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Speech! Speech! Poems [Paperback]

Geoffrey Hill
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 18 2003
With Daumier as his muse, Geoffrey Hill, "the best poet we have, assaults the emptiness of public discourse to which we have become accustomed."-- Evening Standard . With our minds and ears fouled by degraded public speech--by media hype, insipid sermons, hollow political rhetoric, and the ritual misuse of words--how do we begin to think and speak honestly? At a time when our common language has been made false and ugly, how does the artist find words to communicate truth and beauty? These are the questions that Geoffrey Hill addresses in Speech! Speech! , a caustic, tragicomic tour de force that the London Guardian , naming it the poetry book of the year, called "magisterial--a classic of English poetry."

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From Publishers Weekly

England's most fearsome living poet, Hill (Canaan, etc.), who has been working out of Boston University of late, has long been admired for his moral and philosophical seriousness and for his densely worked, hyperallusive language. Laid out in 120 12-line sections, Hill's new book-length poem follows naturally from, and often resembles, his 1998 The Triumph of Love, which arranged European history, political theory, autobiography and glittering, fragmentary description into one powerful, challenging, mosaiclike book. This work, like that one, invokes literary masters and historical martyrs and denounces England's, Europe's, and America's tawdry, media-driven present, where "Cameo actors can make killings/ their legacies." Boasting a brassier, denser metric than Hill's previous work has used, Hill's terse declarations and haughty thrusts give many passages their strength; they can render other bits monotonous or too private to decode. Individual sections (especially toward the middle of the work) function as self-contained arguments and lamentsAthese are among the best parts: one remembers the World War I poet Isaac Rosenberg, while another considers the "caught-short trot-pace of early film." Though less compellingly narrative than Triumph, this is Hill's most personal book yet. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"It will, I suspect, become a classic of English poetry.." The Guardian - choosing the poetry book of the year. "Extraordinary... An acutely intelligent work... passionate, comical and even tender in places, utterly committed to the public good." Times Literary Supplement. "An alarming rant from the best poet we have... assaulting the emptiness of public discourse to which we have become accustomed." The Evening Standard - choosing the poetry book of the year. "Hill is still the supreme poet of grave and wonderful sensuousness, or of a sheer physical immediacy that few others currently achieve." The Sunday Times. "Speech! Speech! is a furiously serious attempt to extend the range of modern poetry, poignantly conscious of public indifference." The Observer"

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Bug'rit! Millenium hand and shrimp! Jan. 22 2001
Format:Hardcover
"Speech! Speech!" continues much in the mode of "The Triumph of Love": praise and lament "in different voices", a polyphonous essay into the stresses and strengths of the English language, its potential for wrought honesty as well as casual deception.
The poem's ethical obsession is with pitch, as opposed to tone: the making and upholding, in language, of difficult distinctions as opposed to - so far as it can be held distinct from - the equitable imperative smoothing-over of disputes and differends (the "healing" snake-oil of much contemporary political rhetoric). In illustration of this, as in obedience to it, "Speech! Speech!" bristles with split hairs. The defamatory satirical genius of the poem lies in its outrageous conflations, a wit that works insidiously, like guilt, by association. But its moral animus ("animus is what I home on, even as to pitch" - section 90) is focussed on those parts of speech where one is surprised to see distinctions being made, or remade - surprised that they should (still) be thought or seen to matter.
There are many places in the poem where it becomes difficult, important, to ascertain what is being driven at, from what angle (or angles) and with what force. So, in section 57, the speaker beckons:
Show you something. Shakespeare's elliptical late syntax renders clear the occlusions, calls us to account...
The reader of "Speech! Speech!" is similarly drawn to the places where Hill's elliptical verse indicates, but does not show, unaccounted-for ommissions, exclusions, losses.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A deep, disturbing work of poetry Jan. 25 2001
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Geoffrey Hill is truly a poet's poet. His work is highly intellectual, peppered with references, and tersely worded. Behind the imposing verbal front, however, one finds a vast expanse of wry, analytical intelligence and an immense compassion for his fellow man. "Speech! Speech!" is Hill's newest book, which he describes as his "Inferno"; with his usual erudition and wit (as well as a fair amount of introspection), Hill examines the state of the media in today's world, and his relationship to it. His words tear through such topics as the death of Princess Diana, the BBC in his childhood, and the prevelence of rap. "Speech! Speech!" is a volume both of dissent and of hope; at times brutally honest, unbearably ugly, it is at the same time a testament to the redeeming and timeless power of poetry.
Was this review helpful to you?
3.0 out of 5 stars a difficult customer Feb. 7 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I think this book is aggressively critical in tone. In it, the author has a succession of negative things to say about the modern world. He especially does not like the media. He criticises musical forms like rap which he does not seem to know very much about. On the other hand, the book has quite a lot of memorable phrases, and sometimes it can make you laugh. It is the kind of book which leaves the reader with very mixed feelings.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars difficult genius Feb. 4 2001
Format:Hardcover
The man is brilliant, but so difficult to get through. I would suggest having a handy reference section nearby. He has a beautiful way with words. The current volume is one long poem, divided into sections (in a similar way to "The Triumph of Love").
Hill will definitely become more widely appreciated as time wears on...
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bug'rit! Millenium hand and shrimp! Jan. 22 2001
By Dominic Fox - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Speech! Speech!" continues much in the mode of "The Triumph of Love": praise and lament "in different voices", a polyphonous essay into the stresses and strengths of the English language, its potential for wrought honesty as well as casual deception.
The poem's ethical obsession is with pitch, as opposed to tone: the making and upholding, in language, of difficult distinctions as opposed to - so far as it can be held distinct from - the equitable imperative smoothing-over of disputes and differends (the "healing" snake-oil of much contemporary political rhetoric). In illustration of this, as in obedience to it, "Speech! Speech!" bristles with split hairs. The defamatory satirical genius of the poem lies in its outrageous conflations, a wit that works insidiously, like guilt, by association. But its moral animus ("animus is what I home on, even as to pitch" - section 90) is focussed on those parts of speech where one is surprised to see distinctions being made, or remade - surprised that they should (still) be thought or seen to matter.
There are many places in the poem where it becomes difficult, important, to ascertain what is being driven at, from what angle (or angles) and with what force. So, in section 57, the speaker beckons:
Show you something. Shakespeare's elliptical late syntax renders clear the occlusions, calls us to account...
The reader of "Speech! Speech!" is similarly drawn to the places where Hill's elliptical verse indicates, but does not show, unaccounted-for ommissions, exclusions, losses. We are ordered to "[j]udge the distance" between generations, to take the measure of what Hill sees as the abrupt - overnight - pillage and erasure of a common heritage - "common" in a sense to be distinguished from, but not opposed to, that of "demotic". This is arguable, of course, and the poem argues with itself about it, about the meaning of "democracy" and the condescension of "the egalitarian anti-elitist SUN" (a widely-circulated British newspaper, whose language Hill parodies passim). Nevertheless, Hill seems genuinely shocked by the way that English culture has changed over the past fifty years, and is clearly contemptuous of the ability of electronic databases and the "world-surfing quote research / unquote of your average junk maestro" (cheers!) to replace the "forms of understanding, far from despicable, / and furthest now, as they are most despised" he celebrated in "The Triumph of Love" (section CXIX). His argument may be judged reactionary, but it is passionately made.
I have found it difficult to receive the verses of "Speech! Speech!" as Hill says they were intended - as praise-songs. What is being praised is presumably the faculty the poem itself aspires to, that of fashioning a language fit for human use out of the "acoustic din" of an indifferent mass culture. Or, rather, what is both praised and petitioned by "Speech! Speech!" is that part of ourselves that might find a use for such a language, that is too proud and attentive to be satisfied with less - that is healthy enough to curse. But sheer celebratory delight (not, for once, miscalled) is achieved only in brief epiphanic flushes, as if by concession: for the most part the dominant, almost ineluctable mood of the poem is one of sadness and anger.
"Speech! Speech!" is a poem to spend time with - more time than I have spent so far. Notice is given on the inside sleeve that it is a "tour de force", and I would not dissent from that; however, there is much about it that will not come immediately, and may not come at all until the last measures of one's own reading (such is the messianic hope of interpretation). Off you go, then...
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deep, disturbing work of poetry Jan. 25 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Geoffrey Hill is truly a poet's poet. His work is highly intellectual, peppered with references, and tersely worded. Behind the imposing verbal front, however, one finds a vast expanse of wry, analytical intelligence and an immense compassion for his fellow man. "Speech! Speech!" is Hill's newest book, which he describes as his "Inferno"; with his usual erudition and wit (as well as a fair amount of introspection), Hill examines the state of the media in today's world, and his relationship to it. His words tear through such topics as the death of Princess Diana, the BBC in his childhood, and the prevelence of rap. "Speech! Speech!" is a volume both of dissent and of hope; at times brutally honest, unbearably ugly, it is at the same time a testament to the redeeming and timeless power of poetry.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars difficult genius Feb. 4 2001
By "ozawabird" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The man is brilliant, but so difficult to get through. I would suggest having a handy reference section nearby. He has a beautiful way with words. The current volume is one long poem, divided into sections (in a similar way to "The Triumph of Love").
Hill will definitely become more widely appreciated as time wears on...
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a difficult customer Feb. 7 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I think this book is aggressively critical in tone. In it, the author has a succession of negative things to say about the modern world. He especially does not like the media. He criticises musical forms like rap which he does not seem to know very much about. On the other hand, the book has quite a lot of memorable phrases, and sometimes it can make you laugh. It is the kind of book which leaves the reader with very mixed feelings.
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