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24 February 1994
The Kenneth Williams​ Diaries 
edited by Russell Davies.
HarperCollins, 827 pp., £20, June 1993, 0 00 255023 7
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... Many people would say – there stands English comedy,’ David Frost is reported to have declaimed, as Frankie Howerd and KennethWilliams stood side by side on his doorstep. Williams was unimpressed. ‘I thought to myself, “Then many people would be lacking in perception,” but shouted drunken goodbyes and reeled down the street into a taxi.’ What these two Titans of comedy ...
4 December 1986
The Orton Diaries 
edited by John Lahr.
Methuen, 307 pp., £12.50, November 1986, 0 413 49660 0
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... in all human beings? – what Keats, in another context, called ‘the feel of not to feel’. The consensus is that Orton was a promiscuous and chilly sensualist – so unable to empathise with Kenneth Halliwell, the literary mentor and sexual partner he had decisively outgrown, that Halliwell was driven to hammer the point home. Before taking the 22 nembutals which killed him, Halliwell left a ...

Light Entertainment

Andrew O’Hagan: Our Paedophile Culture

8 November 2012
... couldn’t and shouldn’t be free and the era had a very odd way of dealing with them. There was the funny world of Julian and Sandy, but, behind it, there was also the world of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell having regular sex with 14-year-old boys. Peggy Ramsay encouraged Orton to keep a journal ‘à la Gide’ about their time in Morocco. The diaries are a long whirling trip of hashish and ...

This Condensery

August Kleinzahler: In Praise of Lorine Niedecker

5 June 2003
Collected Works 
by Lorine Niedecker, edited by Jenny Penberthy.
California, 471 pp., £29.95, May 2002, 0 520 22433 7
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Collected Studies in the Use of English 
by Kenneth​ Cox.
Agenda, 270 pp., £12, September 2001, 9780902400696
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New Goose 
by Lorine Niedecker, edited by Jenny Penberthy.
Listening Chamber, 98 pp., $10, January 2002, 0 9639321 6 0
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... when eyes went a bit bad hospital floor washer, dining room helper etc … Retired now at 63. As with Lorine Niedecker’s poetry, much has been left out, but these few words written to the critic Kenneth Cox in 1966 provide us with the biographical gist. This Collected Works should succeed, at long last, in establishing Niedecker as one of the most important and original poets of this past century ...
5 June 1997
Kenneth​ Burke in Greenwich Village: Conversing with the Moderns, 1915-31 
by Jack Selzer.
Wisconsin, 284 pp., £45, February 1997, 0 299 15184 0
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... Like many people who came to New York City in the high-flying years of the early 20th century, Kenneth Burke approached the city as a work of art. ‘I cannot express it, it is too sweeping,’ he rhapsodised to a friend, exiled at Harvard, shortly after his arrival from Pittsburgh in 1917. He ...

Brief Encounters

Andrew O’Hagan: Gielgud and Redgrave

5 August 2004
Gielgud's Letters 
edited by Richard Mangan.
Weidenfeld, 564 pp., £20, March 2004, 0 297 82989 0
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Secret Dreams: A Biography of Michael Redgrave 
by Alan Strachan.
Weidenfeld, 484 pp., £25, April 2004, 0 297 60764 2
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... amount of time in the vicinity of Wigan Pier, where a succession of drag artists have kept working-class audiences howling into their tumblers for years. To someone like me who grew up thinking KennethWilliams was the perfect English gentleman (and imagining Russell Harty and Lily Savage to be the perfect Northern blokes), the words of Norman Tebbit are not just mad in the way you’d expect from ...

In the Circus

William Wootten: Low-Pressure Poetry

3 August 2006
The Collected Poems 
by Kenneth​ Koch.
Knopf, 761 pp., £40, November 2005, 1 4000 4499 5
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... Kenneth Koch (pronounced ‘coke’) could do a mean impersonation of William Carlos Williams. ‘This is Just to Say’, Williams’s note asking forgiveness for eating the plums in the icebox which ‘you were probably/saving/for breakfast’ on the grounds that they were ‘so sweet/and so cold’, gets the Koch treatment in ...

Poet at the Automat

Eliot Weinberger: Charles Reznikoff

22 January 2015
... watching the flies on his desk. In the late 1920s he met two younger poets, Louis Zukofsky and George Oppen. The three, all Jewish New Yorkers, shared an admiration for Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and a belief, along with Williams, that American modernism should be relocated from Paris and London to the US. Asked to edit an issue of Poetry in 1931, Zukofsky put them together, along with ...

We’ve done awfully well

Karl Miller: The Late 1950s

18 July 2013
Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-59 
by David Kynaston.
Bloomsbury, 432 pp., £25, June 2013, 978 0 7475 8893 1
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... he does have to say about public affairs. A not uncritical leftish feeling can be surmised for the romantic socialism of Aneurin Bevan, and for the romantic sociology of Michael Young and Raymond Williams, as the views of these three have been characterised. One of the best sayings culled for the new volume is drawn from Bevan, and is as good as the ‘poetry’ heard by someone in his speeches ...
26 January 1995
Kenneth​ Tynan: Letters 
edited by Kathleen Tynan.
Weidenfeld, 669 pp., £22, November 1994, 0 297 81076 6
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... no Musset; no motif of Delius – nothing but lucidity ... There’s a programme of insouciant, lilting French cabaret songs on the radio as I write and I have just lit a cigarette. Try and see me. Kenneth Tynan, aged 18, writing from Edgbaston, to his girlfriend Pauline Whittle We are suspicious of elegant letters. In personal correspondence we expect some trade-off between sincerity and style. The ...

Public Works

David Norbrook

5 June 1986
The Faber Book of Political Verse 
edited by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 481 pp., £17.50, May 1986, 0 571 13947 7
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... Sejanus: but he became James I’s court poet, and Paulin deals fairly brusquely with Jonson as a conservative monarchist. He is represented here by ‘To Penshurst’, with a gloss based on Raymond Williams which criticises the poem for concealing its politics behind apparently ‘natural’ images. But there is some force in Alastair Fowler’s counter-argument that Jonson’s poem, far from excluding ...

Chicory and Daisies

Stephanie Burt: William Carlos Williams

7 March 2002
Collected Poems: Volume I 
by William Carlos Williams, edited by A. Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan.
Carcanet, 579 pp., £12.95, December 2000, 1 85754 522 2
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Collected Poems: Volume II 
by William Carlos Williams, edited by A. Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan.
Carcanet, 553 pp., £12.95, December 2000, 1 85754 523 0
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... The painters have paid too much attention to the ism and not enough to the painting,’ William Carlos Williams wrote in 1928. Something similar could be said about Williams’s own critics: since his death in 1963, attention to his theories and to his life has been getting in the way of his poems. With Williams, more than the usual number of isms and caricatures need to ...

Soul Bellow

Craig Raine

12 November 1987
More die of heartbreak 
by Saul Bellow.
Alison Press/Secker, 335 pp., £10.95, October 1987, 0 436 03962 1
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... of my own life.’ Athol Fugard has acknowledged a similar debt to Camus. After apprentice work which struggled to accommodate South African material in the dramatic forms supplied by Tennessee Williams, Clifford Odets, Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller, Fugard found what he needed in Camus’s treatment of Algeria: ‘when I first encountered the articulation of that almost pagan, sensual life ...

Fast Water off the Bow-Wave

Jeremy Harding: George Oppen

21 June 2018
21 Poems 
by George Oppen, edited by David B. Hobbs.
New Directions, 48 pp., £7.99, September 2017, 978 0 8112 2691 2
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... foundations of his later reputation as a radical elder who had done his best to ‘make it new’. It included a short, boisterous preface by Pound. Reviewing it for Poetry in 1934, William Carlos Williams called it a blueprint for ‘a new construction’, undertaken with an ‘irreducible minimum’ of means. The icy charm of those poems, 31 in all, one per page, along with their brevity and ...

Exotic Bird from Ilford

Robert Baird: Denise Levertov

24 September 2014
Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life 
by Dana Greene.
Illinois, 328 pp., £22.99, October 2012, 978 0 252 03710 8
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A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov 
by Donna Krolik Hollenberg.
California, 515 pp., £30.95, April 2013, 978 0 520 27246 0
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Collected Poems 
by Denise Levertov.
New Directions, 1063 pp., £32.99, December 2013, 978 0 8112 2173 3
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... than poetic interest. But her first collection, The Double Image, which appeared in 1946, earned an appreciative mention from Vita Sackville-West in the Observer, and attracted the attention of Kenneth Rexroth, who chose to include her work in an anthology he was assembling. In the course of their correspondence Rexroth became infatuated with Levertov, even though she was 17 years younger than him ...

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