John Clare’s horizons

Kövesi, S. (2013) John Clare’s horizons. Essays in Criticism, LXIII(4), pp. 375-392. (doi: 10.1093/escrit/cgt017)

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JOHN CLARE seems more present than ever in contemporary literary culture. His ‘imperishable poems’ can be traced in the opening pages of Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great, through to George Monbiot's recent assertion that British environmentalism begins with Clare, which he followed with a call for England to copy Scotland's Burns Night with a ‘Clare Day’ to celebrate English rural life.1 Across the United States and United Kingdom, there have been memorable engagements with Clare from poets such as John Ashbery, Ken Babstock, Alison Brackenbury, Paul Farley, Seamus Heaney, Edward Hirsch, Ted Hughes, Michael Longley, David Morley, Alice Oswald, Tom Paulin, Derek Walcott, Sam Willetts, and David Wojahn – to name just a few. One could follow Clare across the stage: Edward Bond's play The Fool (1975, revived in 2010 in Kilburn) places the poet in a world of violent class war; he is to be found in Simon Rae's play Grass (2003), which deposits an ecowarrior, insane Clare amidst the horror of the bovine pyres of the 2001 foot-and-mouth pandemic in the UK; and his life story haunts D. C. Moore's play Town (2010), which features a terse, Clare-like figure, stuck between two lovers, recently fled from London, now seeking his old sanctuary in contemporary Northampton. Staying in Northampton, in a work devoted to the town transfigured through stages of human history, Clare's autobiographical voice may be heard, refracted, by the magic and visionary anarchism of Alan Moore in his Voice of the Fire (1996). Staying in prose, Clare plays the fiddle, goes courting and bird-nesting, and mourns the violence of enclosure in folklorist Hugh Lupton's novel, The Ballad of John Clare (2010), while the intimacy of his loves and friendships is rendered in a more lyrical fashion in John MacKenna's Clare: A Novel (1993). And, though it might be wise to steer clear of the Clare in Adam Foulds's Booker Prize-shortlisted novel The Quickening Maze (2009), which builds the asylum-bound poet vividly into a rapine, freedom-fighting, feral green man, he is nevertheless found among the feminist sympathies of Judith Allnat's voicing of the poet's historically silenced and long-suffering wife, Patty, in the unsurprisingly titled novel The Poet's Wife (2010). Clare may offer a private ‘use’ as an edgily therapeutic companion, as nature writer Richard Mabey shows when chronicling his recovery from depression in the memoir Nature Cure (2005). And finally, his footsteps may be charted using Iain Sinclair's layered psycho-maps, iteratively tracing the contours of his – and the poet's – situated mind in Edge of the Orison (2005).

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Kovesi, Professor Simon
Authors: Kövesi, S.
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
College/School:College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Journal Name:Essays in Criticism
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN (Online):1471-6852

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