Three Books That Have Inspired Me:
- Although I go on about it, ‘Tristram Shandy’ continues to inspire me in the most practical ways. Recently I have finished a long re-imagining of ‘Don Juan’, which Byron called “a poetical Tristram Shandy” and am about to start work on a project with the artist Philippa Troutman involving physical digressions from Shandy Hall, where the brilliant curator Patrick Wildgust (Stephen Fry played him in the film ‘A Cock and Bull Story’) continues to extend Sterne’s heritage. So many things make it contemporary, but in the context of all the recent controversies in poetry about plagiarism, I love the fact that the denunciation of it in ‘Tristram Shandy’ was lifted verbatim and unacknowledged from Burton’s ‘Anatomy of Melancholy’…
- This might sound odd, but I often do: Emma Dillon’s ‘Medieval Music-Making and the Roman de Fauvel’ at £80 was a major investment for me when I was commissioned by the Clerks to update episodes of of the Fauvel cycle but it was a major inspiration for me in writing ‘The Speed of Dark’ and illuminatingly brought the likes of Foucault and Barthes to bear on medieval concepts of authorship while writing brilliantly of the musical developments at the time. I defy anybody not to be inspired by some aspect of this brilliant book.
- ‘The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots’ by Joseph T. Shipley is more than a bit mad and isn’t so much discursive as digressive after the fashion of ‘Tristram Shandy’. Far from answering your queries, it lures you down linguistic byroads and ginnels, mugging you with fascinating irrelevancies, filling your pockets with seeds of knowledge that will grow into future poetry. It’s a bit like ‘Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable’ at the etymological level, but without the orderliness of mind.
Three Books I Have Enjoyed Reading Recently:
- ‘Stalin’s General: The Life of Georgy Zhukov’ by Geoffrey Roberts was published this year and benefits by having access to official Soviet material unavailable to previous scholars. Long having a reputation as profligate with his men’s lives, as Roberts writes “there is plenty of evidence that Zhukov did what he could to conserve his forces and protect his troops.” It nails a number of other academic folk-myths about the man who did most to destroy Hitler’s military ambitions without soft-pedalling on the horrors perpetrated by Stalin. It sound proudly on my shelves beside Beevor’s ‘Stalingrad’ and ‘Berlin’.
- It took me a long time to get around to reading B.S. Johnson’s ‘The Unfortunates’ and frankly, I might not have bothered if the author wasn’t such a self-declared heir of Sterne. Jonathan Coe’s desciption of Johnson as a “one-man avant-garde” of the 60s struck me as ignorant – you only have to look at the poetry of the time to know that isn’t true. I also felt the book might be a gimmick – apart from its first and last sections, you can shuffle those between like a deck of cards. In fact, I read it and was overcome by a moving account of a man losing his best friend to cancer. The format might suggest jumbled memories, but it doesn’t matter: this is a brilliant, heart-breaking book.
- Also published this year was Robert Archambeau’s ‘The Poet Resigns’ by a critic in the US who writes clearly and without jargon about modern poetry with a firm grasp of its historical roots. Archambeau caused something of a furore a few years ago with an essay included here called ‘Public Faces in Private Places: Notes on Cambridge Poetry’ which held up to critical scrutiny some of the huge claims made on about the political impact of that school’s work and found them empty. Although prominent members were enraged (check out the arguments on the internet), Archambeau is in fact quite sympathetic to the likes of Keston Sutherland. I don’t agree with everything on this book, but I do recommmend it without qualification.
Ian Duhig (b. 1954) was the eighth of eleven children born to Irish parents with a liking for poetry. He has won the National Poetry Competition twice, the Forward Prize for Best Poem and been shortlisted three times for the T.S. Eliot Prize. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he has received Arts Council and Cholmondeley Awards, and held fellowships with Northern Arts, the Royal Literary Fund, Leeds and Lancaster Universities and Trinity College Dublin.
Follow Ian via Twitter: @ianduhig
Reading at Word Factory