David Wheatley reminds us why JH Prynne remains one of Britain's most fascinating contemporary poets:
JH Prynne is the ultimate poet of anti-pathos. Everything about him spells distance and difficulty. He does not give poetry readings; he does not appear in anthologies and is never nominated for prizes; his books have Captain Beefheart-like titles such as Her Weasels Wild Returning and Streak—Willing—Entourage—Artesian; he attracts acolytes and execrators, rather than run-of-the-mill readers, and, most important, no one knows what any of it means. Such are the familiar assumptions where this poet is concerned. Passions run deep: when The Oxford English Literary History had the temerity to suggest that Prynne was more deserving of notice than Larkin, the brouhaha ended up on the Today programme.Those assumptions need adjusting, argues Wheatley, who complains that "Prynne’s reception stays mired in discussions of accessibility and elitism rather an engagement with the actual work."
There is something impersonal, inhuman even, about Prynne, but the challenge for the reader is to move beyond the obligatory prefixing of the poet’s name with the word “rebarbative” and find a space for pleasure. It can be done: no other poet gives us “the acrid wavering of language, so full / of convenient turns of extinction” with the same steely beauty and memorability.