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."