Craig Raine is a pugnacious figure in the fractious world of contemporary poetry. When his poem ‘Gatwick’ appeared in the LRB (2015), social media had one of its habitual spasms. Here was a piece which indulged the male gaze and celebrated lustful yearning — an older man for a younger woman. Hardly new ground one might have thought; but to be fair it’s actually rather more subtle than that, and Faber’s former poetry editor responded to the howls of protest by saying: ‘Of course the stupid are always with us.’
In fact Raine rather likes a scrap and My Grandmother’s Glass Eye, in which poets and critics are mauled routinely for their inability to read poems correctly, reminds us that the poet’s father was a boxer. Welcome to the father’s son; he might not float like a butterfly but he can sting like a bee.
The innocuous subtitle — ‘A Look at Poetry’ — belies the purpose of the book. It puts forward an argument which, in its reaching back to the notion that a poem might actually mean something, is both vibrantly derrière-garde and symptomatic of an increasing weariness of post-structuralist theory. Yes, argues Raine, the poet has purposeful intention (we used to call this the intentional fallacy) and, yes, a good reader should be able to grasp the
meaning. Alas, apart from Raine himself, it would appear there’s rather a dearth of good readers:
Bad readers, like the poor, are aways with us. And their badness takes the form of the complacent confusion they bring to poetry. Poetry isn’t diminished by clarity.
Raine the pugilist, the policeman, the preacher and the prosecutor.