Monday, January 4, 2010

Poetry, I Presume

Of the things we fashioned for them
that they might be comforted,
dawn is the one that works.
When darkness sifts from the air
like fine soft soot

And light spreads slowly out of the east
then all but the most wretched of humankind

Nice piece of poetry isn't it? That rally having a line to itself is a particularly effective touch don't you think? Humankind may be a bit awkward but what could be substituted for it? Humanity would be a bit glib.

As many of you already know the above is not poetry but prose (mere prose some might say but me never). Prose by John Banville actually the opening two sentences of his most recent book The Infinities rearranged by me to look like poetry or to be poetry, I'm not sure which.

I am in the middle of the novel at the moment and I'm enjoying it hugely. Banville is a master of language and sentence construction. My biggest problem in novel reading is speed reading. Long years of historical research meant reading quickly through pages of books, reports, manuscripts, letters for those small nuggets of relevant information. I swear I could spot the word Sligo on a page in less than half a second of scanning.

Anyway that skill is useless when it comes to reading novels especially novels where the language is of equal or more importance as the story. So I'm deliberately slowing myself down, trying to take it all in. The same problem doesn't seem to arise when reading poetry, its construction seems to demand and ensure a slower pace and more attention to language.

Reviews of The Infinities (Not all enthusiastic): London Times: Guardian: The Independent: The Observer.

1 comment:


They are wonderful words from Banville. And yes, as you have most perceptively noted, they read like poetry. Have you read The Sea? He reaches very deep tones, I think. It's all music with Banville. Best of luck with the novel, Michael. Let me know how that goes.