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Among the Picts

John Sutherland, 18 August 1994

Stained Radiance: A Fictionist’s Prelude 
by J. Leslie Mitchell.
Polygon, 219 pp., £7.95, July 1993, 0 7486 6141 7
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The Speak of the Mearns 
by Lewis Grassic Gibbon.
Polygon, 268 pp., £8.95, June 1994, 0 7486 6167 0
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... readers. Shamefully, he has no entry in the DNB, a distinction he yields to such maestri as Edgar Wallace and Elinor Glyn. As a one-man great tradition, Gibbon labours under disabilities, of which being Scottish in an English-dominated culture is the heaviest. ‘Of peasant rearing and peasant stock’, he was brought up on a farm near Stonehaven. Gibbon left ...


Paul Foot, 19 April 1990

War without Honour 
by Fred Holroyd and Nick Bainbridge.
Medium, 184 pp., £6.95, November 1989, 1 872398 00 6
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... soon afterwards in a series of cases which brought Holroyd into open revolt. An SAS officer called Robert Nairac gave Holroyd a Polaroid photograph of the dead body of an IRA leader called John Green. Nairac, later to be shot himself, told Holroyd he had taken the picture after personally shooting Green. Nairac said that he and two Protestant terrorists had ...


John Bayley, 17 September 1987

Robert Lowell: Essays on the Poetry 
edited by Steven Gould Axelrod and Helen Deese.
Cambridge, 377 pp., £17.50, June 1987, 0 571 14979 0
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Collected Prose 
by Robert Lowell, edited and introduced by Robert Giroux.
Faber, 269 pp., £27.50, February 1987, 0 521 30872 0
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... If Robert Lowell had not been a Lowell would he ever have had the confidence to write the poems he did? It is impossible to imagine the scion of a distinguished English family using that family now as a basis for poetic composition. But all Lowell’s poems are about being a Lowell, or rather, more specifically, about being this Lowell ...

At the RA

Jeremy Harding: Richard Diebenkorn, 7 May 2015

... with work by several artists, including Willem de Kooning and Jim Dine, as well as a selection of Wallace Stevens with a frontispiece by Jasper Johns; 1992 saw an edition of Kaddish, White Shroud and Black Shroud with lithograph portraits by Kitaj. Diebenkorn’s Yeats, which came out between the Stevens and the Ginsberg, contained six of the artist’s ...


William Wootten: Alun Lewis and ‘Frieda’, 5 July 2007

A Cypress Walk: Letters to ‘Frieda’ 
by Alun Lewis.
Enitharmon, 224 pp., £20, October 2006, 1 904634 30 3
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... with the Aykroyds, who kept open house for officers, and had recently entertained a friend of his. Wallace Aykroyd ran the Nutrition Research Laboratories in Coonoor. Freda, while playing the role of colonial wife and mother, wrote book reviews for the Madras Mail and the Calcutta Statesman and was an amateur painter. She also wrote poems. When Lewis walked up ...

Magical Orange Grove

Anne Diebel: Lowell falls in love again, 11 August 2016

Robert Lowell in Love 
by Jeffrey Meyers.
Massachusetts, 288 pp., £36.50, December 2015, 978 1 62534 186 0
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... In the summer​ of 1935, when he was 18, Robert Lowell and two friends from St Mark’s School – Blair Clark and Frank Parker – rented a house in Nantucket. Under Lowell’s direction, they studied the Bible (with special attention to the Book of Job) and ate cereal with raw honey and ‘badly’ cooked eels ...

Snap among the Witherlings

Michael Hofmann: Wallace Stevens, 22 September 2016

The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens 
by Paul Mariani.
Simon and Schuster, 512 pp., £23, May 2016, 978 1 4516 2437 3
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... The​ Soft Machine drummer, Robert Wyatt, his Cockney tenor cracking with fervour, once sang: I’m nearly five foot seven tall I like to smoke and drink and ball I’ve got a yellow suit that’s made by Pam and every day I like an egg and some tea but most of all I like to talk about me. The American poet Wallace Stevens liked his tea – he took to it in connoisseurship and prudence, ‘imported tea’ every afternoon, ‘with some little tea wafers’, partly in order to ease himself off martinis (Elsie, his ‘Pam’, disapproved of his drinking) – but otherwise everything is different ...


Stephen Fender, 19 January 1989

Landscape and Written Expression in Revolutionary America: The world turned upside down 
by Robert Lawson-Peebles.
Cambridge, 384 pp., £35, March 1988, 0 521 34647 9
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Mark Twain’s Letters. Vol. I: 1853-1866 
edited by Edgar Marquess Branch, Michael Frank and Kenneth Sanderson.
California, 616 pp., $35, May 1988, 0 520 03668 9
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A Writer’s America: Landscape in Literature 
by Alfred Kazin.
Thames and Hudson, 240 pp., £15.95, September 1988, 0 500 01424 8
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... writers in their proper locales: ‘It was while walking home with a student one evening that [Wallace] Stevens ... spoke of his recent poem, “Notes toward a Supreme Fiction”. “I said that I thought we’d reached a point at which we could no longer really believe in anything unless we recognised it was a fiction.” Exactly. The ‘place’ was ...
Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered 
by William Pritchard.
Oxford, 186 pp., £14.95, March 1985, 0 19 503462 7
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... of the First World War, London still beckoned aspiring American poets. Ezra Pound arrived in 1908, RobertFrost in 1912, and T.S. Eliot in 1914. When Pound arrived he was only 23, Eliot was 26, but Frost was almost 39. He had been writing poetry, most of it unpublished, for some twenty years, and the difference in style was striking. Set beside ...
Selected Poems 
by James Merrill.
Carcanet, 152 pp., £9.95, April 1996, 1 85754 228 2
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... to think of it, British recognition of Bishop herself was belated; for decades she was upstaged by Robert Lowell, probably because he lived in England and behaved in a way that seemed more certifiably poetic. Now Merrill is available to the English in a slim volume of his best work, selected by him shortly before his death in 1995. Merrill was far from ...

Thirty Years Ago

Patrick Parrinder, 18 July 1985

Still Life 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 358 pp., £9.95, June 1985, 0 7011 2667 1
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Wales’ Work 
by Robert Walshe.
Secker, 279 pp., £8.95, July 1985, 9780436561450
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... a strong conviction that they are showing us living things, and morally significant characters. Robert Walshe’s Wales’ Work is a novel about a practical joker which itself resembles an elaborate series of practical jokes, prodigally inventive, curiously inconsequential, and funny or not according to taste. Much of this first novel is set in a ...

How Does It Add Up?

Neal Ascherson: The Burns Cult, 12 March 2009

The Bard: Robert Burns, a Biography 
by Robert Crawford.
Cape, 466 pp., £20, January 2009, 978 0 224 07768 2
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... to forget that Crick ever set it. Nowhere is it more difficult to observe than in the matter of Robert Burns. Long ago, Edwin Muir said that ‘for a Scotsman to see Burns simply as a poet is almost impossible.’ Robert Crawford, himself an admired and graceful poet, writes on the closing page of The Bard that ...

Escaped from the Lab

Robert Crawford: Peter Redgrove, 21 June 2012

A Lucid Dreamer: The Life of Peter Redgrove 
by Neil Roberts.
Cape, 341 pp., £30, January 2012, 978 0 224 09029 2
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Collected Poems 
by Peter Redgrove, edited by Neil Roberts.
Cape, 496 pp., £25, January 2012, 978 0 224 09027 8
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... poem ‘The Idea of Entropy at Maenporth Beach’ is dedicated to Layard. The title alludes to Wallace Stevens, but as the poem rejoices in enveloping a woman in ‘fat, juicy, incredibly tart muck’, never has Stevens been led in such a strange direction. Slowly she slipped into the muck. It was a white dress, she said, and that was not right. Leathery ...

Pay Attention, Class

Robert Hanks: Giles Foden, 10 September 2009

by Giles Foden.
Faber, 353 pp., £16.99, June 2009, 978 0 571 20522 6
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... weather observation centre, really to inveigle himself into the good graces of a local resident, Wallace Ryman, known as the Prophet. Ryman is a pioneer of numerical weather forecasting, an idea that would not come into its own until the advent of supercomputers made possible the vastly complex calculations involved (and it’s a pretty chancy business even ...

Committee Speak

Robert Alter: Bible Writers, 19 July 2007

Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible 
by Karel van der Toorn.
Harvard, 401 pp., £22.95, March 2007, 978 0 674 02437 3
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... different eras have been fond of rare words, as the recent examples of Mallarmé, T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens will suggest.) Finally, it does no justice whatever to the richness of this particular text to think, for example, of the transcendent meteorological and zoological panorama of the Voice from the Whirlwind as a ‘compendium list’. We shall ...

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