Poet: A Lying Word, Laura Riding’s penultimate collection of poems, was composed during 1930 and 1933 in the most settled period of her poetic career, during her astonishingly productive partnership with Robert Graves in Majorca.
She is a major poet whose work has strongly influenced others as diverse as Graves, W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and John Ashbery.
When still a practising poet she described going to poetry as ‘the most ambitious act of the mind’ and while she later renounced the practice of poetry, she made it clear, looking back in 1970, that she had, as poet, been ‘looking to an eventual solution in poetry of the universal problem of how to make words fulfil the human being and the human being fulfil words.
In The Unthronged Oracle, Jack Blackmore tackled the causes of the neglect of Riding’s poetry, and demonstrated the strength and depth of the poems and the continuity of thought between them and her ‘post-poetic’ work, in particular The Telling, her spiritual testament. Here he provides a substantial introduction arguing that Poet: A Lying Word represented both the main crisis in and the climax to Riding’s poetic career, a period in which she threw her all into the crucible of poetry. The result was the most original, and in important ways the finest, collection of poems of the twentieth century.
“The authority, the dignity of truth-telling, lost by poetry to science may gradually be regained. If it is, these poems should one day be a kind of Principia’ – Robert Fitzgerald.
‘Here is poetry as an articulation of the most exquisite consciousness, poetry as completely wakeful existence realised in words, with at the end of it the news that even poetry will not do. Here is work that reads the person reading it’ – Robert Nye