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Poetry

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Old Man of Corfu

‘The woes of painters!’ lamented Edward Lear in a letter to a friend in 1862. Earlier that day, he was pottering around his apartment in Corfu Town, when, glancing out… Read more

Clive James

26 May 2012

This month has been the launching season for my new collection of poems, Nefertiti in the Flak Tower. Not many younger people, I have been discovering, know what a flak… Read more

Heroics and mock-heroics

14 April 2012
Jubilee Lines: 60 Poets for 60 Years edited by Carol Ann Duffy

Faber, pp.134, 12.99

‘Poets don’t count well,’ says Ian Duhig in his contribution to Jubilee Lines — an assertion unexpectedly confirmed by Carol Ann Duffy’s preface. Admittedly, if the book did contain one… Read more

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Godfather of rap

28 January 2012
The Last Holiday: A Memoir Gil Scott-Heron

Canongate, pp.319, 20

At a funeral in New Orleans in 1901, Joe ‘King’ Oliver played a blues-drenched dirge on the trumpet. This was the new music they would soon call jazz. A century… Read more

A haze of artifice

The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue by W.H. Auden, edited by Alan Jacobs

Princeton University Press, pp.200, 15.95

Auden said: ‘The ideal audience the poet imagines consists of the beautiful who go to bed with him, the powerful who invite him to dinner and tell him secrets of… Read more

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Nostalgie de la boue

19 March 2011
Edgelands: Journeys into England’s Wilderness Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts

Cape, pp.264, 12.99

In the late 1960s I grew up in the London borough of Greenwich, which in those days had a shabby, post-industrial edge. Behind our house on Crooms Hill stood a… Read more

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This be the verse

27 November 2010

Spending pleasurable hours looking for books is not like drilling for oil. Recently, however, while browsing in the excellent Slightly Foxed bookshop in Gloucester Road, the black stuff spewed out… Read more

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Two of a kind

23 October 2010
Letters to Monica by Philip Larkin edited by Anthony Thwaite

Faber, pp.475, 22.50

They were ‘soulmates’ according to people who knew both of them. They were ‘soulmates’ according to people who knew both of them. The word has a double-edged quality; it may… Read more

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This mortal coil

18 September 2010
Human Chain Seamus Heaney

Faber, pp.96, 12.99

Among the most famous of all living poets, Nobel Laureate, highly educated, revered for his lectures and ideas as well as for his poetry, Seamus Heaney has a daunting reputation.… Read more

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From void to void, with time to kill

21 August 2010
Bomber County: The Lost Airmen of World War Two Daniel Swift

Hamish Hamilton, pp.269, 20

Just as the slaughter in the trenches of Flanders and northern France gave birth to the tragic verses of Wilfred Owen, so the experience of bombing and being bombed between… Read more

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Indian snakes and ladders

17 March 2010
Where the Serpent Lives Ruth Padel

Little Brown, pp.308, 12.99

The Temple-goers Aatish Taseer

Penguin, pp.296, 12.99

Award-winning poet Ruth Padel established her prose credentials with her autobiographical travel book, Tigers in Red Weather. Journalist Aatish Taseer trawled his own past and background for his memoir, Stranger… Read more

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Fleeing fog and filth

24 February 2010
Kipling Abroad Andrew Lycett

I.B. Tauris, pp.254, 19.50

In a sense, as this interesting collection of his writings makes clear, Rudyard Kipling was always abroad. His first vivid memories were of an early childhood in Bombay, ‘light and… Read more

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Not ‘a boy-crazed trollop’

17 February 2010
Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and her Family’s Feuds Lyndall Gordon

Virago, pp.491, 20

For someone who barely left the house, Emily Dickinson didn’t half cause a lot of trouble. For someone who barely left the house, Emily Dickinson didn’t half cause a lot… Read more

Was he anti-Semitic?

11 November 2009
The Letters of T. S. Eliot, Volume I 1898-1922 Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton (editors)

Faber, pp.871, 35

The Letters of T. S. Eliot, Volume II, 1923-1925 Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton (editors)

Faber, pp.878, 35

Letters give us the life as lived — day-to-day, shapeless, haphazard, contingent, imperfect, authentic. Letters give us the life as lived — day-to-day, shapeless, haphazard, contingent, imperfect, authentic. That is… Read more

Fiery genius

16 September 2009
John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in Art Frances Spalding

Oxford University Press, pp.598, 25

In July 1967, a young artist named John Nankivell, living in Wantage, plucked up the courage to knock on John Betjeman’s front door, in the same town, to show the… Read more

Exit the hero

6 May 2009
The Movement Reconsidered: Larkin, Amis, Gunn, Davie and their Contemporaries Zachary Leader (editor)

OUP, pp.319, 18.99

It was in The Spectator, in 1954, that the Movement was christened, and its members’ stereotyped image was soon set: white, male (except for Elizabeth Jennings), non-posh poets who rhymed… Read more

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Old gipsy-man

25 March 2009
Dreaming of Babylon: The Life and Times of Ralph Hodgson John Harding

Greenwich Exchange Publishing, pp.226, 16.99

Who reads Ralph Hodgson’s poetry today? Probably few people under the age of 40 have even heard of this strange Englishman who died in 1961 in a small town in… Read more

Freedom and houghmagandie

21 January 2009
The Bard: Robert Burns, A Biography Robert Crawford

Cape, pp.466, 20

Robert Burns: A Biography Patrick Scott Hogg

Mainstream, pp.368, 17.99

The Bard: Robert Burns, A Biography, by Robert Crawford Robert Burns: A Biography, by Patrick Scott Hogg How to account for the phenomenon of Robert Burns? Not the man or… Read more

His own best biographer

14 January 2009
Byron in Love Edna O’Brien

Weidenfeld, pp.240, 12.99

Byron in Love, by Edna O’Brien ‘We would entreat him to believe that a certain portion of liveliness, somewhat of fancy, is necessary to constitute a poem,’ wrote Henry Brougham… Read more