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Merely an Empire

David Thomson: Eighteen Hours in Vietnam

20 September 2017
The Vietnam War 
directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
PBS, ten episodes
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... is a faith in humanism now wishful thinking? Perhaps our best chance of advancing through the minefield is to be a fool, to kid ourselves, and try to think of courage.The Vietnam War, a film made by KenBurns and Lynn Novick, comes in ten parts, with beginnings, middles and end credits; and lasts 18 hours altogether, which some may feel is a lot to ask of busy, anxious wrecks who have their own ...
20 November 1986
Bowie 
by Jerry Hopkins.
Elm Tree, 275 pp., £8.95, May 1985, 0 241 11548 5
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Alias David Bowie 
by Peter Gillman and Leni Gillman.
Hodder, 511 pp., £16.95, September 1986, 0 340 36806 3
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... also want to reveal the true facts about his South London background and boyhood, which have been concealed under a smudge of showbiz hype: they are particularly interested in his half-brother, Terry Burns, who was sent to Cane Hill, a Surrey asylum for the insane, and committed suicide. (Charles Chaplin’s mother also ended up in Cane Hill.) Thirdly, the Gillmans want to interpret Bowie’s lyrics ...
10 November 1988
MacDiarmid 
by Alan Bold.
Murray, 482 pp., £17.95, September 1988, 0 7195 4585 4
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A Drunk Man looks at the Thistle 
by Hugh MacDiarmid, edited by Kenneth Buthlay.
Scottish Academic Press, 203 pp., £12.50, February 1988, 0 7073 0425 3
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The Hugh MacDiarmid-George Ogilvie Letters 
edited by Catherine Kerrigan.
Aberdeen University Press, 156 pp., £24.90, August 1988, 0 08 036409 8
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Hugh MacDiarmid and the Russian 
by Peter McCarey.
Scottish Academic Press, 225 pp., £12.50, March 1988, 0 7073 0526 8
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... importance of Gregory Smith’s Caledonian antisyzygy as a paramount interpretative tool in A Drunk Man. We might also point to Gregory Smith’s discussion of the so-called Editorial Theory about Burns. This theory sees the poet’s merit less in terms of his individual originality than in terms of his editing of given material. MacDiarmid’s oeuvre is a constant exploration of the tension between ...

Colloquially Speaking

Patrick McGuinness: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945

1 April 1999
The Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain and Ireland since 1945 
edited by Simon Armitage and Robert Crawford.
Viking, 480 pp., £10.99, September 1998, 0 670 86829 9
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The Firebox: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945 
edited by Sean O’Brien.
Picador, 534 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 0 330 36918 0
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... restoring a seminal poet to rightful prominence. There are omissions, especially of poets who challenge received opinions, particularly about the Forties and Fifties. We won’t find, for instance, Burns Singer, one of the most original poets of the Fifties, or David Wright and John Heath-Stubbs. All three were friends of Graham, and their inclusion might have helped the Forties and Fifties out of ...

Diary

Jenny Turner: The Deborah Orr I Knew

9 February 2020
... My parents were both teachers, a generation away from the physical and financial precarity of the Orrs; and yet, there was so much standardisation in 1960s Scottish girlhoods. Platignum Pens and the Burns Federation. Busy books, Francis Gay, Opportunity Knocks with Neil Reid. Dogs of all sorts, but mainly collies. Collies are the best. Chips fried in lard you’d leave to solidify for the next time ...

Dialect does it

Blake Morrison

5 December 1985
No Mate for the Magpie 
by Frances Molloy.
Virago, 170 pp., £7.95, April 1985, 0 86068 594 2
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The Mysteries 
by Tony Harrison.
Faber, 229 pp., £9.95, August 1985, 9780571137893
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Ukulele Music 
by Peter Reading.
Secker, 103 pp., £3.95, June 1985, 0 436 40986 0
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Hard Lines 2 
edited by Ian Dury, Pete Townshend, Alan Bleasdale and Fanny Dubes.
Faber, 95 pp., £2.50, June 1985, 0 571 13542 0
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No Holds Barred: The Raving Beauties choose new poems by women 
edited by Anna Carteret, Fanny Viner and Sue Jones-Davies.
Women’s Press, 130 pp., £2.95, June 1985, 0 7043 3963 3
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Katerina Brac 
by Christopher Reid.
Faber, 47 pp., £8.95, October 1985, 0 571 13614 1
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Skevington’s Daughter 
by Oliver Reynolds.
Faber, 88 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 571 13697 4
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Rhondda Tenpenn’orth 
by Oliver Reynolds.
10 pence
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Trio 4 
by Andrew Elliott, Leon McAuley and Ciaran O’Driscoll.
Blackstaff, 69 pp., £3.95, May 1985, 0 85640 333 4
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Mama Dot 
by Fred D’Aguiar.
Chatto, 48 pp., £3.95, August 1985, 0 7011 2957 3
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The Dread Affair: Collected Poems 
by Benjamin Zephaniah.
Arena, 112 pp., £2.95, August 1985, 9780099392507
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Long Road to Nowhere 
by Amryl Johnson.
Virago, 64 pp., £2.95, July 1985, 0 86068 687 6
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Mangoes and Bullets 
by John Agard.
Pluto, 64 pp., £3.50, August 1985, 0 7453 0028 6
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Ragtime in Unfamiliar Bars 
by Ron Butlin.
Secker, 51 pp., £3.95, June 1985, 0 436 07810 4
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True Confessions and New Clichés 
by Liz Lochhead.
Polygon, 135 pp., £3.95, July 1985, 0 904919 90 0
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Works in the Inglis Tongue 
by Peter Davidson.
Three Tygers Press, 17 pp., £2.50, June 1985
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Wild Places: Poems in Three Leids 
by William Neill.
Luath, 200 pp., £5, September 1985, 0 946487 11 1
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... Neill’s Wild Places dialect sometimes looks like mere folksiness, the equivalent of a kilt or Highland fling: it springs from the same nationalistic feeling that makes him write rhapsodies for Burns and Iona, attack the map-makers for having Anglicised Gaelic place-names, and lament that farms have declined to the point where they are run by tractors and women – ‘the wife hersel was loupan ...

No One Leaves Her Place in Line

Jeremy Harding: Martha Gellhorn

7 May 1998
... But it took the form of a troubled query on my part which would produce a simply-stated caveat on hers about the virtue of the Republic and those, all those, who fought for it. Martha regarded Ken Loach’s movie, Land and Freedom, which tells the story of the betrayal of the POUM by the Communists, as an insult to the International Brigades. She poured scorn on the combat scenes (‘a joke ...

I only want the OM

Christopher Tayler: Somerset Maugham

1 September 2005
Somerset Maugham: A Life 
by Jeffrey Meyers.
Vintage, 411 pp., £12, April 2005, 1 4000 3052 8
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... Sunday Express, before complete decrepitude set in. Born while Anna Karenina was being serialised, he died – on 15 December 1965 – while the Beatles were promoting Rubber Soul. A month earlier, Ken Tynan had said ‘fuck’ on TV. Maugham, by most accounts, had been saying it in public quite a lot as well. Meyers clearly works at great speed, and although his biography is better than it might ...
4 May 1989
... for language in this place, things flicker and slide, shapes loom and melt away. There is none of that elegiac lyricism of drowning and summer afternoons here – gentle kaddish for the dead. Here it burns and hurts. It is violent, spasmodic, monstrous. There is no wholeness. I am not myself here. I can bear to stay here no longer.But there is a second thing, a second way in which Carol’s death is ...

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