No Más & 'If I had touched you then/One of us might have survived' – the origins and evolution of Ian Hamilton's 'Perfect Speech'

Declan Ryan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This is the most sustained study to date of the late poet Ian Hamilton. The close readings of Hamilton's poems are shaped by a study of Hamilton's biographical and historical context, through interviews with his friends, colleagues and fellow poets and underpinned by the 'philosophy' behind Hamilton's magazines, The Review and The New Review, as evinced by the critical writings of Colin Falck. The study argues that Hamilton developed an ars poetica, 'Perfect Speech', through which it was possible for him to write, given his desire that poems not only serve some purpose but that they might also be able to mitigate their addressee's suffering. The poems were, I will show, intended to fill a void left by orthodox religious belief and place the poet in a 'priestly' role, using ideas influenced by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's writings on the 'imagination'. Hamilton's prosody, I will demonstrate, was built on poems he admired by Robert Lowell, Thomas Hardy and Keith Douglas, but was also a reaction against the emotionally repressed work of The Movement. The study will show that Hamilton's waning 'faith' in 'Perfect Speech' had a direct impact on the poems he wrote with the later, less 'faithful' work demonstrating a 'spiritual malaise'. The study, as well as tracing the roots and origins of 'Perfect Speech', will examine the work of poets who were influenced by Hamilton and in whose work some of the elements of 'Perfect Speech' may be witnessed.

Informed by Hamilton's attempts to speak to addressees who are 'incapable of attending' and to write without inhibiting personae, are a collection of poems by the study's author which try to learn from the ideas discussed but without any programmatic attempt at putting 'Perfect Speech' into action. Hamilton's poetry is important, in itself and for the possibilities it offers as an example of 'Songs Among the Ruins', and it is hoped that this study acts as a foundational work for further study of Hamilton's career as both a poet and critic in the years to come.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Shapcott, Joanne, Supervisor
Award date1 Dec 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015

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