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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry


Without Title

Geoffrey Hill

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To purchase Without Title

Title: Without Title
Author: Geoffrey Hill
Genre: Poetry
Written: 2006
Length: 82 pages
Availability: Without Title - US
Without Title - UK
Without Title - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : bright, varied collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 21/1/2006 Nicholas Lezard
The Independent . 17/2/2006 Michael Schmidt
Independent on Sunday A 5/2/2006 Tim Martin
The New Criterion . 6/2006 William Logan
New Statesman . 27/2/2006 Clive Wilmer
The NY Sun . 28/3/2007 Adam Kirsch
The New Yorker . 23/4/2007 .
The Observer . 24/1/2006 Robert Potts
Sunday Telegraph A+ 12/2/2006 Alan Marshall
Sunday Times . 19/2/2006 Alan Brownjohn
TLS . 2/6/2006 Thomas Day

  Review Consensus:

  Very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "In Without Title even those who have fretted most about the direction Hill's work has taken will have much to celebrate. It's not a return to his old modes but there is plenty that is familiar, and has been absent for a long time; the appreciation of a certain gnarled, natural beauty, for instance" - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "And the book is marked by Hill's peculiar brand of humour, Old Testament and merciless and true, not least when he reflects on himself. This poetry makes few concessions, it uses every stop and pedal on the organ, and it is musically assured and resonant. When he wants to, he can make the building shake. (...) The poems touch directly, and harshly, on themes of carnal and romantic love, and revisit a recurrent theme: that of the lost, or missed, first love. This romantic zero is at the heart of Hill's work just as much as Beatrice's dix points is at the heart of Dante's." - Michael Schmidt, The Independent

  • "Without Title, his new collection, combines the force and freedom of Hill's narrative verse with a renewed faith in his masterly talents for form and wordplay. The result is alarmingly good; a collection of lyrics on the difficulties of ageing, the problems of belief and the vagaries of language bracketing a sequence of pindarics in which Hill, ostensibly responding to thoughts of the Italian poet Cesare Pavese, meditates at length on both their lives and considers the place of a poet in the world. (...) Complex at best, this poetry can still be dauntingly impenetrable at worst." - Tim Martin, Independent on Sunday

  • "Without Title is clearer and less frustrated than his ranting monologues, but its short poems and one long sequence are no less stringent in their demands. (...) Itís not that his verse is austere and forbidding, not that the price of admission is so high -- Hill just doesnít like the reader all that much. Readers are a tax on his purity, but few can bear to be loathed by the books they read." - William Logan, The New Criterion

  • ""Pindarics" becomes, at times, tediously self-referential, but much else in Without Title escapes the shortcomings of Hill's recent work. The book is less crabby than he has been of late, and there are several gratuitously beautiful lyrics that bypass the usual obsessions: a ravishing little poem, for instance, which teases out the meanings to be found in a Christmas crib" - Clive Wilmer, New Statesman

  • "This new collection is a good introduction to Mr. Hill's late style, with all its beauties and blemishes, and readers who want to get to know the poet would do well to start here. (...) They will find poems of intense, gloomy beauty, with a Hardy-like affinity for English landscape, and a tone of voice that, once heard, is never forgotten. They will also find a self-absorbed and self-regarding poet, whose quarrels with himself and the world are usually conducted at an unpleasant pitch." - Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun

  • "Though the method is a magpie one, the impression that emerges is of absolute control and single-mindedness. And while Hillís outlook can seem willfully bleak (...) there is genuine grace in his descriptions of natural beauty" - The New Yorker

  • "He can move from medievalism to music hall; be crabby, didactic, clownish, cantankerous, forensic, philosophical, abject. He well repays a reader's quiet attention." - Robert Potts, The Observer

  • "This is probably his funniest book to date - in the way that Thomas Bernhard is funny, or Samuel Beckett (...) I must have read Hill's new collection a dozen times in the past few days, and the more I read it the more alive and astonishing I find it. It sings, then it lets rip, then it freewheels (.....) It seems to roar with pain or laughter" - Alan Marshall, Sunday Telegraph

  • "The centrepiece is a set of Pindaric odes about history, poetry, politics and love, each 23 lines long and preceded by an epigraph from the diaries of the poet Cesare Pavese. Itís Hill at his most complex and unapproachable; nothing could be less like the lucid poetic narratives of the tragic Italian. By contrast, his translation of The Storm by Eugenio Montale is heart-stopping in its sheer power and accuracy. Is it wrong to wonder why more of Hillís verse shouldnít have this immediate, exciting appeal ?" - Alan Brownjohn, Sunday Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Without Title doesn't have the same intense focus as most of Hill's recent poetry-books. It's a more varied selection, with one longer section of Cesare Pavese-inspired 'Pindarics' sandwiched between two sections of shorter pieces.
       The book begins with an 'Improvisation on 'O Welt ich muss dich lassen'', and several more follow: 'Improvisations for Hart Crane' and even 'Improvisations for Jimi Hendrix'. Indeed, music-inspired playfulness abounds, as he acknowledges "I went along / with all that jazz", reworks a poem such as Montale's 'La Bufera' with its "harsh buskings, bashing of castanets / and tambourines", and offers 'Chromatic Tunes'.
       Wordlessness is not a state Hill the poet can aim for, and even here the gush seems unstoppable, but an absence or short-fall of words is noticeable: this is a collection that is described as being Without Title, for one, and from ellipses ('Insert Here') to the frequent turning to music, words obviously aren't entirely adequate.
       'Ars' begins:

Hazardous but press on.
       It's an appropriate warning and challenge for much of Hill's poetry, and this collection is no exception. 'Ars' is as good an example as any, the first stanza reading in its entirety:
Hazardous but press on. Enjambent
drags: hinge of induration
not a patent success.
Comparisons build tautologies yet again.
What is incomparable and are we
making a list ?
       And yet in its resolution the poem can satisfy and allow for sense:
              I grasp the possible

rightness of certain things
that possess the imagination, however briefly;

the verdict of their patterned randomness.
       The 'Pindarics', a set of twenty-one, each prefaced by a quote from Pavese's classic diaries, are of particular interest. Pavese -- "Ces", as Hill occasionally refers to him -- makes for a conversation partner of sorts, someone whose ideas Hill bounces (and riffs) off of. Distant, dead, his expressions of a prosaic clarity that is not so much the opposite of Hill's verse as an entirely different approach, it makes for a fascinating study in contrasts. In a sense distilled into sentences -- the Pavese-quotes area each just a sentence or two in length -- these morsels are another basis for improvisation, and again yield interesting results.
       There's nothing in Without Title with the sustained power of some of Hill's recent collections, but there's a lot that is worthwhile here -- and the choppier, more varied presentation makes it a better starter-volume for those who haven't read Hill's later work, a good introduction to how he works and what he does, with some very impressive bits.

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Without Title: Reviews: Geoffrey Hill: Other Books by Geoffrey Hill under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See also the index of Poetry under review

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About the Author:

       English poet Geoffrey Hill was born in 1932. A graduate of Keble College, Oxford, he has taught at the University of Leeds, at Cambridge, and at Boston University.

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© 2006-2019 the complete review

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