Poems of serious play, relentlessly experimental but grounded in quotidian specifics, characterized by a consummate strangeness and an oddball ferocity ? David Wojahn
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About Mark Ford
Mark Ford was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1962; he grew up there, and in Nigeria, Sri Lanka, the U.S.A., Hong Kong, Bahrain and the UK. He holds a B.A. and a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford, and studied at Harvard University as a Kennedy scholar. Well known as both a critic and poet, Ford is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books, for whom he has written on Ted Hughes, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Walt Whitman, W.H. Auden, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, Marilynne Robinson, Randall Jarrell, Ezra Pound, and many others. He is the author of a critical biography of Raymond Roussel, Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams (Faber, 2000), and three collections of essays: A Driftwood Altar (Waywiser Press, 2005), Mr and Mrs Stevens and Other Essays (Peter Lang, 2011) and This Dialogue of One (Eyewear Press, 2014). He has translated Raymond Roussel’s Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique (published in a parallel text edition by Princeton University Press in 2011), and edited the 800-page anthology, London: A History in Verse (Harvard University Press, 2012). He has also edited selections of the poetry of John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg and Mick Imlah, and co-edited a book on British and American poetic relations, Something We Have That They Don’t (University of Iowa Press, 2004). He has taught at the University of Kyoto, and currently teaches in the English Department at University College London.
Ford has published three collections of poetry, Landlocked (Chatto & Windus, 1992), Soft Sift (Faber, 2001) and Six Children (Faber, 2011); his Selected Poems is published in the USA by Coffee House Press (2014). David Kennedy has described Ford’s poems as swinging ‘exuberantly between metaphysical wit, goofy aphorism and black farce.’ He enjoys the challenge of forms such as the sestina, the pantoum and the villanelle, and combines an acute literary sophistication with a fine-tuned responsiveness to new idioms and the vagaries of everyday speech. He makes frequent use of the dramatic monologue, though his speakers are not always easy to place or describe. ‘These are poems,’ the American critic David Wojahn has observed, ‘of serious play, relentlessly experimental but grounded in quotidian specifics, characterized by a consummate strangeness and an oddball ferocity that never stoops to mere whimsy or the easy tour-de-force.’ Ford is at his most moving in a poem such as ‘Ravished’, an elegy for the Scottish poet Mick Imlah, which contrasts their journeys home after an evening in a pub on Great Russell Street: ‘I was picturing the shiny black / Cab he so imperiously / Hailed whisking him west, revving, cruising, braking, gliding / Across junctions, the driver / At length twisting around, awaiting payment, as I veered / And tacked through the eerily silent / Squares of Bloomsbury, towards Euston.’
Mark Ford’s favourite poetry sayings
The chief use of the “meaning” of a poem, in the ordinary sense, may be … to satisfy one habit of the reader, to keep his mind diverted and quiet, while the poem does its work upon him: much as the imaginary burglar is always provided with a bit of nice meat for the house-dog. – T.S. Eliot
What one seems to want in art, in experiencing it, is the same thing that is necessary for its creation, a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration. – Elizabeth Bishop
The poem of the mind in the act of finding / What will suffice – Wallace Stevens
This recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 4 November 2013 at The Soundhouse and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.