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A Book of Listening | Desmond Graham

A Book of Listening | Desmond Graham

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    Desmond Graham who was born in Surrey and studied at Leeds, is currently Professor (Emeritus) of Poetry at Newcastle University. He has published twelve collections of poetry, including ‘Heart work’, a Poetry Book Society Recommendation in 2007. He has co-translated the Polish poets Anna Kamieńska and, recently, Olga Kubińska. Three collections of his work have appeared in Polish, one from the ‘European Centre for Solidarity’. In 2018 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the University of Gdańsk. He is the compiler of World Poetry of The Second World War (1994), the first major international anthology of the war’s poetry in English; author of The Truth of War: Owen, Blunden and Rosenberg (1984) and the biographer and editor of the poet Keith Douglas (1920–44). For over thirty years he has made extensive reading tours throughout Germany. When possible, he divides his time between England and Germany.


    The person we look at, or who feels he is being looked at, looks at us in turn. (Walter Benjamin) This reciprocity and its limits, the awareness of an exchange opened by whatever we turn to and the nourishment and necessary correction such exchanges bring, are the ground base of this book. Written in the short, unpunctuated lines Graham has refined and developed through several recent collections, each extensive sentence is opened and slowed to allow for fleeting moments of decision. Many reviewers have praised an attentiveness in Graham’s poems—he is ‘a poet “who notices such things” who has a way of finding those fugitive rays of light’ (Nicholas Murray); he has ‘a concern to capture the quiddity of the loved thing, the essential genius of person and place’ (TLS 2010), and such curiosity and respectful observation is at the heart of A Book of Listening. How do we attend to the thoughts of others, to the works of art we look at, to the spirit of a place we visit, to the presence of dead loved ones and to a world of objects layered with associations? The result is an extended pondering on the powers of imagination; and especially that power as we manifest it in understanding, empathy or compassion. As Spinoza affirms in one of the guiding introductory epigraphs here, ‘There is nothing more useful to human beings than human beings’.


    ‘The poet needs to keep things from vanishing and [Graham] knows art’s role in that.’


    —John Greening, Acumen


    ‘Heart work’ is... a set of vivid, engaging, life-affirming, colloquial and visionary variations...’


    —Poetry Book Society


    ‘What unifies the whole collection is Graham’s concern to capture the quiddity of the loved thing, the essential genius of person and place.’




    ‘The lack of conventional punctuation adds to the creative and poetic potential of the various ambiguities... this, in turn, generates doubts and semantic uncertainties. Little is simply what it seems, and the reader is challenged...’


    —Owen Lowery, Stand

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