Reid, Christopher (John)
REID, Christopher (John)
Nationality: British. Born: HOng Kong, 13May 1949. Education: Kingswood House, Epsonm Surrey, 10565-62; Tonbridge School, Kent, 1962-67; Exeter College, Oxford, 1968-71, B.A. (honors), 1971. Family: Married Lucinda Catherine Gane in 1979. Career: Formerly librarian, Ashmolean Classics Library, Oxford; has also worked as an actor, filing clerk, theater flyman, and nanny/tutor. Editor, "News and Reviews" section of Crafts magazine, Crafts Council, London, 1979–81. Since 1986 publisher, and since 1991 poetry editor, Faber and Faber, London. Awards: Eric Gregory award, 1978; Prudence Farmer award, 1978, 1980; Somerset Maugham award, 1980; Hawthornden prize, 1981. Address: c/o Faber and Faber, 3 Queen Square, London WClN 3AU, England.
Katerina Brac. London, Faber, 1985.
In the Echoey Tunnel. London and Boston, Faber, 1991.
Universes. London, Ondt & Gracehopper, 1994.
Expanded Universes. London and Boston, Faber, 1996.
Editor, The Poetry Book Society Anthology 1989–1990. London, Hutchinson, 1990.*
Critical Studies: "The Dialectic of the Image: Notes on the Poetry of Craig Raine and Christopher Reid," in Malahat Review (Victoria, British Columbia), 64, February 1983, and "Craig Raine & Co.: Martians and Story-Tellers," in Antigonish Review (Antigonish, Nova Scotia), 59, autumn 1984, both by Michael Hulse; "Martian Invasion" by Andrew Waterman, in Helix (Ivanhoe, Victoria, Australia), 17, 1984; "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.* * *
Christopher Reid is frequently associated with Craig Raine as one of the so-called Martian school of poets, whose work is characterized above all by an extravagant or exuberant use of visual simile and metaphor in an attempt to make the familiar (frequently the domestic) seem, in fact, the theater of the richly exotic and strange. "Douanier Rousseau had no need to travel /to paint the jungles of his paradise," Reid says in one of his poems, and, referring often in his work to a wide variety of painters (notably Vuillard, Vermeer, Brueghel, and Matisse), he shares with Rousseau a certain intense sharpness and immediacy of childlike vision:
Welcome to our peaceable kingdom,
where baby lies down with the tiger-rug
and bumblebees roll over like puppies
Like some of the other writers loosely associated with the Martians, Reid can occasionally seem to produce poems that are little more than collections of special effects. I particularly like the tankards in a London pub that, "pot-bellied, on hooks, /are lords of the air and as free /as a flight of sitting-room ducks," where the joke of the rhyme is in affectionately sympathetic consonance with the deflating hyperbole of the simile. I like, too, the amazing conceits of "Baldanders," where a series of similes for a weight lifter culminates in this way:
Glazed, like a mantelpiece frog,
he strains to become
the World Champion (somebody, answer it!)
But Reid has larger and more profound preoccupations in his work than the mere elaboration of such visual interrelationships, his "playground of impromptu metaphors," beguiling as this often is. The delighted apprehensions of his work are given their particular edge by an insistent pressure, from just outside, of everything that is not delight. What he calls "art's oddness and justness" is a different kind of ritual to cope with, above all, the pressure of mortality now that the consolations of religion are no longer operable.
Many of Reid's poems do actually elaborate some kind of religious imagery, making, as it were, newly domestic sacraments out of the secular, and others, like the excellent "Magnum Opus" and "Charnel," consider, quite a way after Larkin's "Church Going," the emptied meanings of a Christian cathedral and graveyard. Similarly, when visiting Japan, Reid is drawn to the traditional stamping grounds of the sacred in "a world /lacking all reciprocity." The conclusion of one of these poems, "Itsukushima," addresses a highly secular prayer to very secular objects but suggests, nevertheless, the impulse everywhere apparent in Reid to coax some kind of benediction out of the necessary and contingent circumstances of ordinary life: "Green seaweed wraiths, a beer-can, drunk, /are tugged by the tide … You Nothings, bless /me in my next-to-nothingness!" Reid's delight is never light-headed; it knows the nothingness it has to work hard not to be. Like his own eponymous "Ambassador," visiting a planet inhabited by children's toys, Reid too no doubt adheres
to the maxim, that through a studious
reading of chaos we may
arrive at the grammar of civilisation.