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Grumbles

C.K. Stead, 15 October 1981

Flaws in the Glass: A Self-Portrait 
by Patrick White.
Cape, 272 pp., £7.95, October 1981, 9780224029247
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... melodramatic. Australia has produced at least three major novelists since the 1930s – Christina Stead, Xavier Herbert and White. In 1975, two years after White’s Nobel award, Herbert published his greatest novel, Poor Fellow My Country, and I remember wondering whether Australia had got its Nobel too soon. On reflection, I think it unlikely Herbert would ...

Homage to Ezra Pound

C.K. Stead, 19 March 1981

The Poetic Achievement of Ezra Pound 
by Michael Alexander.
Faber, 247 pp., £7.95, April 1979, 0 571 10560 2
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Ezra Pound and the Pisan Cantos 
by Anthony Woodward.
Routledge, 128 pp., £7.95, April 1980, 0 7100 0372 2
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Ezra Pound and the Cantos: A Record of Struggle 
by Wendy Stallard Flory.
Yale, 321 pp., £12.60, July 1980, 0 300 02392 8
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Ezra Pound and His World 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Thames and Hudson, 127 pp., £5.95, February 1981, 0 500 13069 8
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End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound with Poems from Ezra Pound’s H.D. Book 
edited by Norman Holmes Pearson and Michael King.
Carcanet, 84 pp., £2.95, February 1980, 0 85635 318 3
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... In 1949 when a panel of his fellow poets (including T.S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, W.H. Auden and Allen Tate) awarded Ezra Pound the Bollingen Prize for The Pisan Cantos there was an immediate and angry public debate. The reaction is not surprising and might have been worse had the texts of Pound’s wartime broadcasts over Rome Radio been publicly available ...

Diary

C.K. Stead: A New Zealander in London, 18 October 1984

... in the West End, try SW9. Are the poor not supposed to write letters? Like Marie Antoinette urging cake on the masses, the Post Office recommends long-distance phone-calls. In New Zealand just before I left we got a Labour government into office after three terms (nine years) of National (i.e. conservative) rule. It happened convincingly, because there was ...

What became of Modernism?

C.K. Stead, 1 May 1980

Five American Poets 
by John Matthias, introduced by Michael Schmidt.
Carcanet, 160 pp., £3.25, November 1979, 0 85635 259 4
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The New Australian Poetry 
edited by John Tranter.
Makar Press, 330 pp., £6.50, November 1979
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Carpenters of Light 
by Neil Powell.
Carcanet, 154 pp., £6.95, November 1979, 0 85635 305 1
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Mirabell: Books of Number 
by James Merrill.
Oxford, 182 pp., £3.25, June 1979, 0 19 211892 7
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The Book of the Body 
by Frank Bidart.
Faber, 44 pp., £4.50, October 1979, 0 374 11549 4
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Skull of Adam 
by Stanley Moss.
Anvil, 67 pp., £2.50, May 1979, 0 85646 041 9
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Poems 1928-1978 
by Stanley Kunitz.
Secker, 249 pp., £6.50, September 1979, 0 436 23932 9
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... What became of the Modernist movement? It was initiated by Pound and Eliot about the time of the First World War, and in America it set off a further wave of innovation (often referred to as ‘post-Modernism’) after the Second. Beats, Black Mountain Poets, the New York school of the Fifties – all these and others, though clearly different, are unimaginable without Pound, early Eliot, William Carlos Williams and perhaps Wallace Stevens as forerunners ...

Diary

C.K. Stead: New Zealand Writers, 21 November 1991

... In the Forties, a New Zealand schoolboy writing my first poems and fictions, I didn’t know there were any living New Zealand writers. My literary excitements came mostly from British but also from American writers, past and present. I was not of a generation that looked to England as ‘Home’. ‘Colonial’ was a word I would have resented. But my (and I mean our) situation, which seemed to me perfectly ordinary, seems unordinary enough, when looked back upon, to need a descriptive term ...

Christ’s Teeth

C.K. Stead, 10 October 1991

Studies in the Ezra Pound 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 388 pp., £25, April 1991, 0 85635 850 9
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Poems 1963-1983 
by Michael Longley.
Secker, 205 pp., £8, August 1991, 0 436 25676 2
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Under the Circumstances 
by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 64 pp., £5.99, May 1991, 0 19 282834 7
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In the Echoey Tunnel 
by Christopher Reid.
Faber, 73 pp., £12.99, September 1991, 0 571 16252 5
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A Cold Coming 
by Tony Harrison.
Bloodaxe, 16 pp., £2.95, July 1991, 1 85224 186 1
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... Dates, dates are of the essence; and it will be found that I date quite exactly the breakdown of the imaginative exploit of the Cantos: between the completion of the late sequence called “Rock-Drill”, and the inauguration of the next, called “Thrones”.’ This is Donald Davie in his introduction to Studies in Ezra Pound, offered as Volume IV of his Collected Works, and including the whole of Ezra Pound: Poet as Sculptor (1964), followed by a single essay from 1972, then ‘Six Notes on Ezra Pound’ from Trying to Explain (1980 – nowhere actually named in the present volume), and nine essays and reviews written since ...

Chiara Ridolfi

C.K. Stead, 9 October 1986

Innocence 
by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Collins, 224 pp., £9.95, September 1986, 0 00 223105 0
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The Dresden Gate 
by Michael Schmidt.
Hutchinson, 152 pp., £9.95, September 1986, 0 09 165510 2
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First Fictions: Introduction 9 
by Deborah Moffat, Kristien Hemmerechts, Douglas Glover, Dorothy Nimmo and Jaci Stephen.
Faber, 255 pp., £3.95, August 1986, 0 571 13607 9
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Continent 
by Jim Crace.
Heinemann, 154 pp., £4.95, September 1986, 0 434 14824 5
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... Penelope Fitzgerald’s Innocence is set in Florence, the principal characters are Italian, and I kept asking myself: how is it done? She knows quite a lot about Italian society: but more important, she has somehow got inside her Italian characters, so that when a young Englishwoman appears on the scene she really seems a foreigner and not, as one might expect, the focus of the novel’s consciousness ...

God’s Gift to Australia

C.K. Stead, 24 September 1992

Woman of an Inner Sea 
by Thomas Keneally.
Hodder, 284 pp., £14.99, July 1992, 0 340 53148 7
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... Seen from London WCI, New Zealand looks to bear about the same physical relation to Australia as the British Isles to continental Europe – just offshore. In fact, although we are near-neighbours and natural partners in one of the world’s great emptinesses, there are 1200 miles of usually rough ocean between Sydney and Auckland, and even more of social, historical and climatic difference ...

O Harashbery!

C.K. Stead, 23 April 1992

The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara 
edited by Donald Allen.
Carcanet, 233 pp., £18.95, October 1991, 0 85635 939 4
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Flow Chart 
by John Ashbery.
Carcanet, 213 pp., £16.95, September 1991, 0 85635 947 5
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... I remember the pleasure of my first reading of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems when it came out in 1964 in a City Lights edition uniform (except that it was blue and red, not black and white) with Ginsberg’s Howl, Kaddish and Reality Sandwiches. Two years later O’Hara was dead, killed by a dune buggy at an all-night party on Fire Island. There was something Keatsian about his poetry, its vividness and particularity, and its spontaneity, though there might be difficulties for a critic who wanted to argue, as Matthew Arnold did when he tried to rescue Keats from the aesthetes, that ‘there was flint and iron in him ...

Petal by Petal

C.K. Stead, 27 May 1993

E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962 
edited by George Firmage.
Liveright, 1102 pp., £33, January 1993, 0 87140 145 2
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... In the Woody Allen movie Hannah and Her Sisters Eliot (Michael Caine) contrives to cross paths on a Manhattan street with his sister-in-law. Lee (Barbara Hershey), with whom he has fallen in love. He pretends to be hunting for a bookshop: she shows him the way to it and there he finds, as if by chance, E.E. Cummings’s Collected Poems, which he insists on buying for her ...

At Sweetpea Mansions

C.K. Stead, 28 January 1993

Cosmo Cosmolino 
by Helen Garner.
Bloomsbury, 221 pp., £13.99, January 1993, 0 7475 1344 9
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... Helen Garner’s Cosmo Cosmolino contains two short stories together with the novella that gives the book its title. There are connections between the three. Ursula, a friend of the unnamed narrator of the first story, is mother of Kim who dies in the second; and Kim’s boyfriend, Raymond, will reappear, along with his brother Alby, in the third. There are also angel figures in the first story and in the novella; and in the second story the men who make Raymond watch the cremation of Kim’s body may be dark angels, or minor devils, or simply crematorium workers with some knowledge of the dead girl ...

Ellipticity

C.K. Stead, 10 June 1993

Remembering Babylon 
by David Malouf.
Chatto, 200 pp., £14.99, May 1993, 0 7011 5883 2
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... Gemmy Fairly appears at the edge of a small mid-19th-century settlement out of the ‘empty’ north Queensland hinterland. He is 29 and has spent 16 years among Aborigines who rescued him after he was cast overboard from a passing ship. He has almost forgotten his own language, and has acquired the semi-mystical consciousness of the tribes-people. He is taken in by the McIvor family – Jock and Ellen, their small daughters Janet and Meg and nephew Lachlan Beattie ...

A Storm in His Luggage

C.K. Stead, 26 January 1995

Ezra Pound and James Laughlin: Selected Letters 
edited by David Gordon.
Norton, 313 pp., £23, June 1994, 0 393 03540 9
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‘Agenda’: An Anthology. The First Four Decades 
edited by William Cookson.
Carcanet, 418 pp., £25, May 1994, 1 85754 069 7
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... In a letter dated 22 January 1934 to his protégé James Laughlin, Pound makes passing reference to R.P. Blackmur, who had written a long unflattering essay, ‘Masks of Ezra Pound’, in an issue of the periodical Hound and Horn (which Pound renamed Bitch – Bugle). Next day he refers to it again – ‘24 depressing pages’. A year later there is an angry letter to Blackmur on the subject, sent, however, to Laughlin, perhaps to be sent on ...

Rebellion

C.K. Stead, 7 May 1981

I passed this way 
by Sylvia Ashton-Warner.
Virago, 499 pp., £12, October 1980, 0 86068 160 2
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Spinster 
by Sylvia Ashton-Warner.
Virago, 269 pp., £2.95, October 1980, 0 86068 161 0
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Teacher 
by Sylvia Ashton-Warner.
Virago, 224 pp., £2.95, October 1980, 0 86068 162 9
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... Katherine Mansfield was born in 1888, Sylvia Ashton-Warner in 1908 and Janet Frame in 1924 – three New Zealand women each of whom has achieved some measure of literary fame or reputation outside the country in which she was born. They have in common that they have worked uneasily in (and always breaking out of) the fictional mode. The fictions of all three are forms of autobiography while autobiography tends towards fiction ...

Ancient Orthodoxies

C.K. Stead, 23 May 1991

Antidotes 
by C.H. Sisson.
Carcanet, 64 pp., £6.95, March 1991, 0 85635 908 4
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Dog Fox Field 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 103 pp., £6.95, February 1991, 0 85635 950 5
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True Colours 
by Neil Powell.
Carcanet, 102 pp., £6.95, March 1991, 0 85635 910 6
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Eating strawberries in the Necropolis 
by Michael Hulse.
Harvill, 63 pp., £5.95, March 1991, 0 00 272076 0
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... Aller Moor’, the first poem in Antidotes, begins And now the distance seems to grow Between myself and that I know: It is from a strange land I speak And a far stranger that I seek. A heron rises under my nose And into the flat distance goes. The thoughts that follow her grow less And vanish into emptiness. But I am I and I stay here: Who and where I am is not clear ...

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