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Vermin Correspondence

Iain Sinclair, 20 October 1994

Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play 
by Ben Watson.
Quartet, 597 pp., £25, May 1994, 0 7043 7066 2
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Her Weasels Wild Returning 
by J.H. Prynne.
Equipage, 12 pp., £2, May 1994
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... Out to Lunch is himself the classic double agent, the turned man. He has a public persona as ‘Ben Watson’ (apologist for his nocturnal self, the crazed poet), columnist for the Wire, broadcaster, and author of the monumental and magnificent folly, Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play. Watson, if he ...


Pooja Bhatia: Media Theranos, 4 November 2021

... Ozy Media began in happier days, around the start of Obama’s second term. Its founders, Carlos Watson and Samir Rao, wanted to create a tech-forward platform for the ‘change generation’ – an allusion to one of Obama’s slogans. Ozy would become a movement, Watson said, but it would begin as an online magazine, published daily, expanding quickly to television and events ...

Only Sleeping

Anne Barton: Variations on Elizabeth I, 10 July 2003

England’s Elizabeth: An Afterlife in Fame and Fantasy 
by Michael Dobson and Nicola J. Watson.
Oxford, 348 pp., £19.99, November 2002, 0 19 818377 1
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... the way she continues four hundred years after her death to conduct, as Michael Dobson and Nicola Watson put it in this engaging book, ‘a posthumous progress through the collective psyche of her country’. Historians, beginning with John Foxe and William Camden in her own time, and extending across the centuries to Patrick Collinson and David Starkey in ...

The poet steamed

Iain Sinclair: Tom Raworth, 19 August 2004

Collected Poems 
by Tom Raworth.
Carcanet, 576 pp., £16.95, February 2003, 1 85754 624 5
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Removed for Further Study: The Poetry of Tom Raworth 
edited by Nate Dorward.
The Gig, 288 pp., £15, March 2003, 0 9685294 3 7
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... the late-explainers call it. No flimflam. Don’t wink at the camera until the camera winks back. Ben Watson, a contributor, like Perloff, to Removed for Further Study (a clutch of bright-eyed and slightly foxed Raworth exegetists, decent folk who are well aware that they are probably talking to themselves), fingers Raworth as ‘a teddy-boy ...

Into the Eisenshpritz

Elif Batuman: Superheroes, 10 April 2008

Life, in Pictures: Autobiographical Stories 
by Will Eisner.
Norton, 493 pp., £18.99, November 2007, 978 0 393 06107 9
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by David B..
Cape, 368 pp., £12.99, March 2006, 0 224 07920 4
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by Adrian Tomine.
Faber, 108 pp., £12.99, September 2007, 978 0 571 23329 8
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Misery Loves Comedy 
by Ivan Brunetti.
Fantagraphics, 172 pp., £15.99, April 2007, 978 1 56097 792 6
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... similar was already in use in the 1890s and 1900s. In narrating Sherlock Holmes’s adventures, Dr Watson typically purports to be extracting, from voluminous casebooks, various cases which can finally be brought to light. As Superman readers belatedly learn of the existence of Superman’s cousin and childhood companion, Supergirl, so Holmes fans learn only ...

Occupation: Novelist

Christopher Beha: Peter Matthiessen, 31 July 2014

In Paradise 
by Peter Matthiessen.
Oneworld, 246 pp., £12.99, April 2014, 978 1 78074 555 8
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... fictionalised reconstruction of the death of the real-life 19th-century Florida sugar farmer Edgar Watson, who was shot and hanged by a posse of his neighbours in mysterious circumstances. His telling of the ‘Watson myth’, as he called it, has one of the strangest publication histories of any recent novel. At some ...

Tiny Little Lars

Joanna Kavenna: Von Trier’s Provocations, 15 April 2004

Trier on von Trier 
edited by Stig Björkman, translated by Neil Smith.
Faber, 288 pp., £16.99, February 2004, 0 571 20707 3
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directed by Lars von Trier.
May 2003
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... with prizes for the films, including the Palme d’Or and the Grand Prix at Cannes; Emily Watson was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Bess in Breaking the Waves. The question that arises is how these blood-stained women fit in with von Trier’s rallying of the avant-garde: whether they say something complex and radical about the human ...

Posthumous Gentleman

Michael Dobson: Kit Marlowe’s Schooldays, 19 August 2004

The World of Christopher Marlowe 
by David Riggs.
Faber, 411 pp., £25, May 2004, 0 571 22159 9
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Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys through the Elizabethan Underground 
by Roy Kendall.
Fairleigh Dickinson, 453 pp., $75, January 2004, 0 8386 3974 7
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Tamburlaine Must Die 
by Louise Welsh.
Canongate, 149 pp., £9.99, July 2004, 1 84195 532 9
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History Play: The Lives and Afterlife of Christopher Marlowe 
by Rodney Bolt.
HarperCollins, 388 pp., £17.99, July 2004, 0 00 712123 7
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... him dates from May and June 1593. For David Riggs, coming to the subject of Marlowe after writing Ben Jonson: A Life (1989), the paucity of material must have been fairly dismaying. The long-lived Jonson went out of his way to make things easy for biographers, leaving an extensive paper trail including autobiographical poems, holograph ...

Fetch the Chopping Knife

Charles Nicholl: Murder on Bankside, 4 November 2021

... lost works is a play called Page of Plymouth, an early and seemingly uncharacteristic outing by Ben Jonson.Arden, probably first performed around 1590, is the earliest true crime play on record. It dramatises the violent death of a Kentish landowner, Thomas Arden, in 1551. He was stabbed and bludgeoned in his own parlour during a game of ‘tables’ or ...

What Marlowe would have wanted

Charles Nicholl, 26 November 1987

Faustus and the Censor 
by William Empson, edited by John Henry Jones.
Blackwell, 226 pp., £17.50, September 1987, 0 631 15675 5
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... 1590s, the so-called ‘pre-Shakespearean’ period. Not a single play by the sonneteer Thomas Watson remains, though he was described in 1592 as one whose ‘daily practyse and living’ was writing for the theatre. Thomas Nashe certainly wrote for the public playhouses in the early 1590s – his friend Greene takes him to task for it in the Groatsworth ...


Tom Paulin, 9 May 1996

T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form 
by Anthony Julius.
Cambridge, 308 pp., £30, September 1995, 0 521 47063 3
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... with leprosy and faeces. He also argues that it is a response to Browning’s ‘Rabbi Ben Ezra’, a poem which celebrates wisdom and welcomes old age. Indeed Browning emerges as one of the heroes of this study – along with the massive counter-example of Joyce; he exposed anti-semitism in his poetry and gave Jews voices where Eliot silenced ...

Scotch Urchins

Denton Fox, 22 May 1986

Alexander Montgomerie 
by R.D.S. Jack.
Scottish Academic Press, 140 pp., £4.50, June 1985, 0 7073 0367 2
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Letters of King James VI and I 
edited by G.P.V. Akrigg.
California, 546 pp., £32.75, November 1984, 0 520 04707 9
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The Concise Scots Dictionary 
by Mairi Robinson.
Aberdeen University Press, 819 pp., £17.50, August 1985, 0 08 028491 4
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... the four hundred other letters that Akrigg summarises in an appendix seem equally unliterary. Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones go unmentioned, and James’s only reference to vernacular verse is apparently his letter to Elizabeth, where he sends her, with all the hurt feelings of a snubbed author, a second copy of a sonnet, with the remarks: ‘Madame, I did ...

‘A Naughty House’

Charles Nicholl: Shakespeare’s Landlord, 24 June 2010

... residents, and one of the first to appear at the new court was a local apothecary’s wife, Grace Watson, charged with ‘giving reviling speeches against Sir Baptist Hicks touching the building of the Sessions House’. A later writer describes it as ‘a shapeless brick lump containing a great warehouse in the centre for the court, and houses for the ...

A Country Emptied

Ian Jack: The Highland Clearances, 7 March 2019

The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed 1600-1900 
by T.M. Devine.
Allen Lane, 464 pp., £25, October 2018, 978 0 241 30410 5
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... famous than the lyrics. Then in the 19th century an otherwise obscure genre painter called John Watson Nicol (1856-1926) gave the same name to his only famous picture. Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1883, Nicol’s Lochaber No More depicts a miserable farewell to the Highlands. A man with a heavy plaid around his shoulders stands at a ship’s rail while ...

Open in a Scream

Colm Tóibín, 4 March 2021

Francis Bacon: Revelations 
by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan.
William Collins, 869 pp., £30, January, 978 0 00 729841 9
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... of the best sources for Bacon’s thinking in these years is the diary of his cousin Diana Watson, who saw him regularly in London. ‘At tea,’ she wrote, Bacon ‘said he could not get away from the Crucifixion idea – that he never really wanted to do anything else’. She referred to it as his ‘frightful Crucifixion complex’. His only ...

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