For Love of the Musernby Stacey Korsrn”All that matters now is poetryrnIn which the feeling is the thought.rn—from “Paysages Legendaires’rnWhen writing about the poet Peter Russell, it is hard tornknow where to begin. First, there is the matter of hisrnprolificness, and the sheer vastness of his oeuvre: Russell, whorndeseribes poetry as being “dangerously near the natural functionsrnfor mc,” has published well over 30 volumes of verse andrnhas written enough poems to fill scores of others. Then there isrnthe extraordinarv diversity of this poetry: from works that rangernin length from a handful of lines to hundreds of pages (his unpublishedrnepic—ironically titled Ephemeron—is over 2,000rnmanuscript pages long), and vary in style from free verse to formalist,rnfrom the scabrous epigrams found in his book MalicernAforethought to the lush, sweeping lyrics that suffuse I’he GoldenrnChain and I’heories. As Russell remarks in his poem “MyrnVoices”:rnflow many voices tell in me,rnI cannot say how many callrnNight and day insistently,rnOr distinguish them at all.rnUncommon such diversity may be; haphazard it is not—forrnRussell’s is a case where the work faithfully mirrors the man,rnwho is at once romantic and contemptuous, serious and silly,rnsimple and extraordinarily complex. The quality of this work,rnlike Russell’s character, may not always be consistent; but thernend result, in either ease, remains consistently engaging.rnA British poet of Irish descent, Peter Russell was born in Bristol,rnEngland, in 1921, and by age three—”before I knew my alphabet”rn—had already decided that he wanted to be a poet “orrnnothing.” After serving in the Royal Artillery during WorldrnWar II, Russell began publishing poetry, critical articles, and interviewsrnin a number of American and English reviews, and inrn1949 founded Nine, a small, London-based poetry magazinernthat attracted the attention of both T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.rnAlthough the editor of a literary review for seven years, Russellrnnever felt at home in the “professional establishment world” ofrnStacey Kors is a freelance writer in New York. She is arncontributing editor to Opera Monthly and writes regularly forrnThe Opera Quarteriy and Stagebill.rnacademies and literati; nor did his steadfast belief in “ideas, notrnideologies; original thought, not conformity,” do much to ingratiaternhim at a time when the Movement poets (like PhiliprnLarkin and Kingsley Amis) were beginning to take hold inrnEngland. Russell’s feelings of estrangement from the Londonrnpoetry scene in the 1950’s were furthered by a move from therncity to the countryside, the acquisition and management of anrnantiquarian bookstore and small poetry press, and the generalrndemands accompanying family life. During this period of whatrnhe calls “practical concerns,” Russell worked long hours in anrneffort to make ends meet; in that time, he wrote virtually nornpoetry.rnRussell ended up being no better a businessman than a conformist:rnby 1963 the bookstore had failed—along, unfortunately,rnwith his marriage. Bereft of both emotional and financialrnties to England, and with no love lost between him and thernthcn-rcigning cognoscenti, Russell moved to Berlin and devotedrnhimself entirely to his poetry. After an intense year of writing,rnRussell felt that he “had at last become a real poet.” Continuingrna time-honored tradition, he soon took up residence inrnItaly, the adopted home of Shelley, Keats, Byron, and numerousrnother English poets before him:rnElizabeth Barret, Arthur Hugh Clough, W.S. LandorrnLie in the English cemetery, ghosts of our ownrnIn the warm turf tufted with cypresses: AndrnThe trams clatter by—they are closing the shopsrnFor the afternoon. Is this a silence or an unheardrnRumble of innumerable unseen encountersrnIn the world below? Not a sound disturbsrnThe utterly still air silent up here.rn—from “Florence”rnInsatiably curious about the world around him, Peter Russellrnis always learning something new, whether studying up onrnSanskrit or feasting upon the music of Mozart and Monteverdi.rnRussell’s passion for knowledge and keen intellect permeate hisrnpoetry, which is peppered with references to science, art, history,rnlinguistics, and literature—including rather obscure allusionsrnto classical Greek, ancient Oriental, and medieval IslamicrnJUNE 1995/25rnrnrn