Align with Dissent: Alex Preston Pays Tribute to His Mentor, the Poet and Critic Tom Paulin

By Preston, Alex | New Statesman (1996), October 17, 2011 | Go to article overview

Align with Dissent: Alex Preston Pays Tribute to His Mentor, the Poet and Critic Tom Paulin


Preston, Alex, New Statesman (1996)


whenever I'm a panellist on the BBC's Review Show, I get a slightly.eerie feeling as the lights come up and Kirsty Wark or Martha Kearney introduces the programme. It's as if I'm still somehow at home, a pimply teenager sprawled on the rug in front of an archaic Grundig, watching Late Review. As the discussion begins and I mount the perilous critical tightrope between pretentious twerp and philistine berk, I half expect Tom Paulin to stride on to the set to perform a detailed Marxist analysis of Toy Story 2.

Throughout its various incarnations. The Review Show has been one of the few slots on television where culture is treated with the sort of respect it gets on the other side of the Channel. For many - though he hasn't featured on the programme now for almost four years - Paulin remains the tutelary spirit of our most intelgent television show.

I applied to study at Hertford College because of Paulin's appearances on Late Review. He was a celebrity intellectual at Oxford, one of the few living poets I'd heard of at 17. What's more, a volume of his critical essays - Writing to the Moment - had shown me life beyond the dry box-ticking of A-level English. At Hertford, his tutorials were legendary. We learned to read again at the age of 18, learned how to pick literature apart to expose what Paulin calls "the subterfuge text" that lies within. We would leave his slightly dusty, book-lined study fizzing, inspired. Some say that Paulin's criticism fails to distinguish "between the truly perceptive and the wildly fanciful". Yet this was what made him such a great teacher: the courage of his readings gave us courage to follow our own critical instincts, to dive deep beneath the obvious surface of literature.

With the paperback publication this summer of The Secret Life of Poems, Paulin has flung open those cloistered tutorials to a wider audience - a typically democratic act. The book is part anthology of poetry in English, with poets from the 15th century to the present day, and part critical guide, as each poem comes with an essay in which he uses his characteristic blend of close reading and historical context to bring the verse to life. It is a book that manages to stay true to its subtitle (A Poetry Primer) while never failing to remain intellectually rigorous. Paulin's great gift is his ability to write from inside each poem, convincingly demonstrating how rhythm, metre and what he describes as "the acoustic adhesiveness of words and patterns of sound" combine to deliver a richness of meaning that we only sense at first reading.

The poets collected in the book are largely of the canon - Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Larkin, Heaney. Paulin is asserting the canonical way of studying English rather than the modular approach now prevalent at English universities, which he sees as "an academically indefensible reform" because it allows students "to avoid studying Milton". Here we have all the greats, and the more "difficult" they are, the more the accompanying essay reveals to the reader layers of significance. Yet there is something here more than a "mere" collection of important English-speaking poets.

Paulin's most recent collection of poetry. The Road to Inver (2004), presents verse "translations" of the great European poets--Goethe, Verlaine, Francis Ponge, Rilke, Mallarme, Eugenio Montale - which, while retaining the essence of the original, modernise and relocate them to address Paulin's specific concerns: Ireland, the Middle East, the uglier histories of the 20th century (he updates the 17th-century Prussian poet Simon Dach to criticise Heidegger's Nazism, for instance). Here, he fashions for himself a European literary tradition that conforms to his personal aesthetic and political sensibilities - dissenting, republican, vernacular-even when (as with Goethe) these elements did not exist in the original text.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Align with Dissent: Alex Preston Pays Tribute to His Mentor, the Poet and Critic Tom Paulin
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.