Haunting, hilarious, exquisitely inventive ? Mark Ford
About Oli Hazzard
Oli Hazzard's first book, Between Two Windows, was published by Carcanet in 2012. It won the Michael Murphy Prize for a first collection and an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors, and was a book of the year in the Financial Times, Guardian and Times Literary Supplement. A pamphlet of prose poems, Within Habit, was published by Test Centre in 2014. He is currently a DPhil candidate at Wolfson College, Oxford.
Hazzard’s poetry is perhaps best represented by its playful yet careful spirit of investigation. His work displays a fascination with repeating structures and their variations, especially the symmetries and mirrorings of sentences and sounds, and the simultaneous obligation and licence of form, making him perhaps closest in sensibility to poets such as Matthew Welton, whose poetry explores Oulipian techniques with similar verve and curiosity. For Hazzard, John Ashbery is also a commanding and at times visible (or audible) influence; in Hazzard’s more lyrical poems there is a comparable interplay between expansiveness and reserve, a willingness to follow language where it leads, tempered by a reluctance to re-tread paths that are too well-worn. The resulting poems have rare composure and humour; uniquely slanted, their connections and observations are quick and unencumbered, like the varied types of light that are often noted in them, whether ‘swinging’, ‘swooning’, or ‘dispersing like a lozenge’.
Some of Hazzard’s poems make use of found language. ‘The inability to recall the precise word for something’ is built from a list of definitions of obscure and under-used words, assembling a set of disturbing and funny narrative possibilities. Others gently distort language though mishearing and rewriting. The method and meaning of a poem like ‘Are we not drawn onward…’ might remain just out of reach, but its interest seems to be firstly in composing a body of sounds, through subtle repeating arrangements, that can be savoured as they are said.
Different again, the poems of Within Habit (of which there are two featured here) are designed around a repeating, block-like form, refilling their distinctive shape on the page with an almost architectural exactitude, deploying a mixture of personal, casual and official registers. Clauses are broken and joined by vertical lines, and stanzas are separated by ‘hinge words’, hanging as if stranded in an empty space between dual residences. Hazzard’s readings, of these works in particular, are sensitive and spare, equally open to amusement and disquiet, and considerate of the divergences and hesitations of meaning that are often hidden in everyday communications: his poems are places these moments can be registered, examined and enjoyed.
Oli Hazzard's recording was made on 29th October 2013 at Attic Attack and was produced by Richard Carrington.