W(illiam) S(ydney) Graham Anne Stevenson - Essay

Anne Stevenson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

For W. S. Graham, language is like an ocean in which he struggles, or like weather in which he sails, or like a jungle in which he risks his life. Graham employs all these images to describe the poet's overwhelming, terrifying but necessary medium—a medium which is embodied in the wilderness of society, but which is also a way out of it…. Significantly, the first sequence in Graham's Implements in their Places is called 'What is the Language Using us for?', and it is about determination in the face of helplessness. A poet cannot do without language, but getting away from it is to fall 'Deep down into a glass jail … in a telephoneless, blue / Green crevasse' where presumably Graham's poems are 'messages being hoisted up …' Since his purpose is to make a 'real' place for language in his life while recognising that words fall short of expressing 'reality', it is no wonder some of Graham's poems are difficult. Simpler poems in this collection evoke people and places in a mood of stoic nostalgia, but the best—including the sequence 'Johann Joachim Quantz's Five Lessons'—are about the elusive discipline of art. (p. 62)

Anne Stevenson, "Night-time Tongue" (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1978; reprinted by permission of Anne Stevenson), in The Listener, Vol. 100, No. 2568, July 13, 1978, pp. 62-3.∗