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In a Restaurant

Alan Brownjohn, 15 September 1983

... The facing mirrors showed two rooms Which rhymed and balanced beautifully, So everything we wore and ate Shone doubly clear for you and me. In the next image after that Life seemed the same in every way: Green bottles and white tablecloths And cutlery as clean as day; But in the third, things looked a mite Less brilliant than in the first two ... A sort of mist was falling on The features of a dwindling view, And by the time our gaze had gone Searching down to rooms eight and nine, The world seemed darker, and confused, Its outlines harder to define, Its faces tinier ...

A Pride

Alan Brownjohn, 10 January 1991

... In a cold October twilight, down towards An estuary beach of mud and stones, Three lifelong friends lurch and scramble over banks Of red soil, fallen from cliffs which one afternoon, Fifty years ago, broke and carried the whole of a church, Its churchyard and half a road to the shores below. They plunge headlong on crumbling cakes of earth Where tipped-out garbage has mingled with the rubble, And grass and painful gorse grown over it; And sometimes they can’t keep upright, and have to slide On their arses with their hands thrown out to grab At the fragile vegetation ...

Profoundest Love

Alan Brownjohn, 6 November 1986

... She gave him sand from the Tyrrhenian Sea, He sent her a present of sand from the shores of Lake Erie. He dropped some grains of her sand on the edge of the lake, But kept the others, it helped him remember her. She mingled a bit of his sand with the verge of the sea, But retained some grains in a tiny box because They reminded her of him. And this was happening everywhere in the world, Whole deserts exchanged between Asia and Africa, And people everywhere swopping seedlings and saplings, Whole forests exchanged between Finland and Brazil ...

Sevens for Gavin Ewart (1916-1995)

Alan Brownjohn, 4 January 1996

... Something Audenesque for a conclusion?    In dignified, indented, limestone lines? But in Wystan’s geology hills were permanent,    Whereas human geography constantly changes, That being its only constancy. We reach plateaux in life    When friends seem likely always to be there, Changeless features in the landscape. And then –    There are places in poetry where nothing seems Appropriate to write after the sudden dash    Suggesting an interruption, or a shock: The words halt dumbstruck in the mind, in blankness    Of a sort you never showed ...
... for John Betjeman) Miss Frith was put on processing; that glue And all those labels. Not seven months there, And Mr Mortimer, who always said ‘Miss Frith’ and never ‘Gill’ or ‘Gillian’, Right through the informal Nineteen-Sixties, Rested one day his two hands on her hips As she sat cross-legged on the high stool At the labelling desk. She did not squirm, She did not put the labels down; to be A statue of innocence was her way Of making Mr Mortimer redeem His fingers, which (to be fair) he had not Spread out all that widely ...

Sweden’s Turn for the Worse

Alan Brownjohn, 10 October 1991

... The young man from the Russian Republic who had come to the Stockholm election wake had also, rather surprisingly, witnessed the final days of the Walton by-election in Liverpool. ‘Well, I am confused,’ he replied bemusedly to the obvious question. ‘I thought democracy was one style, and it is many.’ He would not be drawn on which he preferred, or on whether anything he had seen in the West could be adapted to his own circumstances ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: New Writing, 8 March 2001

... number of familiar names on the contents page: Barbara Trapido, Anthony Thwaite, Anne Stevenson, Alan Brownjohn, Helen Simpson, Andrew Motion, Michael Hofmann, Alan Sillitoe, Louis de Bernières and Geoff Dyer are ten of them, and ‘new’ isn’t the first word that springs to mind. But there are plenty of good ...


Barbara Everett, 7 May 1981

A Night in the Gazebo 
by Alan Brownjohn.
Secker, 64 pp., £3, November 1980, 0 436 07114 2
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Victorian Voices 
by Anthony Thwaite.
Oxford, 42 pp., £3.95, October 1980, 0 19 211937 0
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The Illusionists 
by John Fuller.
Secker, 138 pp., £3.95, November 1980, 0 436 16810 3
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... aesthetic mode is the shadowy one of parody, as the current tone is the impassively ironic. Thus, Alan Brownjohn’s A Night in the Gazebo ends with a parody, an affectionate rewrite of Sir Gawain called ‘The Seventh Knight and the Green Cat’, which closes with a volte-face. Whatever Mr Brownjohn has to say he says ...

Awkward Bow

Jeremy Noel-Tod: Geoffrey Hill, 6 March 2003

The Orchards of Syon 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Penguin, 72 pp., £9.99, September 2002, 0 14 100991 8
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... relieved by long: cool then hot. The following passage – also declared unfairly difficult, by Alan Brownjohn in the Sunday Times – is a fine example: Fantastic, apocryphal, near fatalistic love of one’s country l bearing wíth it always something under- or over-subscribed, bound to its modicum of the ...

A Messiah in the Family

Walter Nash, 8 February 1990

Kingdom come 
by Bernice Rubens.
Hamish Hamilton, 312 pp., £12.99, February 1990, 0 241 12481 6
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The Other Side 
by Mary Gordon.
Bloomsbury, 337 pp., £13.99, January 1990, 0 7475 0473 3
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The Alchemist 
by Mark Illis.
Bloomsbury, 244 pp., £13.95, January 1990, 0 7475 0468 7
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The way you tell them: A Yarn of the Nineties 
by Alan Brownjohn.
Deutsch, 145 pp., £11.95, January 1990, 0 233 98496 8
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... bafflement for readers who like to go on worrying after they have closed the book. In the case of Alan Brownjohn’s socio-political fable, ambiguity begins with the title, The way you tell them. Tell what? Tell whom? Why, tell jokes, of course (never mind the gags, it’s the way you tell ’em), but also tell the lords of life – tell them off, tell ...

Larkin and Us

Barbara Everett, 4 November 1982

Larkin at Sixty 
edited by Anthony Thwaite.
Faber, 148 pp., £7.95, May 1982, 9780571118786
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The Art of Philip Larkin 
by Simon Petch.
Sydney University Press, 108 pp., £5.95, September 1982, 0 424 00090 3
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... at more intensity in his own best novels; Gavin Ewart’s affectionate ode is almost ideally deft; Alan Bennett’s implacably wary set – piece (‘Why not something more along the lines of a biscuit barrel?’) makes one laugh a good deal more, or more festively, than most festschrift items do. In short, Larkin at Sixty gets a lot of different kinds of ...

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