Creative Writing

Ted Hughes Interview

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early Ted Hughes Interview
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  An Interviewwith Ted Hughes 1 Thefollowinginterviewtookplaceon10thMay1970intheHampsteadflat of thepoet ssisterwhere   hadfirst met TedHughesearlythisyear.Whatwasthenplannedasashorthalf-hourtalkgrewintoadiscussion of severalhoursattheend of whichweagreedtomeetagainandtapeourconversation.-DuringtheinterviewHughessatopposite me by thewindow,hiseyesusuallyfixedonthecarpet,apparentlyundisturbed-bymusiccomingfromanadjacentroom.Hisrepliesto my questionshadsomething of thequality of spokenthoughtandonoccasion   feltas if   wereoverhearingsomeinternaldialoguethatmighthavecontinuedwhether   werethereornot.TedHugheslaterasked me todeletemanybrilliantandinterestingpassages of theoriginaltape-recording,mainly,   assume,toavoidsendinghiscritics,asEliotdid, off on awildgoosechaseafterTarotcardsandtheHolyGrail .EgbertFaasCriticshaveoftendescribedyourpoetryasthe poetryofviolence .ObvioU slysuchalabeloverlooksthewidephilosophicalissueseven of yourearliestwork,whichaccordingtoyourownwordsisinspiredbythe  H ar betweenvitalityanddeath   andcelebratestheexploits of thewarriors on eitherside .Buthowdoessuchpoetryrelatetoourcustomarysystem of socialandhumanitarianvaluesandtowhatdegreecan   beconsideredasacriticism of thesevalues? ... Probablythis is twoquestionsinone.Hughes: The role of this word  violence in modern criticismisverytricky andnot alwayseasy to follow.Iwonderifit susedin other countries. Do Americancriticsusc it? It shardto imagine how the distinction can be made,outsiderecentEnglishpoetry. Onecommon use of it Ifancyoccurswhere the reviewertypeofcriticisthinking of hisaudience...hisEnglishaudience.Whenmy Aunt callsmyverse horrible and violent I know whatshemeans.BecauseI knowwhat style of life and outlook she isdefending. And Iknowsheisrepresentative of hugenumbers of people in England. What she has is an idea ofwhat poetryought First publishedin LondonMagazine, January 1971, under thetitle  Ted Hughes andCrow ; reprintedwiththepermission of Mr Hughes and withacknowledgement to Egbert Faas and  on on Magazine.    SYDNEY STU I S to be ...averyvagueidea,sinceit sbased onan almosttotalignoranceofwhatpoetryhasbeenwritten.Shehasaninstinctforakindofpoetrythatwillconfirmthevaluesof her wayoflife.ShefindsitinthemilderpartsofWordsworthifsheneedssupportingevidence. In asense,criticswhofindmypoetryviolentareinherworld,andtheyaresafeguardingherwayoflife.Sotodefinetheiruseofthewordviolenceanyfurther,youhavetoworkoutjustwhy her wayoflifeshouldfindthebehaviourofahawk horrible or anyreference to violentdeath disgusting ,just  s shefindsanyreferencetoextremevehemence of life frighteningsomehow .It safutilequarrelreally.It sthesameonethatShakespearefoundthefableforinhis Venusand donis Shakespearespenthislifetrying to provethatAdoniswasright,therationalsceptic,the man ofpuritangoodorder. It put himthroughthetragediesbeforehedecidedthat the quarrelcould not bekeptuphonestly.SincethenthedifficulttaskofanypoetinEnglishhasbeentolocatetheforcewhichShakespearecalledVenusinhisfirstpoemsandSycoraxinhislast.Poetryonlyrecordsthesemovementsinthegenerallife...itdoesn tinstigatethem. The presenceofthegreatgoddessoftheprimaevalworld,whichCatholiccountrieshavemanaged to retaininthefigureofMary,  s preciselywhatEnglandseems to havelacked,sincetheCivilWar   wherenegotiationswerefinallybrokenoff.IsMaryviolent?YetVenusinShakespeare spoem,ifonereadsbetweenthelines,eventuallymurderedAdonis...shemurderedhimbecauseherejectedher. He wassodesensitized,stupefiedandbrutalizedbyhisrationalscepticism, he didn tknowwhat to makeofher. He thoughtshewasanethicalperil. He wasasortofmoderncriticinthelarvalphase...amodernEnglishcritic.AtypicalmodernEnglishman.Whathecallsviolence  s averyparticularthing. In ordinarycriticismitseems to beconfusedalotwithanothertypeofviolencewhichistheordinaryviolenceof our psychoticdemocracy... our materialist,non-organicdemocracywhich  s trying to standupwithabookishtheoryinsteadofaskeleton.Everysocietyhasitsdreamthathas to bedreamed,andifwego by whatappearsonTV,theperpetualtorturesandexecutionsthere,andthespectacleofthewholepopulation,notjustafewneuroticintellectuals but thewholemassofthepeople,slumpedeverynightinfrontoftheirsets...inattitudesoftotaldisengagement,asortofanaesthetizedunconcern...watchingtheirdreamreeledoffinfrontofthem,ifthat sthedreamof our society,thenwehaven tcreatedasociety but ahell.Thestuffofpulpfictionsupportstheidea.Weare    SY NEY STU IES dreamingaperpetualmassacre.  nd whenthatleaks up withitscharacteristicwhiffofemptinessandmeaninglessness,thatsmellofpsychosiswhichisveryeasytodetect,whenitleaksupintowhatoughttobemorallyresponsibleart...thenthecriticspounce,andconvertittoevidenceinasociologicalstudy.Andofcourseitdoesbelongtoasociologicalstudy. On theotherhandit svery hard toseewherethattypeofviolencebecomessomethingelse   agreaterkindofviolence,theviolenceofthegreatworks.   oneweretoanswerthatexamquestion:Whoarethepoetsofviolence?youwouldn tgetfarifyoubeganwithThornGunn...andnotmerelybe causehissubjectisfarmoresurelygentleness.No,you dhavetobeginwithHomer,Aeschylus,Sophocles,Euripides,etc.,authorofJob,thevariousepics,theTains,theBeowulfs,Dante,Shakespeare,Blake.When is violence violence andwhen is   greatpoetry?Canthecriticdistinguish?Iwouldsaythatmostcriticscannotdistinguish.ThecriticwhoseoutlookisbasedonarationalscepticismissimplyincapableofseeingVenusfromanypointofviewbutthatofAdonis. He cannotdistinguishbetweenfearsforhisownmentalsecurityandtheactionsoftheUniverseredressingadisturbedbalance. Or tryingto. In otherwords, he isincapableofjudgingpoetry...becausepoetryisnothingifnotthat,therecordofjusthowtheforcesoftheUniversetry to redresssomebalancedisturbedbyhumanerror.Whathecandoisjudgeworksanddeedsofrationalscepticismwithinaclosedsocietythatagrees on thetermsused. He cantellyouwhyapoemisbad as aworkofrationalscepticism,buthecannottellwhyitisgoodasapoem.Apoemmightbegoodasboth, but itneednotbe.Violencethatbeginsinanunhappyhomecangooneway to produceameaninglesslittlenightmareofmurder,etc.for TV or it cangotheotherwayandproducethosemomentsinBeethoven.  ou probablyknowthattherehasbeenawholecontroversybe-tweenRawsonand ainworthastowhetherornotvoucelebrateviolenceforitsown sake ..ã  ughes IthinkI veprobablyalreadyansweredthat.Thepoemofmineusuallycitedforviolence is theoneabouttheHawkRoosting,thisdrowsyhawksittinginawoodandtalking to itself. That birdisaccusedofbeingafascist...thesymbolofsomehorribletotalitariangenocidaldictator.ActuallywhatI had inmindwasthatinthishawkNatureisthinking.SimplyNature.It snotsosimplemaybebecauseNatureisnolongersosimple.IintendedsomeCreatorliketheJehovahinJob but morefemi-    SY NEY STU IES nine.WhenChristianitykickedthedeviloutofJobwhattheyactuallykickedoutwasNature   andNaturebecamethedevil. He doesn tsoundlikeIsis,motherof the gods,whichheis.HesoundslikeHitler sfamiliarspirit.ThereisalineinthepoemalmostverbatimfromJob.  s inthecase o HawkRoosting yourtwopoemsaboutJaguarsareofteninterpretedascelebrations o violence Hughes: Iprefertothinkofthemasfirst,descriptionsofajaguar,second...invocationsoftheGoddess,third   invocationsofajaguar-likebodyofelementalforce,demonicforce.   is mybeliefthatsymbolsofthissortwork.  nd themoreconcreteandelectrically-chargedandfullyoperationalthesymbol,themorepowerfullyitworksonanymind that meetsit.Thewayitworksdependsonthatmind...onthenatureofthatmind. I m not at allsurehowmuchdirection,howmuchofadesirableaimandmoraltrajectoryyoucan fix ontoasymbolbyassociatedparaphernalia.Ajaguarafterallcanbereceivedinseveraldifferentaspects...heisabeautiful,powerfulnaturespirit, he isahomicidalmaniac,heisasuperchargedpieceofcosmicmachinery,heisasymbolofman sbasernatureshoveddownintotheidandgrowingcannibalmurderouswithdeprivation, he isanancientsymbolofDionysussincehe is aleopardraisedtotheninthpower,heisaprecisehistoricalsymboltothebloody-mindedAztecsandsoon. Or heissimplyademon...alumpofectoplasm.Alumpofastralenergy. The symbolopensallthesethings...itisthereader sownnaturethatselects. The traditionis,thatenergyofthissortonceinvokedwilldestroyanimpurenature andserveapureone. In aperfectlyculturedsocietyoneimaginesthatjaguar-likeelementalswouldbeinvokedonlybyself-disciplinariansofaveryadvancedgrade.I am notoneand I m surefewreadersare,somaybein our corruptcondition we havetoregardpoemsaboutjaguarsasethicallydangerous.Poemsaboutjaguars,thatis,whichdohaverealsummoningforce.Lotsofpeoplemightconsider I m overratingthepowersofthosetwopoems, butI m speakingfrommyownevidence.Iwroteanotherjaguarishpoemcalled Gog . That actuallystarted as adescriptionoftheGermanassaultthroughtheArdennesanditturnedintothedragoninRevelations.   alarmedmesomuchIwroteapoemaboutthe Red CrossKnightjusttosetagainstitwiththeideaofkeepingitundercontrol   keepingitseffectsundercontrol.  
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