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Hearing about Damnation

Donald Davie, 3 December 1981

Collected Poems 
by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 262 pp., £10, September 1981, 0 19 211941 9
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... as a distinct category, where moral judgments were, or might have to be, suspended. This poem as I read it records Enright’s encounter with the furious energies of a great artist, an encounter which compels him, at least for the moment, to abandon that reassuring Leavisite conviction. Indeed he not only encounters Hokusai, he is sucked into Hokusai’s ...

Pound and the Perfect Lady

Donald Davie, 19 September 1985

Pound’s Artists: Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts in London, Paris and Italy 
by Richard Humphreys.
Tate Gallery, 176 pp., £12.95, June 1985, 0 946590 28 1
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Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear: Their Letters 1909-1914 
edited by Omar Pound and A. Walton Litz.
Faber, 399 pp., £25, January 1985, 0 571 13480 7
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... even, scandalously, as late as fifteen years ago. We have not heard it all before, unless we have read, as few of us have, Harriet Zinnes’s compendium Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts, which all these essayists draw on very heavily. Amiable joking was never what Pound intended, and only a total insensitivity to his tone of voice could lead one to think ...


Donald Davie, 21 March 1991

The Oxford Book of Essays 
edited by John Gross.
Oxford, 680 pp., £17.95, February 1991, 0 19 214185 6
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... he/she gets prompter acceptance and payment for a review than for a poem or a story. We have all read about how the essay is itself an honourable genre (obeisances to Michel de Montaigne), and most of us by now know that there is no fixed frontier between literature and journalism: all the same, some writing is designedly ephemeral whereas some isn’t, and ...


Donald Davie, 7 March 1985

The Letters of Hugh MacDiarmid 
edited by Alan Bold.
Hamish Hamilton, 910 pp., £20, August 1984, 0 241 11220 6
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Between Moon and Moon: Selected Letters of Robert Graves 1946-1972 
edited by Paul O’Prey.
Hutchinson, 323 pp., £14.95, November 1984, 9780091557508
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... a little about some of the great figures in literature during their school years, but they do not read them afterwards. What they do read is for the most part beneath contempt ...   All the great things in the arts and in the sciences have been the creation, very often ‘against the current’ (i.e. in the teeth not ...

Fit and Few

Donald Davie, 3 May 1984

The Making of the Reader: Language and Subjectivity in Modern American, English and Irish Poetry 
by David Trotter.
Macmillan, 272 pp., £20, March 1984, 0 333 30632 5
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... which the issue of reader-response would be considered by poets from his day to ours. The widely-read author asks: ‘How many of these many readers are fit readers?’ And the non-selling author asks: ‘Are the fit readers so few?’ The first predicament is the worse. For the non-selling author can always blame his publisher, or his distributors; whereas ...

What’s in a Number?

Donald MacKenzie: The $300 Trillion Question, 25 September 2008

... clusters of brokers’ desks, and you can occasionally see a broker using binoculars to read a distant whiteboard or screen – but a more crucial skill is ‘broker’s ear’: the capacity to monitor what is being said by all the other brokers at nearby desks, despite the noise and while at the same time holding a voicebox conversation with a ...

Looking Up

Donald Davie, 15 July 1982

The Passages of Joy 
by Thom Gunn.
Faber, 93 pp., £4, June 1982, 0 571 11867 4
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The Occasions of Poetry 
by Thom Gunn.
Faber, 188 pp., £6.95, June 1982, 0 571 11733 3
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... of poems this dimension of his writing is no longer evident. In none of these 37 poems, as I read them, is there any longer evidence that their author has been attending to the songs from Shakespeare’s plays, to Donne’s Songs and Sonnets, or Marlowe’s translations and imitations of Ovid: they are ‘contemporary’ in an altogether less complicated ...

A to Z

Ian Hamilton: Schmidt’s List, 4 March 1999

Lives of the Poets 
by Michael Schmidt.
Weidenfeld, 960 pp., £22, October 1998, 0 297 84014 2
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A Critical Difference: T.S. Eliot and John Middleton Murry in English Literary Criticism, 1919-28 
by David Goldie.
Oxford, 232 pp., £35, October 1998, 0 19 812379 5
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... confidence: he is forever shuttling between received opinion (received, mostly, from his hero, Donald Davie), and ill-balanced subjectivity. Admittedly, Johnson himself was unreliable, but with him we are usually more interested in the judge than we are in those he’s judging. Johnson is a companion we want to see more of; he’s crusty and he makes us ...


Donald Rayfield, 19 July 1984

Dostoevsky. Vol II: The Years of Ordeal 1850-1859 
by Joseph Frank.
Robson, 320 pp., £14.95, April 1984, 0 86051 242 8
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The Village of Stepanchikovo 
by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Ignat Avsey.
Angel, 255 pp., £8.95, November 1983, 0 946162 06 9
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... the apparently hopeless failure of the exiled, isolated Dostoevsky to find what people would now read and what his contacts would now publish. That they went largely ignored in his lifetime is understandable: that they were published at all during the flowering of a whole new generation of novelists says much about the generosity of the Russian ...

Boeotian Masters

Donald Davie, 5 November 1992

The Paperbark Tree: Selected Prose 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 360 pp., £18.95, September 1992, 0 85635 976 9
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... clear, the Scots, Irish and Welsh. This means that when he speaks of the British Empire, we should read ‘English’. His own Murray forebears, being however far back Gaelic-speaking Scots, are largely if not entirely exempt from blame for what has happened to the Aborigines. (These latter, of course, are the black allies he speaks of, tenderly, always and ...

Forms and Inspirations

Vikram Seth, 29 September 1988

... lovestruck at University. They were in very free measures, and, indeed, very free syntax. I had read enough modern poetry by then to convince myself that rhyme and metre were passé, and that, anyway, the fierce and miserable beating of my heart was not to be contained by what Frost, I believe, called, with seeming disparagement, ‘rhymey-dimey ...


Donald Davie, 11 June 1992

In the Circumstances: About Poems and Poets 
by Peter Robinson.
Oxford, 260 pp., £35, May 1992, 0 19 811248 3
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... being spoken to, or uttering the grain of their lives.’ (For ‘distanced’, might we not read: ‘surrendered’?) Least forgivingly: ‘because Hill is suspicious of the reader to a fault, and includes the reception of literary work in a writer’s “situation”, that poetic achievement is defined by mystical ...

How to Read the Trump Dossier

Arthur Snell, 5 January 2017

... that came to light last week – when a dossier of intelligence reports surfaced online alleging Donald Trump’s eccentric sexual exploits, a long-running conspiracy between Trump and the Russian regime, and inappropriate financial deals over sanctions against Russian companies – read like the plot of a spy novel. None ...

Biographical Materials

Alan Hollinghurst, 15 October 1981

Remembering Britten 
edited by Alan Blyth.
Hutchinson, 181 pp., £7.95, June 1981, 0 09 144950 2
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Britten and Auden in the Thirties: The Year 1936 
by Donald Mitchell.
Faber, 176 pp., £7.50, February 1981, 0 571 11715 5
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... Donald Mitchell recalls that Benjamin Britten had a low opinion of music critics in newspapers. Alan Blyth’s compilation Remembering Britten would have done little to make him change his mind: it is a book fundamentally misconceived and often grotesque in execution. The tributary volume of memoirs, such as the one Stephen Spender compiled after Auden’s death, has the value not only of illuminating its subject but of providing a complex shading of reaction and relation through the personalities of the contributors ...

What I Heard about Iraq

Eliot Weinberger: Watch and listen, 3 February 2005

... forces have not been rebuilt.’ On 11 September 2001, six hours after the attacks, I heard that Donald Rumsfeld said that it might be an opportunity to ‘hit’ Iraq. I heard that he said: ‘Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.’ I heard that Condoleezza Rice asked: ‘How do you capitalise on these opportunities?’ I heard that on 17 ...

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