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Gatwick

Craig Raine, 3 June 2015

... can be read by a machine. She stares at a screen. And then she asks, looking up from her desk: ‘Craig Raine the poet?’ We have less than half a minute. ‘I studied you. For my MA at uni. I did an MA in poetry. Now I’m in the immigration service.’ I want to give her a kiss. But I can’t. Why is this so marvellous? So hysterical? We are close. We ...
Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years 
by Brian Boyd.
Chatto, 783 pp., £25, January 1992, 0 7011 3701 0
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... Nabokov ‘had a flypaper feel for words’, according to Alison Bishop, who knew him at Cornell when she was a child. He might, therefore, have relished his biographer coming mildly unstuck in the course of this otherwise tenacious, intricately argued, judicious account of Nabokov’s life in the States, and, post-Lolita, in Montreux. Disposing of Andrew Field, his predecessor in the field, Brian Boyd cites his insolent, perfunctory response to one of Nabokov’s factual corrections ...

A Free Translation

Craig Raine, 22 January 1981

... for Norma Kitson) Seeing the pagoda of dirty dinner plates, I observe my hands under the kitchen tap as it they belonged to Marco Polo: glib with soap, they speak of details from a pillow book, the fifty-seven ways in which the Yin receives the Yang. Rinsed and purified, they flick off drops like a court magician whose stretching fingers seek to hypnotise the helpless house ...

Memories of the Linen Room

Craig Raine, 22 November 1979

... Fetch me the handkerchief; my mind misgives …’ Othello (III, iv, 89) In the dormitory, boys laced up their rugby boots like parcels, knowing the mud outside would add that final touch of scaling wax. It’s taken them twenty years to be delivered by an accident: I see a pint of gritty mussels for sale and think of wet boots on the changing-room floor ...

For Hans Keller

Craig Raine, 5 December 1985

... There will be more of this, more of this than I had realised of finding our friends irrevocably changed, skewed like Guy Fawkes in a chair because all the muscles have gone and talking as if nothing has happened when nothing has happened. There will be more of this, more of coming to crematoria to learn that a life can come to an end like a Haydn quartet, without a repeat ...

Muse

Craig Raine, 9 May 1991

... Luck    To have lived at the level of floorboards and not to give    a toss about Antaeus or any of that Only    the pleasing precision of solid dirt inlaying the planks like a long leather bootlace or finding    the perfect fit of thumb to the palate Carefully torn wallpaper    sufficient unto the hour A mouth I taste    ev ...

The Widower

Craig Raine, 7 May 1981

... His wet waders dipped in lacquer by the light, the lobsterman puts out to sea against the tide that tilts his boat. From where we stand, up on the dunes, his wicker pots have dwindled already to balls of twine, but for five minutes, saluting the sun out of our eyes, we watch him knit with clumsy oars, while the waves unravel their length, this way, that way, on the beach below ...

The Prophetic Book

Craig Raine, 20 September 1984

... I will give you the world, the world we are given: the turban in a tangerine, a snooker table, say, with six suspensory bandages, the lemon squeezer in the men’s urinal. You will need to know the names of stone: Taynton, Clipsham, Anstrude, Besace, Headington, Wheatley, Perou, and then Savonnières Courteraie which is quarried at Meuse. Sweet shades of chamois leather ...

Those No-Doubt-About-It Infidelity Blues

Craig Raine, 18 December 2008

... Like a throw of shot silk, its blue brilliance calmed by the iron, completed, so you can clearly see the alternative versions. This is the first thing, The first thing you feel When you happen to find That the worst thing, The worst thing that could happen Has happened for real. And everything adds up to a pattern, So that it’s certain now, As if there’s somehow a curtain Drawn back in your mind ...

Songs for an Opera

Craig Raine, 3 April 1986

... The moon was open-mouthed with fear, on the night the Novik went down. The guns were greased, the decks were clear, the sea a steady frown. We knelt there ready for action, sweating in spite of the cold. Her plates were shifting a fraction as the engines throbbed in the hold. We could see a ship on the skyline like the beam in a Pharisee’s eye. We could hear the fluttering ensign like panic in the sky ...

Dan’s Fate

Craig Raine, 3 October 1985

Time and Time Again 
by Dan Jacobson.
Deutsch, 213 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 233 97804 6
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... In Speak, Memory, the five-year-old Nabokov is led down from the nursery in 1904 to meet a friend of the family, General Kuropatkin. To amuse me, he spread out a handful of matches on the divan where he was sitting, placed ten of them end to end to make a horizontal line and said: ‘This is the sea in calm weather.’ Then he tipped up each pair so as to turn the straight line into a zigzag – and that was ‘a stormy sea ...

The Story of Joe

Craig Raine, 4 December 1986

The Orton Diaries 
edited by John Lahr.
Methuen, 307 pp., £12.50, November 1986, 0 413 49660 0
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... When Joe Orton was in Tangier, he noted down the following exchange: ‘You like to be fucked or fuck?’ he said. ‘I like to fuck, wherever possible,’ I said. He leaned across and said in a confidential tone: ‘I take it.’ ‘Do you?’ I said. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘up to the last hair.’ ‘You speak very good English,’ I said. Though Orton is aroused, his attention is undeflected ...

Everybody

Craig Raine, 3 February 1983

Confessions of an Actor 
by Laurence Olivier.
Weidenfeld, 305 pp., £9.95, October 1982, 0 297 78106 5
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... Confessions of an Actor is, unsurprisingly, more an impersonation than a real piece of writing. In it, Laurence Olivier acts writing – an uneasy mixture of the chatty (‘All right, I can hear you, reader dear’) and the belle-lettrist flourish (‘Fortunately for the restoration of my depleted coffers ... ’). What good bits of writing there are (not many) stem equally from Olivier’s métier: as when, for instance, he arrives in Hollywood to help the mad Vivien Leigh ...

Updike’s Innocence

Craig Raine, 25 January 1990

Just Looking: Essays on Art 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 210 pp., £19.95, November 1989, 0 233 98501 8
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... As a title for this gathering of essays, Just looking is as engagingly unpretentious as its contents, and yet misleading. Lavishly illustrated, sometimes with pictures that aren’t actually discussed (by Hopkins, Poe and Oscar Wilde), apparently effortless, occasional, these pieces are freighted with the chronic preoccupations evident since the beginning of this intelligent writer’s long career ...

Matrioshki

Craig Raine, 13 June 1991

Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life 
by Richard Garnett.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 402 pp., £20, March 1991, 1 85619 033 1
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... Matrioshki are those wooden, hollow, biologically improbable Russian dolls, sarcophagus-shaped and too rudimentary for much in the way of features or waists. In terms of beauty, they have all the allure of a thermos flask in national dress. What they lack in looks, however, they make up for in fecundity. Each holds several increasingly small replicas, one inside another ...

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