I'm grateful to Richard Skinner for having reminded me the other day on Twitter of the following quote from Ian Hamilton:
"The best poems are a strange combination of intense personal experience and icily controlled craftsmanship".
Of course, this typically assertive and implicitly provocative statement by Hamilton is as much a declaration of personal method as a blueprint for others. Its hinge lies in the use of "strange". Predictability can kill a poem.
There's also an intriguing dual interpretation of the word "icily". While consciously advocating dispassionate craft when writing poetry, Hamilton is also unconsciously revealing one of the few stumbling blocks that I encounter when reading his otherwise terrific verse: a lack of warmth and engagement. I hugely admire his work, but struggle to empathise.
The TS Eliot shortlist for 2017 was announced six weeks ago. As Sandeep Parmar pointed out in her short article in The Guardian: ‘For those who have champi...