Raine, Craig (Anthony)
RAINE, Craig (Anthony)
Nationality: British. Born: Bishop Auckland, County Durham, 3 December 1944. Education: Barnard Castle School; Exeter College, Oxford, 1963–68, B.A. in English (honors) 1966, B.Phil, 1968. Family: Married Ann Pasternak Slater in 1972; one daughter and three sons. Career: Lecturer, Exeter College, 1971–72, 1975–76, Lincoln College, 1974–75, and Christ Church, 1976–79, Oxford. Since 1991 fellow of New College, Oxford University. Books editor, New Review, London 1977–78; editor, Quarto, London, 1979–80; poetry editor, New Statesman, London, 1981, and Faber and Faber, London, 1981–91. Awards: Cheltenham Literary Festival prize, 1977, 1978; Prudence Farmer award, 1978, 1980. Cholmondeley award, 1983. Address: c/o New College, Oxford University, Oxford OX1 3BN, England.
The Onion, Memory. London, Oxford University Press, 1978.
A Martian Sends a Postcard Home. London, Oxford University Press, 1979.
A Journey to Greece. Oxford, Sycamore Press, 1979.
A Free Translation. Edinburgh, Salamander Press, 1981.
Rich. London, Faber, 1984.
History: The Home Movie. London, Penguin, and New York, Doubleday, 1994.
Clay: Whereabouts Unknown. London and New York, Penguin, 1996.
Collected Poems, 1978–1998. London, Picador, 1999.
The Electrification of the Soviet Union (libretto), adaptation of a novella by Boris Pasternak, music by Nigel Osborne (produced Glyndbourne, 1987). London, Faber, 1986.
1953: A Version of Racine's Andromaque (broadcast 1990). London, Faber, 1990.
Radio Play: 1953: A Version of Racine's Andromaque, 1990.
Radio Documentary: James Joyce: A Touch of the Artist, 1982.
Haydn and the Valve Trumpet: Literary Essays. London, Faber, 1990.
Editor, A Choice of Kipling's Prose. London, Faber, 1987.
Editor, with others, 1985 Anthology. Beaworthy, Arvon Foundation, 1987.
Editor, Collected Stories, by D.H. Lawrence. New York, Knopf, 1994.
Editor, Lolita, by Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov. London, Penguin, 1995.
Translator (poetry only) with Ann Pasternak Slater, Boris Pasternak: The Tragic Years 1930–1960, by Eugeny Pasternak, prose translation by Michael Duncan. London, Collins, 1990.*
Critical Studies: "The Dialectic of the Image: Notes on the Poetry of Craig Raine and Christopher Reid" by Michael Hulse, in Malahat Review (Victoria, British Columbia), 64, February 1983; "Martian Invasion" by Andrew Waterman, in Helix (Ivanhoe, Victoria, Australia), 17, 1984; "Craig Raine's Poetry of Perception: Imagery in 'A Martian Sends a Postcard Home'" by Charles Forceville, in Dutch Quarterly Review of Anglo-American Letters (Amsterdam), 15(2), 1985; "Telling It Like It's Not: Ted Hughes and Craig Raine" by A.D. Moody, in Yearbook of English Studies (London), 17, 1987; Craig Raine issue of Ploughshares (Boston), 13(4), 1987; "'But Who Is Speaking?': 'Novelisation' in the Poetry of Craig Raine" by Ian Gregson, in English (Leicester, England), 41(170), summer 1992; "Elizabeth Bishop and the 'Martian' Poetry of Craig Raine and Christopher Reid" by David G. Williams, in English Studies (Nijmegen, Netherlands), 78(5), September 1997; "Anonymous Deaths: A Reading of Derek Mahon's 'A Refusal to Mourn' and Craig Raine's 'In the Mortuary'" by Violeta Delgado, in Miscelanea (Saragossa, Spain), 18, 1997.* * *
Craig Raine, who is usually considered the leading light in a group that has come to be known collectively as the Martians, after the title of his second book, is an immensely clever poet. His poems have always been exciting verbal performances, elaborate structures of proliferating metaphors in which an immense web of interrelationships is spun. A butcher "stands / smoking a pencil like Isambard Kingdom Brunel"; a baker "smiles like a modest quattrocento Christ"; and a college quad is "cobbled like a blackberry." A vacuum cleaner is a cow; falling bricks decline a Latin pronoun ("hic, haec, hoc"); houses in North Oxford are troops on parade; a market is a book; a breast is a blister; a marquee is "Gulliver's grimy white shirt"; and, as in the title of one poem, "Two Circuses Equal One Cricket Match." Raine writes poems that contort and gyrate through great acrobatics of perception.
The performance is extremely self-conscious in its desire to revise received opinion about the world. The poem that gave its title to the Martians, "A Martian Sends a Postcard Home," takes this perceptual revision to one extreme when it imagines how the most familiar and domesticated elements of our lives might seem to an alien from outer space:
Rain is when the earth is television.
It has the property of making colours darker.
Model T is a room with the lock inside—
a key is turned to free the world
for movement, so quick there is a film
to watch for anything missed.
But time is tied to the wrist
or kept in a box, ticking with impatience.
In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps,
that snores when you pick it up.
If the ghost cries, they carry it
to their lips and soothe it to sleep
with sounds. And yet, they wake it up
deliberately, by tickling with a finger.
This is entirely characteristic of Raine in its delighted, self-entranced ingenuity and also in the way it seems to crave a more innocent, cleansed version of the world to be at home in. Some of the poems in this vein perhaps become overingenious and invite a certain element of self-congratulation in the reader who unravels them. It might also be said of some of his work what has been said of John Donne—a poet for whom Raine clearly has the profoundest respect—that once you have mastered it there is little else you can do with it.
It is apparent, however, in Raine's book Rich that he is well aware of these possible objections to some of his procedures and that he intends to go on from the more obvious Martian mannerisms into further linguistic inventions and explorations. He writes poems in forms of dialect, in pidgin English, and in "translationese." But this ingenuity, which is delightfully clever and inventive in itself, is now more clearly in the service of apprehensible emotional and moral meanings, and the dandyish element of the earlier work is completely eradicated. In Rich he writes a marvelously responsive poetry of childhood, not least in the long and extraordinary prose memoir about his extraordinary father titled "A Silver Plate." He writes superb poems about bereavement, political terror, and the odd universe inhabited by the mentally disordered. In an element always present in his work, but not always so successfully, he also writes a richly tender erotic poetry. In the volume's title poem Raine imagines nature as a bountiful woman who must be wooed by the poet with words. At one point in the poem she is imagined, when in flood, as "transforming the world / like the eye in love." At its best Raine's own vision operates on the world in a similarly erotic way. His delighted, sensuous evocations of ordinary human circumstances have a genuinely transforming reverence and tenderness, as when, for instance, he conjures up the mental world inhabited by his small daughter in a way that sets it in parallel with the remoteness from us of the civilization of the Incas:
How she comes, a serious face
from every corner of the garden,
cupping a secret
she wants me to see,
as if she had somehow
invented the wheel. O Inca.