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What a carry-on

Seamus Perry: W.S. Graham, 18 July 2019

W.S. GrahamNew Selected Poems 
edited by Matthew Francis.
Faber, 144 pp., £12.99, September 2018, 978 0 571 34844 2
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W.S. Graham 
edited by Michael Hofmann.
NYRB, 152 pp., £9.99, October 2018, 978 1 68137 276 1
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... Many poets​ end up having a hard life but W.S. Graham went out of his way to have one. His dedication to poetry, about which he seems never to have had a second thought, was remorseless, and his instinct, surely a peculiarly modern one, was that the way to nurture his creativity was to have a really bad time. ‘The poet or painter steers his life to maim//Himself somehow for the job,’ he wrote in a posthumous address to the painter Peter Lanyon ...

Travelling in circles

Robert Taubman, 3 December 1981

The Mosquito Coast 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 392 pp., £7.95, October 1981, 0 241 10688 5
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... London, Dorset, Cape Cod, and now in Honduras; and produced as many different kinds of novel. Graham Greene ranges as widely, but the Greene themes and style impose them selves; and Theroux has written on V.S. Naipaul’s themes. Apparently his own work doesn’t have the same sort of continuities. But we can spot, at least, a traveller’s interests and ...

Indigo, Cyanine, Beryl

Helen Vendler: Jorie Graham’s Daring, 23 January 2003

by Jorie Graham.
Carcanet, 112 pp., £9.95, September 2002, 1 85754 621 0
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... The new volume of poems by my Harvard colleague Jorie Graham, in its US edition, bears on its jacket a detail from Vermeer’s The Astronomer, showing the hand of the astronomer as it touches, almost affectionately, the zodiacal globe it is about to spin. Although the star-gazer cannot make physical contact with his remote field of vision, the caressing way his finger lies on the surface of the globe suggests his intense intimacy with the sky ...

Firm Lines

Hermione Lee, 17 November 1983

Bartleby in Manhattan, and Other Essays 
by Elizabeth Hardwick.
Weidenfeld, 292 pp., £8.95, September 1983, 0 297 78357 2
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... afresh some of the most over-described American phenomena: the Black Power movement, Billy Graham and the television ministries, the sexual revolution as seen in Trash and The Groupies. She has a talent for spotting transitions and overlaps: how the ‘pastoral’ period of the Civil Rights movement gave way to the urban black militants, how the ...

Brooksie and Faust

Angela Carter, 8 March 1990

Louise Brooks 
by Barry Paris.
Hamish Hamilton, 640 pp., £20, February 1990, 0 241 12541 3
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... It was also as chaste an establishment as a convent. One of Denishawn’s then stars was Martha Graham. Later, Brooks would say she learnt to act by watching Martha Graham dance, and to dance by watching Charlie Chaplin act. Brooks wrote in her journal, reminding herself how hard she must work, since ‘I some day intend ...

Dark Pieces on Dark Places

Malcolm Deas, 3 July 1980

The Return of Eva Peron with The Killings in Trinidad 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Deutsch, 227 pp., £5.95, June 1980, 0 233 97238 2
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... earlier but similar process: Who were the enemies of the people? His response was tabulated and swift. ‘American imperialism. And Its native allies. The oligarchy, the dependent bourgeoisie, Zionism, and the ‘sepoy’ left. By sepoys we mean the Communist Party and socialism in general.’ It seemed a comprehensive list. Who were the ...

Getting it right

Frank Kermode, 7 May 1981

Interpretation: An Essay in the Philosophy of Literary Criticism 
by P.D. Juhl.
Princeton, 332 pp., £11.20, January 1981, 0 691 07242 6
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... it relates to significance and not to meaning. By way of enforcing this distinction, he considers Swift’s ‘Modest Proposal’. Somebody is quoted as having maintained that this work has ‘something to say’ about the Vietnam War, and his application is permitted as an instance of significance. The meaning of the pamphlet, however, is entirely a matter ...

Irishness is for other people

Terry Eagleton: Enrique Vila-Matas, 19 July 2012

by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated by Anne McLean and Rosalind Harvey.
Harvill Secker, 245 pp., £16.99, June 2012, 978 1 84655 489 6
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... and admiration. From Oliver Goldsmith and Oscar Wilde to George Bernard Shaw, Brendan Behan and Graham Norton, John Bull’s other island has furnished the British with a series of talented court jesters, praised and patronised in equal measure. Ireland was burdened with the task of writing much of its rulers’ great literature for them. The Irish ...

Agh, Agh, Yah, Boo

David Wheatley: Ian Hamilton Finlay, 4 December 2014

Midway: Letters from Ian Hamilton Finlay to Stephen Bann, 1964-69 
edited by Stephen Bann.
Wilmington Square, 426 pp., £25, May 2014, 978 1 905524 34 1
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... coherent image. But, anchor equals stability and moorings, and swallow is equally an image of the swift and fleeting – as cloud is an image of the drifting, dissolving, and passing, of all things.’ Finlay is not much given to the simile. Things aren’t like other things, they just are other things. The letters don’t mention Hopkins, but Finlay’s ...


Nicholas Penny: At the races, 6 February 2003

... in colour of what was surveyed on black and white television with an Olympian commentary by Clive Graham and Peter O’Sullevan. ‘Under starter’s orders,’ the public address system boomed. A hush fell over the distant stands. ‘They’re off.’ As the thunder of the hoofs receded, the roar of the punters rose. The Red Cross van lumbered slowly in ...

Its Own Dark Styx

Marina Warner, 20 March 1997

The Nature of Blood 
by Caryl Phillips.
Faber, 224 pp., £15.99, February 1997, 0 571 19073 1
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... is the Stern of the Stern Gang.) This is also Ishiguro’s unemphatic method, and to some extent, Graham Swift’s, both of them contemporaries of Phillips. It could not be more different from Rushdie’s method, or Angela Carter’s: they are baroque ironists, for whom the interest swirls and flares on the mobile and sumptuous surface of the ...

Mother One, Mother Two

Jeremy Harding: A memoir, 31 March 2005

... again at the top, the characters decidedly smaller and the sheet itself upside down. Finally a swift descent was effected in the left-hand margin, finishing with a bump in the bottom corner, which always took the same affectionate form. It was only as she was coming to the end of a thing that Colin’s mother ever seemed to get the measure of it – which ...

The Grey Boneyard of Fifties England

Iain Sinclair, 22 August 1996

A Perfect Execution 
by Tim Binding.
Picador, 344 pp., £15.99, May 1996, 0 330 34564 8
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... Tim Binding is a confident writer. His paragraphs, lengthy but under control, take swift possession of the thick sheaf of pages, imposing form. The narrative voice is modestly assertive. There is a tale to be told. The taleteller, having caught your attention, will not let go. No tricks, no mannerisms, no eye-catching Modernist flourishes: that’s the trick of it ...


Christopher Hitchens: In Washington, 7 February 1991

... abroad.’ Considerations of this kind tend to be forgotten once war begins, but one day the swift evolution from Desert Shield through Imminent Thunder to Desert Storm will make a great feast for an analytical historian. For now, everything in Washington has narrowed to a saying of John Kennedy’s, uttered after the Bay of Pigs, to the effect that ...

Great Internationalists

Rupert Cornwell, 2 February 1989

Philby: The Life and Views of the KGB Masterspy 
by Phillip Knightley.
Deutsch, 291 pp., £14.95, October 1988, 0 233 98360 0
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Mask of Treachery: The First Documented Dossier on Blunt, MI5 and Soviet Subversion 
by John Costello.
Collins, 761 pp., £18, November 1988, 0 00 217536 3
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A Divided Life: A Biography of Donald Maclean 
by Robert Cecil.
Bodley Head, 212 pp., £15, October 1988, 0 370 31129 9
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The Storm Birds: Soviet Post-War Defectors 
by Gordon Brook-Shepherd.
Weidenfeld, 303 pp., £14.95, November 1988, 0 297 79464 7
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... war? Even protection of his own cover as a Russian agent would have been less precious than the swift elimination of Penkovsky. Robert Cecil, who was working under Maclean at the Foreign Office when he bolted, insists there was no tip-off from a traitor in British intelligence to the effect that Maclean’s interrogation could start as soon as the following ...

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