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Little Lame Balloonman

August Kleinzahler: E.E. Cummings

8 October 2014
E.E. CummingsThe Complete Poems, 1904-62 
edited by George James Firmage.
Liveright, 1102 pp., £36, September 2013, 978 0 87140 710 8
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E.E. CummingsA Life 
by Susan Cheever.
Pantheon, 209 pp., £16, February 2014, 978 0 307 37997 9
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... E.E.Cummings​ is the sort of poet one loves at the age of 17 and finds unbearably mawkish and vacuous as an adult. But in the mid-20th century he was the most popular poet in the United States after Robert ...
27 May 1993
E.E. CummingsComplete Poems 1904-1962 
edited by George Firmage.
Liveright, 1102 pp., £33, January 1993, 0 87140 145 2
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... 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. Putting her into a taxi he tells her, twice, to be sure to read the poem on page 112, which he says makes him think of her. Later we see her ...
3 July 1980
Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E.E.​ Cummings 
by Richard Kennedy.
Norton, 529 pp., £12, May 1980, 0 87140 638 1
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... The poet E.E.Cummings was born with what are called all the advantages, or with enough of them. It was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in ‘a huge, three-storied, many-roomed structure with 13 fire-places… not far from ...
17 April 1980
The Sound Shape of Language 
by Roman Jakobson and Linda Waugh.
Harvester, 308 pp., £13.50, September 1979, 0 85527 926 5
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... complex, rarely precisely synchronous and often without a measurable steady state. The resultant speech wave exhibits a mesh of overlapping features. The analysis of a word such as rail reveals an ever-changing pattern of movement, with no obvious sound boundaries. None has sought more tenaciously and persuasively than Roman Jakobson to establish another (universal) level of analysis which would ...

Paley’s People

Angela Carter

17 April 1980
The Little Disturbances of Man 
by Grace Paley.
Virago, 192 pp., £2.50, March 1980, 0 86068 127 0
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Enormous Changes at the Last Minute 
by Grace Paley.
Virago, 208 pp., £1.95, May 1979, 0 86068 108 4
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... which is, in itself, a reconciliation with time. Extracted from the text, the characters are patently emblematic: an old man, his daughter, a young man, a chorus of girls, a boy child. There is even an off-stage cameo guest appearance by Alexandra’s ex-husband, the Communist Granofsky. (‘Probably boring the Cubans to death this very minute,’ opines her father.) As in the News of the World ...

I blame the British

Charles Glass: A report from Lake Dokan

17 April 2003
... but the voice-with-a-smile of democracy announces night & day ‘all poor little peoples that want to be free just trust in the u s a’ e.e.cummings, ‘Thanksgiving (1956)’ We in Iraq are losing our minds. War does that to people, even to us in the North who have yet to see one. All that we have observed are B52s roaring through the skies to ...

Out of Sight, out of Mind

Frank Kermode: A.J. Ayer’s Winning Ways

15 July 1999
A.J. Ayer: A Life 
by Ben Rogers.
Chatto, 402 pp., £20, June 1999, 9780701163167
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... A.J. Ayer, says Ben Rogers, had a ‘pampered upbringing, even by Edwardian standards’. He suffered much at prep school, then went to Eton, where he suffered less and got over it. The next move, to Christ Church, was painless. Oxford gave him Gilbert Ryle as ...

A Leap from the Bridge

Alexander Scrimgeour: Wolfgang Koeppen

12 December 2002
The Hothouse 
by Wolfgang Koeppen, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Granta, 221 pp., £14.99, May 2002, 1 86207 509 3
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... The Revolution was an offshoot of Romanticism, a crisis of puberty. It had had its time . . . and now it was a corpse, a dry leaf in the herbarium of ideas, a dead notion, an antiquated word.’ Even Keetenheuve’s only firm belief, in pacifism, comes into conflict with the way politics works. Before an important debate on remilitarisation in which he is due to address the Bundestag, he is taken ...


James Francken: Ian Sansom

20 May 2004
Ring Road: There’s No Place like Home 
by Ian Sansom.
Fourth Estate, 388 pp., £12.99, April 2004, 0 00 715653 7
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... was amazing becomes ordinary: ‘Eventually you get bored and you begin to lose touch with the people you used to know back home, you begin to run out of money, and you can’t understand why you ever came here in the first place . . . it’s too late. You’re stranded.’ Ireland does kindle feelings of hope and opportunity for Sansom, feelings which he associates with his baby. He quotes ...
5 December 1991
Randall Jarrell: A Literary Life 
by William Pritchard.
Farrar, Straus, 335 pp., $25, April 1990, 0 374 24677 7
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Randall Jarrell: Selected Poems 
edited by William Pritchard.
Farrar, Straus, 115 pp., $17.95, April 1990, 0 374 25867 8
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... can now be seen ‘to stain the whole sea’ of modern verse. His advocacy of Scott Fitzgerald began with, or endured through, the appalling This Side of Paradise to the triumph of Gatsby. Stevens, Cummings, Pound, Crane, Dos Passos: their merits and possibilities of development were noted at an early stage in their careers. For two decades or a little more, Wilson was almost infallibly discerning about ...
2 April 1987
Randall Jarrell’s Letters 
edited by Mary Jarrell.
Faber, 540 pp., £25, January 1986, 0 571 13829 2
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The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore 
edited by Patricia Willis.
Faber, 723 pp., £30, January 1987, 0 571 14788 7
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... It was once observed by J.B. Priestley that the literary life in England was ‘a rat-race without even a sight of the other rats’. English authors on the whole prefer to work on their own and find their friends outside the confraternity – indeed, because of this preference, there is hardly such a ...

Mon Pays

Michael Rogin: Josephine Baker

22 February 2001
The Josephine Baker Story 
by Ean Wood.
Sanctuary, 327 pp., £16.99, September 2000, 1 86074 286 6
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Negrophilia: Avant-Garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920s 
by Petrine Archer-Straw.
Thames and Hudson, 200 pp., £14.95, September 2000, 0 500 28135 1
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... three faces, the three bodies, of Josephine Baker appear together on the first page of photographs in The Josephine Baker Story. At the top, in blackface, she wears an infantilising gingham outfit: eyes crossed, lips exaggerated and legs akimbo, she is costumed for the Broadway show Chocolate Dandies, from which she was recruited for La Revue nègre in Paris. The second picture shows her in the ...

Slapping the Clammy Flab

John Lanchester: Hannibal by Thomas Harris

29 July 1999
by Thomas Harris.
Heinemann, 496 pp., £16.99, June 1999, 0 434 00940 7
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... by Will Graham, a Special Investigator attached to the FBI, in pursuit of a man who had murdered two families. When Graham arrives at Lecter’s cell, the good doctor wakes up: ‘Dr Lecter’s eyes are maroon and they reflect the light redly in tiny points.’ Brrrrr. Is it chilly in here, or is it me? All this happens in Red Dragon, Thomas Harris’s second novel, his first being the, in ...

Flattery and Whining

William Gass: Prologomania

5 October 2000
The Book of Prefaces 
edited by Alasdair Gray.
Bloomsbury, 639 pp., £35, May 2000, 0 7475 4443 3
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... an audience, or two people to one another, but I cannot prolegomenon or preface them. I can introduce you to roast quail or to miniature golf, to the prime minister or the Rotary Club, but I cannot even foreword mail. An introduction presupposes ignorance. When Albert J. Guerard introduced John Hawkes’s novel The Cannibal in 1948, he could properly feel both Hawkes and his novel were unknown to ...


Paul Foot: The Buttocks Problem

5 September 1996
... occasion, Trench, who stank more than usually of drink, questioned me closely as to whether I thought there was anything reprehensible in his behaviour. ‘Oh no, sir! Of course not, sir.’ Did I ever contemplate the possibility, he continued, that he was some sort of paederast (a word which he pronounced, probably correctly, ‘piederast’). ‘Oh, my goodness no, sir,’ I stammered, quite ...

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