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Born in a Land where Yoghurt Rules the Roost

Paul Driver: Sibelius, 26 November 1998

Sibelius. Vol. III: 1914-57 
by Erik Tawaststjerna, edited by Robert Layton.
Faber, 384 pp., £30, January 1997, 0 571 19085 5
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... in the present version of Tawaststjerna’s book. Aping Sibelius’s own habits of compression, Robert Layton has run the last two Swedish Finnish volumes into one, truncating or omitting the musicological I chapters that counterpoint the biographical narrative throughout and unbalancing his own English version, which retains them in Volumes I (a ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2005, 5 January 2006

... though, are a delight and I stand addressing the camera while caressing the 15th-century Sir Robert Waterton and his wife, Cecily. At my back is Lionel, Lord Welles with his bruiser’s face, pudding-basin haircut and elaborate armour, which did not save him from being cut down at Towton on Palm Sunday 1461. Unnoticed on previous visits is a sad little ...

Funny Mummy

E.S. Turner, 2 December 1982

The Penguin Stephen Leacock 
by Robertson Davies.
Penguin, 527 pp., £2.95, October 1981, 0 14 005890 7
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Jerome K. Jerome: A Critical Biography 
by Joseph Connolly.
Orbis, 208 pp., £7.95, August 1982, 0 85613 349 3
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Three Men in a Boat 
by Jerome K. Jerome, annotated and introduced by Christopher Matthew and Benny Green.
Joseph, 192 pp., £12.50, August 1982, 0 907516 08 4
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The Lost Stories of W.S. Gilbert 
edited by Peter Haining.
Robson, 255 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 86051 200 2
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... became a highly-paid lecturer. He died in 1944. Leacock held his own in the world of Will Rogers, Robert Benchley, James Thurber, the early Wodehouse, A.P. Herbert and ‘Beachcomber’. Americans, or some of them, accepted him as a successor to Mark Twain. His Yankee-style hyperbole did not, for once, upset the British, for he practised the tricks of ‘sly ...

Weirdo Possible Genius Child

Daniel Soar: Max Porter, 23 May 2019

by Max Porter.
Faber, 213 pp., £12.99, March 2019, 978 0 571 34028 6
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... is now writing a soon-to-be-bestselling crime novel with plenty of sex and murder. Her husband, Robert, often rudely called ‘Rob’ by unthinking friends, is a highly adapted commuting machine who works in Canary Wharf and times his drive to the station to perfection. She is interesting, he is not. And they have a child, Lanny, who is both interesting and ...

The Nominee

Andrew O’Hagan: With the Democrats, 19 August 2004

... afternoon, with its atmosphere of electioneering and death, brings to mind the insistent taps of Robert Lowell’s ‘For the Union Dead’: The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier grow slimmer and younger each year – wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets and muse through their sideburns. Senator John Forbes Kerry, the nominee, didn’t spring ...


John Sutherland, 7 June 1984

The Place of Dead Roads 
by William Burroughs.
Calder, 306 pp., £9.95, April 1984, 0 7145 4030 7
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by Denis Johnson.
Chatto, 209 pp., £7.95, March 1984, 0 7011 2777 5
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Moll Cutpurse: Her True History 
by Ellen Galford.
Stramullion, 221 pp., £4.50, May 1984, 0 907343 03 1
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... they are reunited. For no particular reason, they move on to Phoenix, where they gather a little moss in the shape of Bill’s Bible-crazy mother and his two brothers, one of whom is a drunk, the other a junky. The Houston brothers hamfistedly attempt bank robbery. Bill kills a guard, and qualifies as the first criminal to go to the gas chamber under ...

For ever England

John Lucas, 16 June 1983

Sherston’s Progress 
by Siegfried Sassoon.
Faber, 150 pp., £2.25, March 1983, 9780571130337
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The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon 
by Rupert Hart-Davis.
Faber, 160 pp., £5.25, March 1983, 0 571 13010 0
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Siegfried Sassoon Diaries 1915-1918 
edited by Rupert Hart-Davis.
Faber, 288 pp., £10.50, March 1983, 0 571 11997 2
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... to gateways in garden-walls that they might gaze along dewy lawns with lovers murmuring by the moss-grown sundial; I would lead them ’twixt hawthorn hedgerows, and over field-path stiles, to old-world orchards where the lush grass is strewn with red-cheeked apples, and even the wasps have lost their stings. From the grey church-tower comes a chiming of ...


Ian Hamilton, 1 October 1987

The Haw-Lantern 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 52 pp., £7.95, June 1987, 0 571 14780 1
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... Beg’ and ‘A Postcard from North Antrim’, Heaney sounds that ‘heartbreak’ note which Robert Lowell used to talk about. Maybe Lowell talked to him about it. Field Work has an elegy in memory of Lowell (‘the master elegist’), and the two poets saw each other often during the mid-Seventies. In this book, even the ‘love-poems’ (a genre Heaney ...

What’s this?

Ian Sansom: A. Alvarez, 24 August 2000

Where Did It All Go Right? 
by A. Alvarez.
Richard Cohen, 344 pp., £20, September 1999, 1 86066 173 4
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... and also about the happiness of writing a poem, about drinking with John Berryman, dining with Robert Lowell, driving with Stirling Moss, about his lovers, and briefly about his first – brief – marriage, to Frieda Lawrence’s granddaughter. There are in fact more than enough highly polished little gems about family ...

Perfectly Mobile, Perfectly Still

David Craig: Land Artists, 14 December 2000

by Andy Goldsworthy.
Thames and Hudson, 203 pp., £35, August 2000, 0 500 51026 1
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... lash to and fro like a dog shaking a rat. Compare this work of nature with Spiral Jetty, which Robert Smithson built out into Great Salt Lake in Utah thirty years ago. It’s more neatly coiled than the spit at Rudha Cailleach. Both change continually, the one in its shape, the other in its invisibility; indeed Salt Lake rose recently and drowned the ...

Bye-bye, NY

Ange Mlinko: Harry Mathews’s Fever Dream, 18 March 2021

Collected Poems: 1946-2016 
by Harry Mathews.
Sand Paper Press, 288 pp., $28, February 2020, 978 0 9843312 8 4
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... in the coastal village of Deià in Mallorca. There they had their second child and they asked Robert Graves to name him – Philip. ‘The Relics’, which appeared in Mathews’s first collection, The Ring (1970), is a set of variations on imaginary landscapes in yellow and red, bringing to mind the Phrygian Midas, and a landscape turning to clanking ...

The Excursions

Andrew O’Hagan, 16 June 2011

... Keats walked this coast he felt it followed him,’ I said. But our plans involved Robert Burns. Karl, since he first began publishing Seamus in the New Statesman in the 1960s, always felt there was a clear affinity between Burns and Heaney. They were both the sons of farmers and they both allowed nature to oxygenate the mind and inflect the ...

Chop, Chop, Chop

Adam Mars-Jones: ‘Grief Is the Thing with Feathers’, 21 January 2016

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers 
by Max Porter.
Faber, 114 pp., £10, September 2015, 978 0 571 32376 0
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... smelling to human nostrils of decay, ‘a sweet furry stink of just-beyond-edible food, and moss, and leather, and yeast’. Crow has a nose of his own, and assesses the widower’s bouquet with a wine columnist’s precision and panache: ‘notes of rotten hedge, bluebottles’. His relationship to his victim/client has a number of ...

Poetry and Christianity

Barbara Everett, 4 February 1982

Three for Water-Music 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 69 pp., £2.95, July 1981, 0 85635 363 9
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The New Oxford Book of Christian Verse 
edited by Donald Davie.
Oxford, 319 pp., £7.95, September 1981, 0 19 213426 4
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... Cut down of a Sunday morning by dragoons     Grounded the English Covenant In ling and peat-moss. Sound of singing drifts     Tossed up like spume, persistently Pulsing through history and out of it. Davie’s work has integrity in the simple sense: it holds together, and preoccupations recur in different forms and throw light on each other alike ...

A Use for the Stones

Jacqueline Rose: On Being Nadine Gordimer, 20 April 2006

Get a Life 
by Nadine Gordimer.
Bloomsbury, 187 pp., £16.99, November 2005, 0 7475 8175 4
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... victims of Western standards of humanity.’ Editing the piece for the New York Review of Books, Robert Silvers objected to the unqualified critique of Western capitalism: ‘Won’t you keep in mind the Western reader who might not want to cross the slag heaps with you?’ (She felt he had edited the piece into a ‘mild, unchallenging plea’.) With its ...

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