Enitharmon Press, £12, 42pp £10.80 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Clavics by Geoffrey Hill

Discords and distractions

Geoffrey Hill divides readers more than most poets, and in two different ways. His admirers point to his learning, his scrupulously careful language, his sense of history and his Europeanness. His detractors assert that he is unnecessarily obscure, over-sensitive about criticism and excessively self-regarding in making too much in public of his conscience.

A further division separates those who admire all his work and those who think that he went off from Canaan (1997) on. Beginning then, Hill has produced a startlingly large body of work in a new style. He has addressed major subjects - our corrupted constitution, for instance - with a voice that keeps shifting perspective and identity in very disconcerting ways. From parsimony he has moved into uncheckable abundance.

Clavics, indeed, is one of five books to be published over the next two years. It is made up of 32 parts; the first section of each looks like a modified version of George Herbert's "The Altar", the second of Herbert's "Easter Wings". Herbert, however, was a master of apparent clarity masking complexity. What we find in Clavics is very different. The epigraph gives us a spoof OED entry for "clavics" as "The science or alchemy of keys".

"Keys", of course, can be literal, explanatory or musical. Hill begins "Bring torch for Cabbalah brand new treatise,/ Numerology also makes much sense", / O Astraea!" Hill's "brand new" poem will light up (or burn) the Cabbalah, here a set of mystical explanations. Numerology, little used in English poetry after the 17th century, will also help us (I was never able to see how, in this book). Astraea is the goddess of justice, who fled the earth after the Bronze Age and will one day return. She is also a figure for Elizabeth I, so perhaps by extension for the present monarch. The syntax is, as is increasingly the case with Hill, very hard to follow.

Hill continues:

Watch us conform

To the immense

Lore, hypertense

Attaching to the swarm-

Ing mass, the dense

Fluctuations of the materia

Out from which I shall be lucky to twitch

Creative fire.

"Lucky" indeed. Paradise Lost tells us what it's about more quickly. "Us" is presumably Hill, who will "conform" to the learning of the past. It is presumably "us" who are "hypertense", though the word doesn't seem to have its usual connection with blood pressure. "The "swarm-/ Ing mass" (it's careless to have to break a word for rhyme, to so little effect, so early in proceedings) is the "materia" (the alchemist's unformed "materia prima") before Hill's creation, as though his poem echoed the Big Bang.

And so it goes on. The blurb tells us that the court musician William Lawes, killed at Chester in 1645, is the poem's true subject. Lawes does appear occasionally, but is important more as a model. Lawes's music is often startlingly dissonant and can swerve suddenly in direction; just so Hill. This book, all as easy on ear and mind as its opening, is really the sheerest twaddle. Hill has the courtesy to tell us at the outset that if "Distressed attire", his uneven style, "Be mere affect of clef", showing off in a strange key (I paraphrase), we should "Dump my clavic books in the mire/ And yes bid me strut myself off a cliff." The archly modified cliché feels stilted and invites our accord. Writing this bad cannot earn the kind of attention Hill demands; he is wasting his time and trying to waste ours.

Lachlan Mackinnon's latest collection is 'Small Hours' (Faber & Faber)

Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions