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...
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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...
(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,
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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...
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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...
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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....
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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,...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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Raine, Craig (Vol. 32)
Craig Raine 1944–
English poet, critic, and editor.
Raine is regarded as an important new poet who has brought a sense of vitality to English poetry of the late 1970s and early 1980s. His distinctive style emphasizes startling images and strange metaphors to make the familiar world seem fresh and newly discovered. Several of Raine's contemporaries, most notably Christopher Reid, share this technique of presenting images from an alien viewpoint. Critic and poet James Fenton used the term "Martian School" to describe this group of poets.
Raine first gained recognition for poems he contributed to such British periodicals as The New Statesman and he was known in England as a clever poet by the time his first book, The Onion, Memory (1978), appeared. In his second and third volumes, A Martian Sends a Postcard Home (1979) and A Free Translation (1982), Raine continued his playful use of language and metaphor. Some critics fault his work for not addressing human emotions or concerns, but most agree that his impact on English poetry has been enlivening and significant.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 108.)
Only occasionally does a poet appear whose voice is instantly and uniquely recognisable, and Raine is such a poet. Pseudonymous and badly type-written, as for a competition, a poem by him would not long retain its pseudonymity. His peculiar and startling metaphors would give him away at once. Also his predilection for the present indicative tense. Thus:
Surrounded by sausages, the butcher stands
smoking a pencil like Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Most things in [The Onion, Memory] happen like this, and while they can become tiresome, wearying you with their gratuitous cleverness, one must acknowledge the figurative sureness of touch, the surprise and pleasure Raine provides, not only at his best but almost as a matter of course.
Contemporary English poetry is full of people—living, loving, dying and being remembered. This is appropriate in a humanistic culture. Raine's poetry, too, is densely populated, but the object has a life of its own—not as a rule the anthropomorphic life attributed to it by certain French and American poets, although at one point he does say precisely this:
Esse is percipi. Berkeley knew
the gentle irony of objects, how
they told amusing lies and drew laughter,
if only we believed our eyes.
But something (a fear of pretension, a distrust of the numinous?) keeps him chary of an intellectual commitment to this line of thought, with the result that what might have been (might yet be, perhaps) metaphysical in the strict sense, remains merely playful. Some, including the poet himself no doubt,...
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Aristotle once said that the capacity to mint new metaphors was the readiest test of a new poet. If we accept this rule-of-thumb as valid, Craig Raine commences with a full head start on most of his versifying coevals. To borrow from his own method, I might describe his first volume The Onion, Memory as a bee-hive, a wasps' nest, a tank of tropical fishes. All imply animation and colour, and all these have the power to irritate and sting the literal-minded reader or one with a conservative imagination.
One does not win the first and second prizes in the Cheltenham Festival for nothing; and there is no doubt that Mr. Raine has a feather-fine weathercock way of catching the nuances of similitude where another would discover only incongruity. With words as the instrument of observation, he is phenomenally quick on the draw; quick to spot an unlikely likeness and swift to convert it into something rather like a visual epigram…. This trigger-happy cleverness, however, reminds me—not directly, but status-wise—of the Scots poet Norman MacCaig (who has one over him in verbal music), and I wonder whether Mr. Raine's kind of talent is of the sort that might stay imprisoned in the strait-jacket of a virtuosity which he is forever renewing. No doubt, it is proof of his style's infectiousness that again I express my doubts in terms of his own figurative fashion when saying that he seems like a public entertainer who, in Trafalgar Square or on Margate sands, draws his crowd by binding his arms with knotted ropes which he then skilfully proceeds to undo, only to repeat the trick again and again. One thing must be allowed him: it is not a confidence trick but a real one; and only an exceptionally agile dealer in language could carry it through with such self-assurance.
What I have previously said may seem an ungracious niggling way of welcoming a new poet well worthy of critical salutation. (pp. 22-3)
Derek Stanford, "The Muse and Metaphors," in Books and Bookmen, Vol. 24, No. 1, October, 1978, pp. 22-3.∗
The Onion, Memory is about the drunkenness of things being transmutable: transmutable not into symbols (which is a comfort) but into other things which can be cajoled or laughed into seeming ridiculously like them…. The brilliance of Raine's invention does serve to prevent the poems becoming mere boxes of whimsical tricks, even where one sees that he might have gone on for as long as the available detail lasted out—he seems aware of the dangers in "Professor Klaeber's Nasty Dream"; and Craig Raine in a junk shop could be a nightmare indeed. But the whole procedure also precludes much chance of normal human concerns breaking in; whereas they always did with MacNeice, and one at least respects McCaig for pushing his fancies out to wider horizons.
The Onion, Memory contains no more than three or four poems where the poet himself manages to emerge from under his own pile of coloured balloons. These include the title-poem, and "Epithalamion", arguably the best one in the book, where the lovers lying in a field—transmuted into a wedding party with "a thousand parsley parasols"—sense a destructiveness in their liaison…. There is something unsatisfactory about a poetry which obliges the reader first to puzzle out, and then to test, the appositeness of a hundred local effects. This can't be the way poetry should be read, and if a telling point is made through bizarre clusters of metaphorical devices, it is quite possible that it could be made without them. With so much enterprise about—and so much intelligent calculation—one waits eagerly for those dim shadows in the wings to come out and show themselves as poems which are moving as well as ferociously ingenious. (pp. 63-4)
Alan Brownjohn, "Heads, Tongues & Spirits," in Encounter, Vol. LI, No. 5, November, 1978, pp. 63-9.∗
Craig Raine's first collection [The Onion, Memory] displays a formidable gift for metaphor and simile. Thus a barber 'flies electric shears fringed with steel / from a row where they sleep like bats', dogs 'grin like Yale keys', lizards asleep are 'perched pagodas with tiny triangular tiles'. Throughout the book comparisons come thick and fast (together with a liberal smattering of puns). Often they are remarkably apt and precise—chickens in a butcher's are 'stripped to their aertex vests'; a spectacles case 'lies on the counter like a mussel'—and they succeed best where they are not strained beyond their capacity, in poems like "Meditation at Spring Hill", "Memory" and (beautifully observed) "The Horse". But sometimes the sheer weight of detailed comparison threatens the original object of the poet's attention, and the images become arresting in a bad sense: feelings and attitudes, though present, are too often submerged. The division of the book into six sections, and of nearly half of the poems into couplets, tends to heighten the impression of dislocation. Likewise with the final long poem, Anno Domini—there are brilliant moments, but no very clear overall shape or purpose, for all the biblical references. The reader may wonder uneasily whether, in this book, the total is less than the sum of its parts—a poet accumulating power without quite knowing what to do with it. Mr. Raine seems to be aware of the problem, when he writes of '… metaphor, / God's poetry of boredom'…. Given his obvious acuteness, it would be good to see Mr. Raine moving closer to the centre, and in the process increasing the traffic along what he calls in one poem 'the branch-line of the heart'. (pp. 58-9)
Lawrence Sail, "Fruits of the Fall," in Poetry Review, Vol. 68, No. 4, January, 1979, pp. 57-60.∗
If Craig Raine didn't exist he'd have to be invented. After the Movement's ironical circumspection, and the agonised candour of confessional poets, his work represents a long-awaited return to exuberant imaginative playfulness. But fulfilling the prophecies of literary trend-spotters hasn't ensured him a universally warm welcome—like most original books his first collection, The Onion, Memory, sharply divided public opinion. In the year or so since its publication, however, there have been signs that several erstwhile opponents have become repentant advocates—sometimes so admiringly that Raine has been promoted from enfant terrible to Grand Young Man with unseemly haste. A Martian Sends a Postcard Home gives a chance to assess his claim to the new title, and because it follows hard on the heels of its predecessor, it does so at a point which would seem previous in almost any other poet's career. The advantage of this, obviously, is that it confirms the impression of abundance he has already given. The disadvantage is that it risks provoking the charge of repetitiveness or self-parody.
A few poems in the new book can be accused and found guilty. But feelings of déjà vu are usually infiltrated by pleasure at discovering Raine's energy and generosity undiminished. The innocent precision of his metaphors is astonishing—nowhere more so than in the title poem's description of a telephone:
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It's hard to decide where Craig Raine's originality lies. Every poet uses metaphor, and some do so more bizarrely than him. Yet, after only two books, it can be said, of him, as Wyndham Lewis wrote of Auden, that he 'is the new guy who's got into the landscape.' We are beginning to see things in a Martian way ('Martian' is James Fenton's adjective for the Rainian method).
This is a considerable achievement, since Raine bypasses avantgarde battles, while setting style too high among his priorities to be a documentary realist. 'A Martian Sends a Postcard Home' is a better book than 'The Onion, Memory,' because it is a concentration of his talent, and an intensification of his mannerisms. He hasn't set...
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I was contemplating some interesting differences between two established British poets and two new ones, when I learned that I had stumbled into a School. We don't have those very often in poetry these days, but if my source, a newspaper mention, is correct, both Christopher Reid … and Craig Raine … belong to the "Martian School" of poets, who presumably try to look at the world as though they had just arrived from another planet, seeing it new and making it new by powerful and unusual metaphors.
It isn't wise to take journalistic mentions of literary schools too seriously, but I can testify that I was mildly intrigued, before I had any notion of a connection between these two poets, by their...
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With Cheltenham Festival and Poetry Society prizes and New Statesman Prudence Farmer Awards to his name, Craig Raine seems to have discovered the formula for the winning poem. His typical aha!-effects, the quick sharp thrusts of his couplets and the riddlemaker's precision of his images all suggest an abundance of that gift for ready metaphoric connection which Aristotle thought central to the poetic sensibility. And critical acclaim has not been lacking. (p. 13)
[Loose] couplets are Raine's preferred form; in The Onion, Memory twenty-five of the fifty-two poems are cast in them, and in A Martian sends a Postcard Home the proportion rises steeply, twenty of the twenty-four poems...
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[The] boldness, which distinguishes Raine from other young British poets, comes from his audacious use of images to make his poems vivid and multifaceted. "Rain is when the earth is television." His descriptions are precise but unfussy. Excessive details can make some of his poems rather static; yet, "In the end, the detail reaches out." These details enable him not only to extend his metaphors, but also to concentrate them. Because he can capture an object with a few details, he can move from idea to idea very quickly and conjure incongruities. This startles us and makes us look more closely: suddenly we realize that incongruities have concealed similarities. (p. 156)
Raine's poems are not surreal,...
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Craig Raine has given us the very opposite to a Collected Poems—six poems [that make up the volume A Free Translation]…. Because I consider him the most exciting new poet of the decade, the booklet is well worth absorbing and discussing. His talent for seeing the world anew by means of a precise image is as fine as ever: he watches a man rowing "knit / with clumsy oars, / While the waves / unravel their length", and the circus giraffe "manipulates its jib / like an Anglepoise / awkwardly precise." In this group of poems he has settled to a fixed rhythmic pattern, three-line stanzas—or hardly stanzas, rather breath-groups—with no rhyme and no metrical regularity: an easy-going movement into which...
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Do our modern poets ever read Richard Hooker? There is a sentence deep in Ecclesiastical Polity that describes a great deal of new poetry with alarming precision: 'The mixture of those things by speech which by Nature are divided is the mother of all error.' Craig Raine has made his reputation as the arch-priest of such 'error' and his new chapbook [A Free Translation] has its fair share of giraffes as Anglepoise lamps and jelly-fish as Dali watches (Dali, the artist as rearranger of the familiar par excellence, comes twice in the book). But Mr. Raine seems already to be growing tired of such games—his first poem moves towards its emotional climax with the question 'What is real?' and in the...
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At the moment the biggest news in British poetry is the "Martian" school, a group of young poets headed by Craig Raine and Christopher Reid…. This fashionable gang owes its extraterrestial sobriquet to James Fenton, who, when his friends Raine and Reid shared The New Statesman's poetry prize, pointed out the unusual stylistic traits they had in common. Borrowing the central conceit from Raine's prize-winning "A Martian Sends a Postcard Home," Fenton summarized their mission as an attempt to make the reader see the familiar world in an alien way, especially by using bizarre metaphors for everyday objects.
Book reviewers love nothing more than a new school of poetry. It gives some shape,...
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