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,
(The entire section is 749 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 346 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 300 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 298 words.)
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:...
(The entire section is 607 words.)
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 out on new paths after his initial success, but decided to tune a shining engine to perfection. To his detractors, the Raine mechanics are by Fabergé, to his admirers, by the Supermarine company. This new collection may seem to depart from his former practice by including several poems telling stories—'In the Kalahari Desert,' 'In the Dark'—but there were plenty of submerged narratives in his first book.
Raine's Martian describes life on earth from plausible clues which misinterpret everything…. Throughout these poems, the purpose of metaphor is not the illumination of the unfamiliar by the better-known, but the sophisticated discovery of parallels which raise us above the everyday by their striking distortions of...
(The entire section is 319 words.)
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 joint effort to introduce some new vitality into British poetry. I had been looking at new books by two established poets, Ted Hughes … and George MacBeth …, and shaking my head in dismay….
That's the context, anyway, in which I found myself intrigued by [Raine's volume A Martian Sends a Postcard Home and Reid's Arcadia]. Both books … are uneven, as though their authors were feeling their way into something new, but both have an air of freshness and discovery. These poets seem to locate the interest of poetry in its genius for metaphor and transformation, so that their work is less pretentious and more imaginative than that of Hughes and MacBeth. Raine, for example, holds himself to a strict program of...
(The entire section is 414 words.)
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 being in these irregular couplets. Elsewhere in The Onion, Memory—for example, in the title poem or 'On the perpetuum mobile'—Raine deploys metrical patterns more closely based on iambs, and often allows rhyme, but in the couplet poems rhyme is usually banished (the occasional rhyme or off-rhyme in a poem like 'Kublaikansky' is untypical) and the cadences are further removed from any iambic model. Out of this rejection of familiar poetic disciplines grows a new approach to the notion of the couplet, which, in Raine's hands, becomes a vehicle of new firmness and flexibility. Characteristic of this vehicle are four stylistic features. First, we may note the use of the present tense as a norm whose effect is to impart to specificity...
(The entire section is 2045 words.)
[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, nor are they the result of automatic writing. The everyday (with a few exceptions) is not transported to a personal dream-world. Most of the time, his poems's accuracy of observation keeps them anchored to reality. Yet often they have a very peculiar atmosphere, which the reader first senses in the fusion of the natural and the mechanical…. There are fewer risks of sentimentality if you write about people in the guise of objects, and one might call Raine's method the "ironizing" of both emotions and objects. And he does effectively vault over our cynical defenses, so that by the end of "Down on the Funny Farm" we feel sorry for what we thoughtlessly break every day—an egg…. (pp. 156-57)
Not only do objects assume...
(The entire section is 495 words.)
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 the poems fit comfortably. Perhaps too comfortably: one hopes he will begin to experiment in metre in a way that will match his experiments in metaphor.
Unsympathetic readers of Raine's poetry ask if his poems add up to anything more than a patchwork of descriptive aperçus. The answer, I am sure, is yes…. Like a true modernist, Raine does not tell us what the situation is, and when we are moving from one speaker to another. The argument for such a method is of course that what we lose is only the prose structure, which a poem is finer and more suggestive for breaking free of; but I find that the information withheld from us is sometimes crucial to the receiving of the poem. "The Season in Scarborough 1923" is a...
(The entire section is 480 words.)
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 most interesting of the six offered he compares himself to a housemaid 'suddenly homesick / for the real …'. In the same way the last poem shows up the sad truths behind the tricks and pretences of a circus: these poems mark a welcome advance on his former work—he seems ready to replace its cute visual punning with a more interesting need to confront the realities that persist beneath the merely spectacular. (p. 22)
Dick Davis, "Missed Worlds," in The Listener, Vol. 107, No. 2742, January 7, 1982, pp. 22-3.∗
(The entire section is 209 words.)
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, however illusory, to the depressingly vague mass of contemporary verse that crosses their desks. Not surprisingly, therefore, no sooner had Raine and Reid been playfully nicknamed "Martians" than the term worked its way into general critical parlance. Reviewers fiercely debated the merits of the so-called "school," and for a while any poet who ventured a fancy metaphor was comfortably pigeonholed. The resulting publicity made Raine and Reid famous in the attention-starved world of poetry. Their books sold; their poems were anthologized; their imitators proliferated; and Raine, the undisputed leader of the group, emerged as the most influential poet of his generation—not only the E.T. of English poetry but its Audie Murphy as well, having won...
(The entire section is 742 words.)