Scientist of the Strange: The Poetry of Peter Redgrove

Scientist of the Strange: The Poetry of Peter Redgrove

Scientist of the Strange: The Poetry of Peter Redgrove

Scientist of the Strange: The Poetry of Peter Redgrove

Excerpt

Peter Redgrove is a prolific and acclaimed poet who has been writing for over forty years now. Although enthusiastic and laudatory reviews are common, there is very little as yet in the way of sustained criticism of Redgrove, and the question of Redgrove’s place and importance in contemporary British poetry generally is unsettled. I indicate a number of reasons for this— the unfashionable aspects of some of Redgrove’s ideas, the changing fashions of British poetry, the obscurity or difficulty of some of Redgrove’s work (an obscurity which I argue does not apply to Redgrove’s most accomplished poetry, from The AppleBroadcast[1981] onward)—though perhaps the most significant factor here is the Redgrove image as an English eccentric, an image Redgrove has himself courted with his brand of wry humor. This book is intended to challenge this image of Redgrove—what Redgrove himself has referred to as the “Scientist of the Strange, slightly batty maybe” (Redgrove trained as a scientist)—by showing how this figure is a self-conscious construct of the poems, a strategy for engaging with what the poems imply is the reader’s skepticism. The purpose of the present study then is to rectify perceptions of Redgrove and his work: my intention is to show that Redgrove is an original and important poet whose work has not yet attracted the serious critical attention it merits.

Redgrove’s body of work includes radio plays, novels, and nonfiction, but I wanted to concentrate here on what Redgrove has characterized as the “hot” center of his practice—the poems— and on the ideas that inform the poems, ideas expounded in the progressively “cooler” mediums of prose fiction and nonfiction. My intention is to demonstrate what Redgrove characteristically does in his poems and how he does it, but also to show how Redgrove’s body of poetry, taken as a whole, tells a story, how it unfolds a psychical drama that for Redgrove is “an image of society also” (in this sense the book is also intended as a corrective to the view of Redgrove as a “nature” poet). Drawing on Kristeva’s notion of the contemporary, post-Christian “subject-in-process,” I argue that it is this psychical work in progress that makes this seemingly eccentric or off-center poet more our contemporary than has been recognized.

The only full-length study of Redgrove until now—Neil Roberts’s The Lover, the Dreamer and the World: The Poetry of Peter Redgrove(1994)—argues for Redgrove’s importance by relating the poet’s ideas and practice to post-structuralist feminist discourse (Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva), though for Roberts there remain important differences between Redgrove and the “French” feminists. The present book enters into dialogue with Roberts’s on this point: while I take issue with Roberts in places, more generally the argument takes up and develops in a more thorough way ideas tentatively put forward by Roberts, particularly with reference to the work of Julia Kristeva. In the absence of sustained criticism I also draw heavily on reviews to give a general sense of the critical reception (such as it is) of Redgrove’s poetry. One other source I should mention here, which I draw on both directly and indirectly, is the substantial collection of Redgrove papers—including notebooks, drafts, letters—housed at Sheffield University Library. In particular, I refer to scholarly work already undertaken on the notebooks and drafts in relation to Redgrove’s compositional method in order to show how the later poems are constructed very much with an implied reader in mind.

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