Clay. Whereabouts Unknown

By Johnston, Devin | Chicago Review, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Clay. Whereabouts Unknown


Johnston, Devin, Chicago Review


Craig Raine. Clay. Whereabouts Unknown. London: Penguin Books, 1996.

In British speech, the word "smart" has a wide usage which extends to objects without sentience, and suggests a distinct set of values. Witness its occurences in the British press in reference to poetry in the last twenty years, particularly in regards to the "New Generation" poets (as journals such as Poetry Review have dubbed a recent crop of award-winners). And when one thinks of important influences on this "smart" verse, Craig Raine comes most readily to mind (along with a few others, such as Irish poet Paul Muldoon). In particular, Raine's A Martian Sends a Postcard Home (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979) has to answer for shelves of poetry considerably less clever-and more conceited-than itself. The title poem of that volume takes the position of an empathetic and eloquent E.T.-which is presumably also that of the lyric poet living in our midst-and concludes,

At night, when all the colours die, they hide in pairs and read about themselvesin colour, with their eyelids shut. (2)

In passages such as this one, Raine's success depends upon the ability to generate fresh and surprising detail for quotidian experience. As a result, Raine's language is frequently acrobatic, and often foregrounds a literary self-consciousness. Such characteristics are usually associated with the socalled "Martian school" which Raine's poem (along with some critical hype) helped to foster. …

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