Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Collectable Poet Top Trumps 4: Ted Hughes

Well, we had to get to him sooner or later so it might as well be sooner. Ted Hughes is, to my mind, an overrated poet. And by that I mean I imagine (wrongly) that it would make my own partiality to his work much more meaningful if he weren't so damned popular. Why can't the rest of you stick with your Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon, poets who I have some respect but little affection for, and leave the burly Yorkshireman for me to champion? Not that I could do anything close to the job of the hundreds of scholars, journalists and enthusiasts who have waxed lyrical about him.

In lieu of this being a surprising choice, however, here are some controversial opinions regarding Mr. Hughes:
  • His best collection is River. I say this having barely blinked at Rain-charm for the Duchy and Birthday Letters and only lightly dipped into some of the other volumes, but River is his most consistently excellent and keenly focused volume.
  • The principle reason Crow is so good is not because it is a crucible of mythology, religion, mysticism and experience but because it's an extremely liberating collection. Poetry has a tendency to get itself tangled up in unspoken arbitrary rules depending on the fashions of the time and you don't even notice how closely most contemporary verse follows these rules until you read something that disregards them. The poems in Crow were probably written in a very disciplined manner, but they read like a mischievous urchin, a fox and a fearless bear ran amok with Hughes' writing hand.
  • Hughes' childrens' books are among his best work and not just The Iron Man. Moon-Whales is particularly superb.
Now I do have a degree in English literature and I could, if I were so inclined, attempt to back up my assertions with serious arguments, but sometimes I feel it's good enough just to plant the seeds of (minor) dissent.

1 comment:

Dave said...

I don't understand, do you like his work or not? You start off by saying he's an overrated poet. Then you praise him.

And Birthday Letters, in my own opinion, is fantastic, and so is Moortown Diary. And The Hawk The Rain

'You had to come
Calling my singularity
In scorn,

Ted Hughes, the collected works, is the best poetry collection I ever bought to date.