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Elegy for George Barker

Anthony Thwaite, 21 November 1991

... The mystery that was also poetry. Whatever words flew up, whatever scanned, Became that moment. St George had claimed his own. Imago, image, creator and creating Took root within the reliquary bone. Years past, years gone. I have learnt since then You were no god, for only God is that. That was a truth I know you would endorse. And yet some angels mingle among ...

Urgent

Julian Symons, 21 February 1991

By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept 
by Elizabeth Smart.
Paladin, 112 pp., £3.99, January 1991, 0 586 09039 8
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The Assumption of the Rogues and Rascals 
by Elizabeth Smart.
Paladin, 112 pp., £3.99, January 1991, 0 586 09040 1
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Necessary Secrets: The Journals of Elizabeth Smart 
edited by Alice Van Wart.
Grafton, 305 pp., £14.99, January 1991, 0 246 13653 7
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... writer has not only read her Bible, but is aware of many poets ancient and modern, most notably George Barker. One can’t talk sensibly about Smart’s prose without saying something about George Barker’s early poetry. ‘His prescription is – Excess: he will rage himself out,’ said ...

Skinned alive

John Bayley, 25 June 1987

Collected Poems 
by George Barker, edited by Robert Fraser.
Faber, 838 pp., £27.50, May 1987, 0 571 13972 8
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By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept 
by Elizabeth Smart, introduced by Brigid Brophy.
Grafton, 126 pp., £2.50, July 1987, 0 586 02083 7
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... in Ottawa in 1913. She was in London before the Second World War and read, in a bookshop, some of George Barker’s poems. She fell for him in print. This was a visitation of love as the ancients knew about it, a sudden incurable and unconquerable malady. Or that was how it seemed to the victim, and how she presents it to us. She got to know ...

Nasty Lucky Genes

Andrew O’Hagan: Fathers and Sons, 21 September 2006

The Arms of the Infinite 
by Christopher Barker.
Pomona, 329 pp., £9.99, August 2006, 1 904590 04 7
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... she stood, deciding by the last page that the author was the man she was put on earth to marry. George Barker. His name seems almost seedy now, redolent of multiple fatherings and free drinks and Benzedrine, a low-rent Catholic visionary forever caught in some personal smog of Latinate rhetoric and English ambition. But at the time of Elizabeth ...

O Wyoming Whipporwill

Claire Harman: George Barker, 3 October 2002

The Chameleon Poet: A Life of George Barker 
by Robert Fraser.
Cape, 573 pp., £25, February 2002, 0 224 06242 5
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... Fame came early to George Barker, but not so early as to take him by surprise. He designed his own ‘crypto-Renaissance catafalque’ at the age of 13, just to be on the safe side, and a year later was writing in these sophisticated terms of his own literary strengths and weaknesses: I am certain that my mind is made if anything for self-contained imaginative work: critical activity of any kind is alien to me, alien and dissonant ...

Out of Ottawa

John Bayley, 21 November 1991

By Heart. Elizabeth Smart: A Life 
by Rosemary Sullivan.
Lime Tree, 415 pp., £17.99, October 1991, 0 413 45341 3
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... nouvelle. When the manuscript was accepted in 1941 she had wanted to call it Images of Mica, but George Barker, whom it was all about, flipped the typed pages at random and found a sentence beginning: ‘By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept ... ’ Images of Mica would have remained on the shelf for ever, but the trouvaille title was just ...

Family Romances

Anthony Thwaite, 2 February 1989

A Little Stranger 
by Candia McWilliam.
Bloomsbury, 135 pp., £12.95, January 1989, 9780747502791
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Running wild 
by J.G. Ballard.
Hutchinson, 72 pp., £5.95, November 1988, 0 09 173498 3
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Breathing Lessons 
by Anne Tyler.
Chatto, 327 pp., £11.95, January 1989, 0 7011 3391 0
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... like that of a very clever student who had been nourished on a forced diet of John Cleveland, George Barker (The Dead Seagull) and Craig Raine, and who had once heard the plot of a novel by Iris Murdoch. The novel’s characters were indeed Romantic, if by that one means fabulous, fanciful, whimsical, high-flown, etc, as under Roget 515: Lucas ...

Advice for the New Nineties

Julian Symons, 12 March 1992

HMS Glasshouse 
by Sean O’Brien.
Oxford, 56 pp., £5.99, November 1991, 0 19 282835 5
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The Hogweed Lass 
by Alan Dixon.
Poet and Printer, 33 pp., £3, September 1991, 0 900597 39 9
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Collected Poems 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 319 pp., £18.95, November 1991, 0 85635 923 8
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... off by the war the vacuum was filled by the extravagant romanticism associated with Dylan Thomas, George Barker and Edith Sitwell. Less than a decade later, with those roses seen as over-blown, Robert Conquest was deploring ‘the omission of the necessary intellectual component from poetry’, gathering several disparate writers under one umbrella, and ...

Diary

Stephen Spender: Towards a Kind of Neo-Paganism, 21 April 1983

... the Arvon Foundation, and we were the judges: Basil Bunting, Gwendoline Brooks, Adrian Mitchell, George Barker and myself. I feel vaguely paranoid about any poets but those of my own generation (all dead except for Empson and myself) and was delighted at how well we all got on together. ‘King of the Cats’ (to use Yeats’s phrase about himself), to ...

At Free Love Corner

Jenny Diski, 30 March 2000

Literary Seductions: Compulsive Writers and Diverted Readers 
by Frances Wilson.
Faber, 258 pp., £12.99, October 1999, 0 571 19288 2
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... already. In an initial compilation chapter Caroline Lamb falls for Byron, and Elizabeth Smart for George Barker, while Mary Godwin and Shelley shadow the literary love of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, Robert Graves and Laura Riding, Nadezhda and Osip Mandelstam, W.B. and Georgie Yeats all get chapters to ...

Enough is enough

Patricia Beer, 26 September 1991

Diaries 
by Antonia White, edited by Susan Chitty.
Constable, 320 pp., £19.95, September 1991, 0 09 470650 6
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... to compare her with other writers. But she seems to feel that the actual comparisons are sound: to George Eliot, Jane Austen, Galsworthy, Compton Mackenzie and Dostoevsky. What did enrage her was ‘a nasty review’ which mentioned her in the same breath as Daphne du Maurier. She records the comment with a Sitwellian exclamation-mark after it. Great personal ...

So Amused

Sarah Rigby: Fay Weldon, 11 July 2002

Auto da Fay 
by Fay Weldon.
Flamingo, 366 pp., £15.99, May 2002, 9780007109920
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... and the smattering of famous names – encounters with Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Assia Wevill, George Barker and Elizabeth Smart are described, sometimes with an almost embarrassing degree of openness – it takes an effort of will to remember that what is described actually happened. This odd effect makes more sense if you see it as an attempt on ...

Just like Rupert Brooke

Tessa Hadley: 1960s Oxford, 5 April 2012

The Horseman’s Word: A Memoir 
by Roger Garfitt.
Cape, 378 pp., £18.99, April 2011, 978 0 224 08986 9
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... to lift me out of Daniel Deronda’ – and he restored himself by dipping into Agenda, George Barker. Studying poetry spilled over naturally into writing it: Garfitt went to informal workshops with John Wain and Peter Levi, heard Ted Hughes read at the Poetry Society. Coghill read his poems, but wasn’t very enthusiastic; Peter Jay took a ...

Staggering

Frank Kermode, 2 November 1995

Roy Fuller: Writer and Society 
by Neil Powell.
Carcanet, 330 pp., £25, September 1995, 1 85754 133 2
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... Aloof with rolling eye’; he didn’t like the neologistic epithet ‘penis’, partly because George Barker had used it first, partly because penises can only with difficulty be imagined to have ‘rolling’ eyes. ‘What the lighthouse was more like (the one at Dungeness) was a vinegar bottle with a perforated ceramic attachment to its ...

Writing the Night

Hugh Haughton, 25 January 1996

Selected Poems 
by David Gascoyne.
Enitharmon, 253 pp., £8.95, November 1994, 1 870612 34 5
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... he appeared in Alida Monro’s anthology Recent Poetry in 1933 alongside Yeats, Eliot, Auden and George Barker. Then, on leaving school, he published a novel, Opening Day, and before long his work could be found in the small magazines of his time such as Geoffrey Grigson’s New Verse and his friend Roger Roughton’s Contemporary Poetry and ...

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