Now more than ever, if there exists a measure of what one could call a national character, indelible and prescriptive, it seems unlikely it can be held in the terms we seem to utilize. The limited, faded suggestions of temperament, appearance and culture are increasingly fraught. The valuable misnomer that the poetic in poetry is that which is lost in translation is a fair indication of how national character is found in the lack of a culture’s culture. I can only truly speak of England and Englishness, and what I deem to be its immovable quality, both its worst and it’s best feature – an unpretentious melancholy, a moaning disposition laced with satire, a call to arms without action, a sadness that has not the melodrama to make it public, a desire for privacy, a wit and observational keen which is razor sharp and practically dull. When an artist can build this ungraspable quality into the very fabric of their work, you know they can only have done so without preparation or motive. Jeff Hilson, as a master of this vernacular, stands as one of the most singular and gifted poets of his generation. Hilson’s use of distinctive vocabulary, a lexicon of the banal, utilises a finesse that pales the false poetic posturing of those working in circles created by perceptions of what has come before and held as the established “tone” of English poetry. He is the creator of poetic vignettes, an imagery not of the surreal but of the proto-mundane, couched in the wry, unpretentious drawl of a fogged civil servant, tired but not fatigued, worn but not broken. Hilson elevates the speech of the lived life, accelerates it, never seeking out absurdity, rather that would be too much agency for the singular voice purveying lines of observation and reflection. His poetic is not one of alarm, not one of lamentation – it is poetry of urbanity. Hilson’s mode is to shed light on the ever present – what we seem not to have noticed in its readiness, the pitted corners of language which are fundamentally drole and bloodless. Hilson exposes too the churlishness of the poet who takes no time to examine their own position, the ego behind the pen. His honesty, his lyrical inventiveness, his affected bleakness produces a strong sensation in its readers / listeners because of its central truth. It is then a poetry that is necessary because the poet does not profess its necessity. Only the reluctant can offer the objective truth that poetry must evolve, that it must be allowed to warp and break and rejoin in order to be in anyway new, and in being new, represent a culture that is truly contemporary. And even then, only within a form of an apology. Against Hilson’s work the concept of the poetic soul, the poetic pretension, is exposed as a welcome fraud. The melodrama of poetry is refuted and we are left instead with a very English sagacity of intellect and poise. In an attempt to utilise the Maintenant series to present poets to Europe, as well as from Europe, we present, for our 92nd issue, one of most remarkable poets of his generation, Jeff Hilson.
Accompanying the interview is Jeff’s seven part poem Rinker, generously given over to the Maintenant series.