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.
"Gods! Well, you know that’s the way the empire works – selling off unwanted kids to clear a debt is standard practice among the poorer classes through...