Clive James

Clive James was one of the earliest contributors to the LRB, which published nearly fifty of his poems and reviews between 1979 and 2005. He died in 2019.

Poem: ‘Lock Me Away’

Clive James, 22 September 2005

In the NHS psychiatric test

For classifying the mentally ill

You have to spell ‘world’ backwards.

Since I heard this, I can’t stop doing it.

The first time I tried pronouncing the results

I got a sudden flaring picture

Of Danny La Rue in short pants

With his mouth full of marshmallows.

He was giving his initial and surname

To a new schoolteacher.

Now every time I read the

Poem: ‘The Zero Pilot’

Clive James, 5 February 2004

On the Hiryu, Hajime Toyoshima Starred in the group photos like Andy Hardy, He was so small and cute. His face, as friendly as his first name (In Japanese you say hajime at first meeting), Could have been chirping: ‘Hey, why don’t we Put the show on right here in the barn?’ After Pearl Harbor he was one of the great ship’s heroes And the attack on Darwin promised him...

Antony and Cleopatra swam at Mersa Matruh In the clear blue shallows. Imagine the clean sand, the absence of litter – No plastic bottles or scraps of styrofoam packing, No jetsam at all except the occasional corpse Of a used slave tossed off a galley – And the shrieks of the dancing Queen as the hero splashed her While her cheer-squad of ladies-in-waiting giggled on cue, The...

A bit of a fast-talking dame herself, Maria DiBattista is justifiably excited by the characteristic flip lip of her prewar and wartime Hollywood heroines. In her mind, I imagine, she is of their number: Jean Harlow, Rosalind Russell, Irene Dunne, Barbara Stanwyck, Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn, Maria DiBattista. A professor of English and comparative literature at Princeton, and published...

Poem: ‘The Eternity Man’

Clive James, 20 July 1995

Never filmed, he was photographed only once, Looking up startled into the death-trap flash Like a threatened life-form. Still underlining his copybook one-word message With the flourish that doubled back under the initial ‘E’, He was caught red-eyed with the stark white chalk in his hand Writing Eternity.

Before he died in 1967 At the age of eighty-eight He had managed to write it...

Burning Love: Clive James’s Dante

Colin Burrow, 24 October 2013

Everyone agrees that The Divine Comedy is wonderful. Just a shaft of song from the spirits in paradise, a phrase or two of Marco of Lombardy in purgatory explaining the birth of the soul, or even...

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Roth, Pinter, Berlin and Me: Clive James

Christopher Tayler, 11 March 2010

‘An onlooker’, Clive James writes in North Face of Soho (2006), the fourth instalment of his memoirs, ‘might say that I have Done Something. But I’m still not entirely...

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Lucky Brrm

John Sutherland, 12 March 1992

Recently in this journal C.K. Stead explained the dilemma of being a popular Australasian performer in England: ‘He can only be fully understood at home: but there he’s likely to...

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Modern Masters

Frank Kermode, 24 May 1990

The qualities these Australian writers have in common, apart from their nationality, are exotic industry, autobiographical fluency and, to adapt what somebody once said about Ford Madox Ford, a...

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Australia strikes back

Les Murray, 13 October 1988

Among Australians, there are punishments for making one’s career abroad, just as there are for living and writing at home. Few of these punishments have come Clive James’s way. His...

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Carnival Time

Peter Craven, 18 February 1988

The more Britain affects a déclassé manner while Thatcherism increases the gulf between rich and poor, the more it comes, superficially, to resemble Australia. Linguists speculate...

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Like a row of books by Faber

Peter Porter, 22 January 1987

It was the young Auden, writing at about the time he was composing his ‘Letter to Lord Byron’, who declared that you could tell if someone was going to be a poet by considering his...

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Opera Mundi

Michael Neve, 1 December 1983

Opera and opera-going proliferate at very strange times. The opera revival of the last decade is a matter of considerable interest, since in some ways it seems so inappropriate, so profligate,...

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Chances are

Michael Wood, 7 July 1983

‘What a chapter of chances,’ Tristram Shandy’s father says, ‘what a long chapter of chances do the events of this world lay open to us!’ The thought is echoed in the...

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Christopher Ricks, 17 June 1982

‘He is stuck on himself. It isn’t all that easy to see why. He is, after all, only a literary journalist.’ Clive James hardily dispatches someone who is a television celebrity...

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Ian Hamilton, 2 July 1981

The first ‘poems’ by Clive James I can remember seeing were in fact song lyrics written to go with the music of Pete Atkin. I call them ‘poems’ because that’s what...

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Banality and Anxiety

Michael Mason, 19 March 1981

It is common knowledge that British publishing is in the doldrums. This is generally thought of as a temporary state of affairs, but it is conceivable that something irreversible is taking place....

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The Whole Secret of Clive James

Karl Miller, 22 May 1980

A little over a year ago, a very good play was screened on BBC Television, Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills. A troupe of adult actors climbed into shorts and re-enacted the days of...

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