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Poetry to Thrill an Oyster

Gregory Woods: Fitz-Greene Halleck, 16 November 2000

The American Byron: Homosexuality and the Fall of Fitz-Greene Halleck 
by John W.M. Hallock.
Wisconsin, 226 pp., £14.95, April 2000, 0 299 16804 2
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... as a beautiful 14-year-old boy (‘A bonny boy, with eye-delighting eyes,/Sparkling as stars, and blue as summer’s skies’), fast asleep in the midst of spring foliage. Quite how his eyes manage to be so delightful while he sleeps is not made clear. Three adults in succession wander by and admire this desirable child: a preacher, a soldier and a ...

Gloves Off

Glen Newey: Torture, 29 January 2009

Death by a Thousand Cuts 
by Timothy Brook, Jérôme Bourgon and Gregory Blue.
Harvard, 320 pp., £22.95, March 2008, 978 0 674 02773 2
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Standard Operating Procedure: A War Story 
by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris.
Picador, 286 pp., £8.99, January 2009, 978 0 330 45201 4
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Torture Team: Deception, Cruelty and the Compromise of Law 
by Philippe Sands.
Allen Lane, 315 pp., £20, May 2008, 978 1 84614 008 2
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... Like making jokes or copulating without regard to season, torturing is one of those activities that distinguish human beings from other animals. Inflicted both on our congeners and on other species, it marks us out, in the words of the King of Brobdingnag, as a pernicious race of little odious vermin. Even Richard Rorty, the self-styled postmodernist liberal, felt able to pronounce that cruelty was ‘the worst thing we do ...

Revolutionary Gaze

Mark Elvin, 4 November 1982

China Diary 
by Stephen Spender and David Hockney.
Thames and Hudson, 200 pp., £10, November 1982, 0 500 01290 3
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... disconnected from the places they are visiting... like the plug of the television set in David and Gregory’s room which failed to fit into its socket.’ He compares conversation with the Chinese to ‘a clear transparent stream with a smiling, friendly surface, but a few inches down an opaque floor of stone at the bottom of the stream, below which one ...

If Only Analogues...

Ange Mlinko: Ginsberg Goes to India, 20 November 2008

A Blue Hand: The Beats in India 
by Deborah Baker.
Penguin US, 256 pp., £25.95, April 2008, 978 1 59420 158 5
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... Ginsberg to India in the first place. He was not alone. Nor is the story Deborah Baker tells in A Blue Hand – a story about the encounter between optimistic, postcolonial Bengalis and disillusioned American Beats – about Ginsberg alone. It is a dense little slice of bicultural history, collated from biographies, journals, interviews and audiocassettes. It ...

On the Beach

Peter Campbell: Untucked, 5 September 2002

... aloha shirts might be made from kimono lengths from Japan – elaborately printed silk or plain blue and white – or from big-patterned florals in English cotton, like the wrap-around pareus Gauguin’s Tahitian women wear. After that, locally designed – and locally printed – patterns, which might have the innocence of nursery wallpaper, the brilliance ...

At the Hepworth

Emily LaBarge: Hannah Starkey, 4 May 2023

... girl from behind as she looks out over 1960s housing blocks edged in yellow and green. She wears blue jeans and a light blue sweater, which has lifted up above her midriff; the sun must be behind her (behind us) because the towers appear brightly lit against an ominous sky. The girl’s hair – half dark brown, half ...

There’s a porpoise close behind us

Michael Dobson, 13 November 1997

The Origins of English Nonsense 
by Noel Malcolm.
HarperCollins, 329 pp., £18, May 1997, 0 00 255827 0
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... includes, along with mock-eulogies and mock-epitaphs on both Hoskyns and Coryate, the epic Sir Gregory Nonsence His Newes from No Place, the more comprehensibly satirical Mercurius Nonsensicus and the virtually endless The Essence of Nonsence upon Sence (included here with only the comparatively lucid interpolated elegy on a diseased horse omitted), and it ...

At the V&A

Esther Chadwick: Opus Anglicanum, 5 January 2017

... and Bologna copes, the Ascoli Piceno cope, probably presented as a diplomatic gift by Edward I to Gregory X, or the Madrid cope, referred to in an inventory of 1397 in the Church of Santa María de los Sagrados Corporales near Zaragoza as ‘an excellent cope or pluviale completely worked in gold with various images of silk and with the front orphrey ...


Colm Tóibín: The Great Irish Famine, 30 July 1998

... is what can happen to great houses with ambiguous legacies.The copper beech tree on which Lady Gregory’s guests carved their names is close by. You can just make out some of the initials: GBS, SOC, WBY, JBY, AE. ‘All/That comes of the best knit to the best,’ Yeats wrote in ‘Upon a House Shaken by Land Agitation’. Lady ...

What if you hadn’t been home

Mary-Kay Wilmers: Joan Didion, 3 November 2011

Blue Nights 
by Joan Didion.
Fourth Estate, 188 pp., £14.99, November 2011, 978 0 00 743289 9
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... or elsewhere, is what Quintana looked like: was she tall or short, plump or skinny – who knows? Blue Nights is dedicated to Quintana. The reference in the title is to a colour of evening light – ‘the French called this time of day “l’heure bleue”.’ You see it first in late April when ‘suddenly summer seems near, a possibility, even a ...

Smoking big cigars

David Herd, 23 July 1992

by Fred Voss.
Bloodaxe, 180 pp., £7.95, November 1991, 1 85224 198 5
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... on the factory floor, Voss describes the conflicts and frustrations which daily beset the American blue-collar worker. He does so in a voice so unassuming it is sometimes only barely audible behind his technical diction. He is rigorous in his resistance of polemics, and the result of this forbearance is a patient and perspicuous narrative which rarely betrays ...

Fire or Earthquake

Thomas Powers: Joan Didion’s Gaze, 3 November 2022

Let Me Tell You What I Mean: A New Collection of Essays 
by Joan Didion.
Fourth Estate, 149 pp., £8.99, January 2022, 978 0 00 845178 3
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... two late narratives – The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), about the death of her husband, and Blue Nights (2011), about the loss of her daughter – that fixed her reputation.I never met Didion or her husband, the novelist John Gregory Dunne, but in September 1974 I heard Didion speak one evening in the Branford College ...

Showing Off

Laleh Khalili: Superyachts, 9 May 2024

Superyachts: Luxury, Tranquillity and Ecocide 
by Grégory Salle.
Polity, 122 pp., £12.99, January, 978 1 5095 5995 4
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... trip, Bezos flew ten miles higher on a rocket launched by his commercial space travel company, Blue Origin. Accompanying him was the teenage son of the head of a Dutch private equity fund, who paid millions for the seat.The other playground is deep under the ocean. Last year, Stockton Rush took his submersible Titan down to the wreck of the Titanic, more ...

God bless Italy

Christopher Clark: Rome, Vienna, 1848, 10 May 2018

The Pope Who Would Be King: The Exile of Pius IX and the Emergence of Modern Europe 
by David I. Kertzer.
Oxford, 474 pp., £25, May 2018, 978 0 19 882749 8
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... but he profited from the general relief at the death of his predecessor, the stern and reactionary Gregory XVI. The old pope had died at the age of eighty; the new man, who adopted the name Pius IX, was 54, with a warm personality and a cheerful, winning manner. Whereas Gregory had begun his reign in 1831 with a campaign of ...

It was gold

Patricia Lockwood: Joan Didion’s Pointillism, 4 January 2018

Joan Didion: The Centre Will Not Hold 
directed by Griffin Dunne.
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South and West: From a Notebook 
by Joan Didion.
Fourth Estate, 160 pp., £10, September 2017, 978 0 00 825717 0
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... where she learned to choose the right word; we know about the forty-year marriage to John Gregory Dunne, who was ‘between me and the world’ – though it is surprising to hear her speak of how it happened, now, at 82: ‘Well I went to Hartford, and fell in love with his family, and determined that I was going to marry him. And did.’ Here her ...

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