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Locked and Barred

Robert Crawford: Elizabeth Jennings, 24 July 2003

New Collected Poems 
by Elizabeth Jennings.
Carcanet, 386 pp., £9.95, February 2002, 1 85754 559 1
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... the grain of the language is often a smoother, less arresting version of that of Edwin Muir or George Herbert. It’s hard to believe most of these poems were written in the last quarter-century. One distinguished contemporary poet scowled when I told him I was reading Jennings’s Collected Poems: ‘Life’s too short.’ As I read, though, I was ...

Bullshit and Beyond

Clive James, 18 February 1988

The Road to Botany Bay 
by Paul Carter.
Faber, 384 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 571 14551 5
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The Oxford History of Australia. Vol. IV: 1901-1942 
by Stuart Macintyre.
Oxford, 399 pp., £22.50, October 1987, 0 19 554612 1
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The Archibald Paradox: A Strange Case of Authorship 
by Sylvia Lawson.
Penguin Australia, 292 pp., AUS $12.95, September 1987, 0 14 009848 8
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The Lucky Country Revisited 
by Donald Horne.
Dent, 235 pp., AUS $34.95, October 1987, 9780867700671
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... a milieu, or space, in which the standards of plain speaking were set by the redoubtable Michael Davie, who really should get back there and sort out his errant protégés as soon as possible. Good journalists should not waste time producing bad PhD theses. In the academic context there is some reason for the success of pseudo-scientific guff: emptying the ...

Accidents of Priority

John Redmond, 22 August 1996

Can You Hear, Bird 
by John Ashbery.
Carcanet, 128 pp., £9.95, February 1996, 9781857542240
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The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 
by Jorie Graham.
Carcanet, 220 pp., £12.95, March 1996, 1 85754 225 8
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Selected Poems 
by Barbara Guest.
Carcanet, 220 pp., £12.95, May 1996, 1 85754 158 8
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Selected Poems 1976-1996 
by George Szirtes.
Oxford, 126 pp., £9.99, March 1996, 0 19 283223 9
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Adam’s Dream 
by Peter McDonald.
Bloodaxe, 64 pp., £6.95, March 1996, 1 85224 333 3
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... please’, ‘Yoo hoo’), daft, slightly old-fashioned exclamations (‘by Gosh’, ‘by George’, ‘by Golly’) and corny ones (‘Heck’, ‘Darn!’, ‘nifty’, ‘critter’, ‘dangblasted’). This fits in well with the book’s obsessive concern with past fashions, games that are no longer played, flowers that are no longer worn, and ...

Modernisms

Frank Kermode, 22 May 1986

Pound, Yeats, Eliot and the Modernist Movement 
by C.K. Stead.
Macmillan, 393 pp., £27.50, March 1986, 0 333 37457 6
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The Myth of Modernism and 20th-century Literature 
by Bernard Bergonzi.
Harvester, 216 pp., £25, January 1986, 0 7108 1002 4
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The Innocent Eye: On Modern Literature and the Arts 
by Roger Shattuck.
Faber, 362 pp., £15, March 1986, 0 571 12071 7
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... are variously described (‘classic’ as against ‘modern’, for instance, or, to name names, George Eliot as against Joyce). It is probably useless to protest against the almost universal scholarly passion for periodisation: to have cardinal dates and canonical works associated with those dates is convenient, a useful fiction of which we forget the ...

The Best Stuff

Ian Jack: David Astor, 2 June 2016

David Astor: A Life in Print 
by Jeremy Lewis.
Cape, 400 pp., £25, March 2016, 978 0 224 09090 2
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... and had high hopes of political advancement, but these came crashing down when in 1916 Lloyd George’s coalition offered his father a peerage to reward his philanthropy and his newspapers’ longstanding support of the Conservative cause. Waldorf was furious when his father accepted, because he would have to succeed him as the second Baron Astor, which ...

Take out all the adjectives

Jeremy Harding: The poetry of George Oppen, 6 May 2004

New Collected Poems 
by George Oppen, edited by Michael Davidson.
Carcanet, 433 pp., £14.95, July 2003, 1 85754 631 8
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... In ‘The Building of the Skyscraper’, a short poem which appeared in the Nation in 1964, George Oppen wrote: The steel worker on the girder Learned not to look down, and does his work And there are words we have learned Not to look at, Not to look for substance Below them. But we are on the verge Of vertigo. It’s hard to tell from this poem, published when Oppen was in his mid-fifties, or from any of his poems, what words he was thinking of ...

Trouble down there

Ferdinand Mount: Tea with Sassoon, 7 August 2003

Siegfried Sassoon: The Making of a War Poet 1886-1918 
by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
Duckworth, 600 pp., £9.99, September 2002, 0 7156 2894 1
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Siegfried Sassoon: The Journey from the Trenches 1918-67 
by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
Duckworth, 526 pp., £30, April 2003, 0 7156 2971 9
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Sassoon: The Worlds of Philip and Sybil 
by Peter Stansky.
Yale, 295 pp., £25, April 2003, 0 300 09547 3
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... out of practice in company. His wife, Hester, had long since been turfed out and their only son, George, was away and for the moment estranged, too. But this was Sassoon’s normal way of talking (his poetry readings at the height of his fame had often been more or less inaudible), and it was no obstacle to a formidable eloquence when he got going. He talked ...

Why didn’t he commit suicide?

Frank Kermode: Reviewing T.S. Eliot, 4 November 2004

T.S. Eliot: The Contemporary Reviews 
by Jewel Spears Brooker.
Cambridge, 644 pp., £80, May 2004, 0 521 38277 7
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... the poet’s enthusiastic disciples? And this scepticism soon led to more serious charges. Donald Davie was one critic who insisted that Eliot, not only in the early poems but just as dangerously in Four Quartets, had turned English poetry off its proper course. The debate continues. Eliot’s stock seems at present rather low. The second curve, the curve of ...

Elegant Extracts

Leah Price: Anthologies, 3 February 2000

The Oxford Book of English Verse 
edited by Christopher Ricks.
Oxford, 690 pp., £25, October 1999, 0 19 214182 1
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The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume One 
edited by M.H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt.
Norton, 2974 pp., £22.50, December 1999, 0 393 97487 1
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The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume Two 
edited by M.H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt.
Norton, 2963 pp., £22.50, February 2000, 9780393974911
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The Longman Anthology of British Literature: Volume One 
edited by David Damrosch.
Longman, 2963 pp., $53, July 1999, 0 321 01173 2
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The Longman Anthology of British Literature: Volume Two 
edited by David Damrosch.
Longman, 2982 pp., $53, July 1999, 0 321 01174 0
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Night & Horses & The Desert: An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature 
edited by Robert Irwin.
Allen Lane, 480 pp., £25, September 1999, 0 7139 9153 4
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News that Stays News: The 20th Century in Poems 
edited by Simon Rae.
Faber, 189 pp., £9.99, October 1999, 0 571 20060 5
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Time’s Tidings: Greeting the 21st Century 
by Carol Ann Duffy.
Anvil, 157 pp., £7.95, November 1999, 0 85646 313 2
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Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the 20th Century in Poetry 
edited by Peter Forbes.
Penguin, 640 pp., £12.99, February 1999, 9780140588996
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... by a miniature anthology of elegant extracts from ‘our poet-critics’, Dryden to Donald Davie. Both essays substitute bravura appreciations for the comfortable tautologies which padded out Arthur Quiller-Couch’s preface to the first Oxford Book (‘the best is the best’). But in neither does Ricks find time to explain why Derek Walcott, who once ...

Very like St Paul

Ian Sansom: Johnny Cash, 9 March 2006

The Man Called Cash: The Life, Love and Faith of an American Legend 
by Steve Turner.
Bloomsbury, 363 pp., £8.99, February 2006, 0 7475 8079 0
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Walk the Line 
directed by James Mangold.
November 2005
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... all of its fleshly temptations and attendant despairs, is an obvious incitement to grace; thus, George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, and Rock Against Racism, and Live Aid, and Farm Aid, and Red Wedge, and Rock the Vote, and Live 8, Coldplay, U2, the late and the later John Lennon, and perhaps almost as many good causes as there are actors. It can ...

Concierge

John Lanchester, 16 November 1995

Sons of Ezra: British Poets and Ezra Pound 
edited by Michael Alexander and James McGonigal.
Rodopi, 183 pp., $23.50, July 1995, 90 5183 840 9
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‘In Solitude, for Company’: W.H. Auden after 1940 
edited by Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins.
Oxford, 338 pp., £40, November 1995, 0 19 818294 5
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Auden 
by Richard Davenport-Hines.
Heinemann, 406 pp., £20, October 1995, 0 434 17507 2
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Wystan and Chester: A Personal Memoir of W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman 
by Thekla Clark.
Faber, 130 pp., £12.99, October 1995, 0 571 17591 0
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... runs through Sons of Ezra, which has pieces by a range of poets from grand old men (Morgan, Donald Davie) to established talents in mid-career (Charles Tomlinson, Douglas Dunn) to new Best of Young British megastars (W.N. Herbert, Robert Crawford). But the fact relevant to Pound’s current standing is the one in Michael Alexander and James McGonigal’s ...

Imagine Tintin

Michael Hofmann: Basil Bunting, 9 January 2014

A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting 
by Richard Burton.
Infinite Ideas, 618 pp., £30, September 2013, 978 1 908984 18 0
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... for the first time plays in modernist colours alongside Ireland and the United States. Donald Davie wrote that Bunting was ‘very important in the literary history of the present century as just about the only accredited British member of the Anglo-American poetic avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s’. Yes, he holds the century together, but almost more ...

One word says to its mate

Claire Harman: W.S. Graham, 4 October 2001

The Nightfisherman: Selected Letters of W.S. Graham 
edited by Michael Snow and Margaret Snow.
Carcanet, 401 pp., £12.95, November 1999, 1 85754 445 5
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... without Grievance, was published in 1942 by Archer’s Parton Press, the first to publish Thomas, George Barker and David Gascoyne. The poems were exotic and deliberately obscure, with no explicit themes but a mesmerising vigour and urgency: ‘I, no more real than evil in my roof/Speak at the bliss I pass I can endure/Crowding the glen my lintel ...

So Ordinary, So Glamorous

Thomas Jones: Eternal Bowie, 5 April 2012

Starman: David Bowie, the Definitive Biography 
by Paul Trynka.
Sphere, 440 pp., £9.99, March 2012, 978 0 7515 4293 6
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The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s 
by Peter Doggett.
Bodley Head, 424 pp., £20, September 2011, 978 1 84792 144 4
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... and a mime artist; he’d styled himself as a Mod, a hippy and a Buddhist; he’d called himself Davie Jones, David Jay and David Bowie (after Richard Widmark’s portrayal of Jim Bowie in The Alamo, though he pronounces it the southern English way, the first syllable rhyming with ‘snow’ rather than ‘shoe’ or ‘cow’). Whatever it took. One of the ...

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