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Openings, A European Journal by Jeremy Hooker (Shearsman), Silent Conversations, a reader’s life by Anthony Rudolf (Seagull Books)

Openings, A European Journal  by Jeremy Hooker (Shearsman), Silent Conversations, a reader’s life  by Anthony Rudolf (Seagull Books)

I have recently been reading two fascinatingly different accounts of a personal life, a life lived with intensity and passion. Anthony Rudolf’s examination of his collection of books and papers, an extensive and serious library which must be the envy of all bibliophiles interested in Modernsim, owes much to Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘Unpacking My Library’ (Illuminations). It also raises the ghost of Marcel Proust:

‘Moving indoors, Proust plays the ‘proprietor in a room filled to overflowing with the souls of others and which preserves the imprint of their dreams…’ As a proprietor myself, I intend to begin sorting out the books in my sitting room.’

Anthony Rudolf’s account of his library is a personal document and the importance of this reckoning-up is emphasised from the very start:

‘Now that I am approaching seventy, when I am supposed to have put aside childish things, the experience of literary time and its double, literary space, remains a major consolation.’

Throughout the five hundred or so pages we see history come to life as Rudolf comes across book after book on his shelves, under the desk, in a pile on the floor; each one has its own provenance; each one reminds both writer and then reader that these documents were written by real poets, travel-writers, translators, philosophers. This ‘silent conversation’ is the reflection of a collector, a person who seeks in Walter Benjamin’s words ‘to renew the old world’; and this collector gives us the history of the acquisition of his books so that the names and faces of those now gone appear again in front of us.
Jeremy Hooker’s journal reminds me more of Edward Thomas’s first book, The Woodland Life. It is also more immediately personal as we are presented with autobiography and the world of poetry weaving in and out of each other:

‘21 April 1983
After the Poetry Festival at Cambridge from Thursday evening until Monday night.
Mieke—how aware of each other we were at once, how easily and naturally we talked and touched. We stayed up alone together all night on Saturday, at Göran Printz-Påhlson’s, talking and making love. I walked back across Cambridge to Glen Cavaliero’s on a grey, wet morning, streets almost empty, birds singing loudly and sweetly in gardens. Went to bed at 8 and slept on and off until 1, waking to the strange sensation against my neck of the tiny silver dolphin on a chain which she had given me, and the questions often in my mind since then—Is it true? Is it possible? Can we be so suddenly in love?’

Anthony Rudolf’s book is almost like an encyclopaedia and I found myself wishing that there had been an index at the back so that I could quickly make reference to names that appear in different sections. I also found myself just questioning slightly the accuracy of all the information given when I read the comments about Andrew Crozier:

I always respected and admired him, though it took a while before I appreciated what a treasure he was. His widow Jean sent me Star Ground, a finely produced posthumous pamphlet containing three unpublished poems, one of which is the poignant and beautiful title poem dedicated to her and ending: ‘Frost heaves all night / To rise like waves / Spent on the margin / On the enduring /Particular resistance of our love.’ These are plainly the last words of a man who knows that his brain tumour is going to kill him, perhaps soon, as it did.

That little pamphlet, Star Ground, was in fact a republication of Crozier’s highly acclaimed poem from the 1970s, ‘The Veil Poem’ alongside the last major sequence he wrote, ‘Free Running Bitch’, published in Iain Sinclair’s 1996 anthology Conductors of Chaos. The title poem is a one-page, last-page, conclusion to the Silver Hounds chapbook.
Perhaps by virtue of being a diary, a journal, Jeremy Hooker’s Openings is much more readable to my mind and I became bound up in a chronological movement of reflections in which a lover, the author’s children, parents and geography weaved in and out of each other’s lives:

Did I expect to be as “free” as Sue says she is, and to grieve no longer? I must learn to watch these feelings pass. And to love the children less selfishly.
A love like M’s that draws me out…I’ve so much to learn, so much to unlearn.

Ian Brinton 11th August 2014

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2 responses »

  1. Some of us have written letters to the TLS pointing out mistakes which we spot in books, thanks to specialised knowledge, but if we are sensible we leave it at that, quietly pleased at our contribution to scholarship. Ian Brinton has identified a mistake in my 750 page book Silent Conversations: A Reader’s Life (of which 150 pages are bibliography). Undoubtedly there are other mistakes in six hundred pages of text, but was it really necessary of Brinton to go beyond his mistake-spotting and add “I also found myself just questioning slightly the accuracy of all the information given when I read the comments about Andrew Crozier”? ALL the information given? Perhaps I am being over-sensitive, but I think the sentence is careless — despite the anxious mitigation of “slightly” — and might be taken to nullify positive things he says about my book.

    What is more, I am not even as wrong as he thinks. While the lines from the previously unpublished title poem, which Crozier had hand-written into his wife’s personal copy of his collected poems, were composed many years before he died and are therefore not his last words, it is surely no accident that she chose to publish this poem under her own imprint along with the other poems which I ought to have recognised. To me, the poem reads like an anticipatory valediction and that could explain why his wife published it for the first time and chose its title as the title for the pamphlet.

    Reply
    • Well I suppose that Noggninnog has said it best himself when he refers to his being over sensitive. After quoting correctly my offending sentence he then rewrites it by placing the emphasis in a manner that is absent from the original! I did not write the capitalized ALL! More importantly, however, is that he failed to recognise what is arguably Crozier’s most important sequence of poems that has been around now for forty years and it is this lack of recognition of something so central that makes me ‘just’ question the accuracy of other statements made in this enormously encyclopaedic survey of reading. I have nowhere near the vast range of reading that is excitingly central to Rudolf’s book and therefore must take on trust what I am presented with. And therefore i am left just wondering……

      Reply

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