of contemporary literary theory—are seen as the enemies of art and the imagination.
(The entire section is 732 words.)
SOURCE: "Being All Right, and Being Wrong," in London Review of Books, Vol. 12, No. 13, July 12, 1990, pp. 11-12.
[In the following excerpt, Everett identifies the "journalistic" quality of Raine's criticism in Haydn and the Valve Trumpet, concluding, however, that his essays are "genuinely literary."]
Men of different generations and presumably social worlds, Anthony Powell and Craig Raine aren't much alike as writers. But the novelist's Miscellaneous Verdicts and the poet's Haydn and the Valve Trumpet are both very good, solid selections of occasional writing. The five hundred pages to which they both run are mainly literary journalism, with some illuminating essays on the social-historical from Powell, and vivid side-glances at painters and painting from Raine. With all their differences, the two writers have one thing in common. Both dislike most kinds of academic literary criticism. And this antipathy can't be disentangled from the effective virtues of their work.
It seems safe to assume that academics have as much right to discourse on books as have poets and novelists to write them. Nor do minds as able as Powell's and Raine's need telling that in modern society the arts depend on a current of ideas which it is the universities' task—at least in theory—to provide and protect. The trouble comes with the theory.
Nobody could pretend that...
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SOURCE: "Local Heroes," in New Statesman & Society, Vol. 7, September 9, 1994, p. 37.
[Below, Rumens disputes the publishers' claim that History: The Home Movie is a verse-novel.]
In "Epic", Patrick Kavanagh is consoled by Homer's ghost. So what if the Monaghan poet spent the "year of the Munich bother" arguing about "who owned / That half a rood of rock?" The Iliad itself was made from "such / A local row". History: the Home Movie doesn't seek the epic in the ordinary quite in this way. The technique is to show us both History and the Home Movie, the "Munich bother" as it infiltrates the "local row", the local-row element in the Munich bother.
These poems document the entwined history of two families during the current century, the English Raines and the Russian Pasternaks. There are 87 poems, compactly built in the slightly noun-bound, three-line, two-or-three-beat-a-line stanza form that is one of Raine's old favourites.
His hand-held camera is an enabling device, like his earlier "Martian" persona. It permits revelation through apparent incompetence. It is drawn to the erotic and the bizarre. It catches the players off-guard, peers from an odd angle, unembarrassably stares. When Oswald Mosley lectures at Olympia, Jimmie Raine observes more of the side-show than the main event: a woman in the audience having an epileptic fit, a...
(The entire section is 582 words.)
SOURCE: "Adding Assonance to the Ancestors," in The Observer Review, September 11, 1994, p. 20.
[In the following review, Thorpe admires History: The Home Movie, focusing on the "glittering little links" of the poem sequence.]
Billed as a fiction/poetry hybrid, Craig Raine's History: The Home Movie wilfully dispenses with the Pushkinian elements of strong narrative, deeply drawn characters, and a bustling, involved narrator—and there is no complex verse form, either. Home movie, yes: or perhaps an evening at the music hall.
The first 'chapter' arranges the Pasternaks—Russian, renowned—in a filmic family group at a Black Sea dacha in 1905. The second shows Queenie Raine's peeing-toff act flopping at the Victoria Palace in front of King Edward. The ensuing reels, or numbers, or 'chapters', show us the Pasternaks and the Raines shunted and buffeted by the century across various geographical and mental spaces and getting maimed in the process. Secondary characters include Lenin, Churchill and Haile Selassie in pleasantly incongruous situations, as well as a philandering Russian turned Oxford rapist with a vitriol-damaged, quarter-masked face. He seems a totemic, phantasmal presence in this epic sweep, both ruined and ruining.
Images and incidents flicker charmingly if bewilderingly across the screen, but a narrative presence is felt mostly in the lavish...
(The entire section is 718 words.)
SOURCE: "Yoked Together," in London Review of Books, Vol. 16, No. 18, September 22, 1994, p. 3.
[In the review below, Kermode traces the narrative movement in History: The Home Movie, observing the poem's literary precedents.]
'There is hardly a stanza in the long poem which is not vivid, hardly one which is not more or less odd, and the reader feels as if he had been riding on the rims over an endless timber bridge.' As I read Craig Raine's new poem [History: The Home Movie] (a novel, an epic, a film, says the ebullient blurb) something stirred in the depths of memory, and I found myself thinking of Theophila, a very long poem published by Edward Benlowes in 1652. Theophila is written in three-line stanzas, a pentameter, a tetrameter and an alexandrine, all on a single rhyme. The judgment on Theophila quoted above comes from The Oxford History of English Literature, which rightly regards Benlowes as representing the giddy limit in 17th-century attempts to write 'heroic' poetry in the high metaphysical manner. And this must surely seem an unpromising way to tackle extended argument or narrative. Benlowes was a devotee of the far-fetched conceit, in the by now degenerate tradition of Donne, perhaps with some input from the smoother baroque concettismo of Marino and his followers. (On the evidence of some of his delightful earlier poems I had privately...
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SOURCE: "History by Hindsight," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4775, October 7, 1994, p. 31.
[Below, Imlah assesses the poetic and narrative strengths of History: The Home Movie, emphasizing Raine's anal and genital preoccupations.]
Auden observed of the Old Masters (he had Bruegel principally in mind) that they understood how ordinary life carries on in the comers, regardless of the momentous event that is the painting's subject; how, for instance, in one (unidentified or imagined) picture, "the torturer's horse / Scratches its innocent behind on a tree". Since his sonnet "Arsehole" of 1983 ("I fed that famished mouth my ambergris")—which made A. N. Wilson feel "sorry for Mrs. Raine"—Craig Raine has committed his poetry and criticism to the promotion of that unheroic "behind" and its kin.
In the final section of his long-awaited magnum opus, Raine depicts himself visiting the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, where he focuses on a similar tiny detail in each of two pictures. In Rembrandt's St. John the Baptist Preaching, what he notices is "a woman in the foreground dusk // … holding her little girl trussed / so she can shit in the river"; in Bruegel's Netherlandish Proverbs, he picks from dozens of competing details the one "where two pair buttocks / loom from a lean-to loo". Raine rightly prides himself on looking where other writers have blinked...
(The entire section is 1704 words.)
SOURCE: "Poets Are Born, Then Made," in The New York Times Book Review, Vol. 99, December 11, 1994, pp. 25-6.
[In the following excerpt, Tillinghast reviews History: The Home Movie, summarizing the salient points of Raine's poetic technique.]
Craig Raine has been known in Britain as the chief exemplar of a late-1970's movement in poetry known as "the Martians," in whose work quotidian elements of life were seen as if through the eyes of a visitor from another planet. In A Martian Sends a Postcard Home, for example, "Rain is when the earth is television / It has the property of making colors darker." Now he has written a bold; ambitious chronicle of life in Europe, chiefly in England and Russia, from 1905 to 1984. His method in History: The Home Movie is to chronicle events—some evidently fictional—from the history of his family, the Raines, and his wife's family, the Pasternaks. The publisher calls it "a novel in verse." Though the two world wars, Stalin, Lenin, various English monarchs, Halle Selassie and literary figures like Yeats appear in passing, what we have is not "official" textbook history, but rather a demotic, home-movie take on this period.
The home-movie analogy is apt. We get flickering glimpses of family dramas; and, as with someone else's home movies, the viewer's attention is not always riveted to the screen. The English characters are fairly...
(The entire section is 628 words.)
SOURCE: "The Private Life of Our Century," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 12, 1995, p. 11.
[In the following review, Clark emphasizes the narrative aspect of History: The Home Movie, while praising Raine's choice of verse as appropriate for "an age trained to think in images."]
This challenging, innovative, unsettling novel in verse [History: The Home Movie] relates the history of 20th-century Europe through the interlocking private lives of two families—the author's own English family of Raines, and the Russian family of Pasternaks, to which the Raines are linked by accident of intermarriage. Poet Craig Raine here brilliantly melds the tonal authenticity of autobiographical memoir with novelistic modes of structuring, historical scoping and character-building, fleshing out fact with imaginative speculation of a most vivid, graphically immediate and intense kind.
No less distinctly contemporary in method than in subject matter, History: The Home Movie revives and updates the lost art of verse narrative to fit an age trained to think in images.
History is not just a serial poem (those are common enough these days), but a serious, full-scale philosophical novel, "modern" in the post-Joycean sense. Raine's montage technique reveals a spectacle of history as largely pointless suffering. Viewing through the peephole of private...
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