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Ford, Mark 1962-

Ford, Mark 1962-

PERSONAL:

Born 1962, in Nairobi, Kenya. Ethnicity: "White." Education: Attended Harvard University; Oxford University, Ph.D.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Department of English Language and Literature, University College, University of London, Gower St., London WC1E 6BT, England. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Poet, educator, author, and editor. University of London, London, England, professor at University College.

WRITINGS:

Landlocked (poetry), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1992.

(Editor and author of introduction and notes) Wilkie Collins, No Name, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1994.

(Editor and author of introduction) Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, illustrated by Hablot K. Browne, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams, preface by John Ashbery, Faber & Faber (London, England), 2000, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 2001.

Soft Sift (poetry), Faber (London, England), 2001.

(Editor) Frank O'Hara, "Why I Am Not a Painter" and Other Poems, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 2003.

(Editor, with Steve Clark) Something We Have that They Don't: British and American Poetic Relations since 1925, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 2004.

(Editor and author of introduction) The New York Poets: Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler; An Anthology, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 2004.

A Driftwood Altar: Reviews and Essays, Wagwiser (London, England), 2005.

(Editor, with Trevor Winkfield, and coauthor of introduction) The New York Poets II: An Anthology, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 2006.

(Editor) Frank O'Hara, Selected Poems, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2008.

Contributor to New Chatto Poets: Number Two, Chatto & Windus, 1989.

SIDELIGHTS:

Mark Ford's poetry collection Landlocked was reviewed by Ian Gregson in the London Review of Books. Gregson compared Ford's poems to those of Frank O'Hara in his "use of head-over-heels free verse, and a tendency to sound blasé or deadpan when the imagery becomes surreal. They also share a slightly camp mistrust of ‘angst.’" Gregson wrote that Ford's poems "nonetheless insist on their own constructedness, and draw attention to the difficult question of who is speaking them…. It never seems to be precisely the poet who is speaking…. More important, though, is his technique of moving between one perspective or voice and another." Times Literary Supplement contributor Michael Hofmann said that in Ford's poems, "everything is plunder, cultural junk, white verbiage from a celestial radiogram. The poet not as speaker or controlling consciousness, so much as emcee or croupier, saying ‘anything goes!’…. His particles of language tick away their half-lives on our Geiger counters, leaving us somehow none the wiser. He composes by echo…. Although this is riddling stuff, there is much pleasure to be had from it." "Christmas," a poem from Landlocked, is also included in New Chatto Poets: Number Two. The narrator talks to his dead friend lying in the snow and threatens him in an effort to coax him up. Times Literary Supplement reviewer Bernard O'Donoghue called the poem "a perfect vehicle for a humanity that avoids sentimentality."

Times Literary Supplement contributor Helen Vendler compared Ford to American poet John Ashbery, who was the subject of Ford's doctoral thesis. Vendler noted that "writers influenced by John Ashbery more often imitate his manner than grasp his import. They scramble a metaphor, write a melting close, insert pop icons, make a comic allusion—but the essence of Ashbery doesn't lie in these tricks. When I read in 1992, with instant delight, Mark Ford's Landlocked, I found a poet who had internalized the inner, more than the outer, Ashbery." In comparing Ford's work to Ashbery's, Vendler said that "there are deliberately parodic and inconsequential moments, and … there are forms of suffering, usually understated, subtending the comic anticlimax. But while Ashbery tends to write within explicitly human terms, and to be continually ‘incoherent’ in exposition, Ford is more allegorical." Vendler added that "Ford's most recent poetry is less indebted to the Ashberian comic, but continues to practice the silent Ashberian undermining of the ground one stands on."

Ashbery wrote the preface for Ford's study Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams, the first full-length study of the work of Roussel (1877-1933) published in the United Kingdom. Roussel and his contemporary, Marcel Proust, had much in common, but Roussel never achieved Proust's popularity, except for brief recognition by Surrealists such as Salvatore Dali and André Breton, Manhattan School poets such as Ashbery and Kenneth Koch, and a few others. Both men were wealthy enough to publish their own work; both were homosexual dandies, and the families of both were of the Parisian haute bourgeoisie. While Proust's work was acceptable to the mainstream, Roussel's was not, largely because of its bizarreness. Financial Times contributor Michael Glover wrote that Roussel's poetry, fiction, and plays "seem to be at odds with almost everything that went before it, and almost everything that has appeared since his suicide in 1933. Roussel, in short, was gifted with a quality of absolute strangeness, a strangeness that many readers have found rebarbative." A Publishers Weekly reviewer said that Roussel's goal was to produce work "that retained utterly no relation to the physical world. By exploiting the double meanings and shifting associations inherent in language, his procede [Roussel's term for his compositional technique] defined the laws of an insular universe."

Roussel believed he was destined for greatness and once said, "It may take a long time, but I shall enjoy greater glory than Victor Hugo or Napoleon." He kept the blinds of his study closed to protect those outside from the rays of light he believed were emitted by his poems. Although Roussel's work began gaining recognition in the 1960s, when others began to express their gratitude to him for opening the way to experimentation, in his own time it was met with bewilderment and contempt. Unsuccessful with his written work, Roussel spent a fortune transferring his creations to the stage. He rejected the few, the Surrealists, who championed him, declining to associate himself with the avant gardes. Roussel's eccentricity carried over into his personal life. At his villa he maintained a huge staff, including three cooks, and ate all four meals at one sitting, sometimes taking five hours to do so. He wore his fashionable clothes for fifteen days, then discarded them. An avid traveler, Roussel died in a Palermo, Italy, hotel from an overdose of the barbiturates to which he was addicted. Ford also documents Roussel's blissful childhood, his homosexuality, and his relationships to his mother and to Proust.

Library Journal reviewer Ron Ratliff felt that "the real strength of this book is Ford's analysis of Roussel's major works." Richard Howard wrote in New Republic that "as a biography, Ford's book is superb, the aptest initiation into Roussel's life and work in any language (including Roussel's); and to say as much pays Ford a compliment of some scope, for a veritable Roussel industry has latterly developed, not always to the satisfaction of the initial enthusiasts who so frequently preferred to play their mystery-author close to the chest." "What is particularly admirable about this biography," wrote Howard, "is that even while fervently imploring our interest (‘better times’) in his anomalous author, Ford reveals with an admirable conscience how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable are all the uses of Roussel's texts themselves to the uninitiated reader. Ford's act of fealty, indeed, is a demonstration of a certain crisis in our contemporary culture's response to art…. We must have a distinct measure of chaos and futility and evasion in our ‘masters’ even as we discern such things in ourselves."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Ashbery, John, John Ashbery in Conversation with Mark Ford, Dufour Editions (Chester Springs, PA), 2003.

PERIODICALS

Financial Times, January 13, 2001, Michael Glover, "The Progress of a Soap Bubble: Michael Glover on the Life and Work of a French Writer once Championed by the Surrealists, then Forgotten," p. 5.

Library Journal, December, 2000, Ron Ratliff, review of Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams, p. 131.

London Review of Books, January 7, 1993, Ian Gregson, "Eternal Feminine," pp. 22-23.

New Republic, April 30, 2001, Richard Howard, "Another Genius," p. 44.

Publishers Weekly, December 18, 2000, review of Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams, p. 66.

Times Literary Supplement, December 1, 1989, Bernard O'Donoghue, "First Books First," p. 1336; March 6, 1992, Michael Hofmann, "Composing by Echo," p. 23; January 1, 1999, Helen Vendler, "Scoops from the Tide Pools: The Allegories and Mimicries of Mark Ford," pp. 11-12.

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