Thursday, 16 April 2015

Knight's Move

David Wheatley reminds us that poetic influence can move in strange ways:
If the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes, ‘tradition’ should positively be discouraged. Most poets would bridle at the idea of writing out of ‘blind or timid adherence’ to anything, but the ‘handing down’ or handing over present in the word tradition can have other, less comfortable meanings too. Tradition is also ‘the act of delivering into the hands of another’, as in a prisoner swap, and the connecting lines from generation to generation can swerve in unexpected directions. A map of poetic influence rather than of croneydom would look strikingly different from the flow-charts one sometimes encounter in the wake of prize-giving scandals, showing all the who-knows-who connections of the poetry world. The Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky proposed a ‘knight’s move’ theory of literary history, in which decisive steps are taken in an oblique or diagonal form, my variant on which would be the crazy uncle scheme, which I will confess to deriving from the works of Flann O’Brien, an author whose world is strangely lacking in father-son relationships but full of cranky uncles. I could name Flann O’Brien as one such New Gen crazy uncle, in his influence on Ian Duhig’s Celtic-tinged, anarchic wordplay. Others would include Weldon Kees for Simon Armitage and Michael Hofmann, Raymond Roussel for Mark Ford, Emil Cioran for Don Paterson, and McGonagall for W. N. Herbert.

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