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Terrible to be alive

Julian Symons, 5 December 1991

Randall JarrellA Literary Life 
by William Pritchard.
Farrar, Straus, 335 pp., $25, April 1990, 0 374 24677 7
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Randall JarrellSelected Poems 
edited by William Pritchard.
Farrar, Straus, 115 pp., $17.95, April 1990, 0 374 25867 8
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... of Sidney Keyes. In America, Wilson seems in later years to have sensed that the youthful Randall Jarrell might emulate his discernment of the Twenties about a new generation of writers. In 1940 he gave Jarrell a run as poetry reviewer in the New Republic, and suggested to the New Yorker that they ...

Knives, Wounds, Bows

John Bayley, 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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... brought home in the prolonged minutiae of Marianne Moore’s criticism, and in the small talk of Randall Jarrell’s correspondence. Both have great collective charm, giving the effect of looking through the glass into a well-matured aquarium. ‘American literary culture’ seems far-off, sweetly homogeneous, infinitely attractive, whether mirrored in ...

Door Closing!

Mark Ford: Randall Jarrell, 21 October 2010

Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy 
by Randall Jarrell.
Chicago, 277 pp., £10.50, April 2010, 978 0 226 39375 9
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... Born in 1914, Randall Jarrell belonged to the first generation of American poets who found a ready home in the country’s burgeoning university system. Of the great modernists of the previous era, only Robert Frost assumed the role of pedagogue to undergraduates, taking his first job at Amherst College in 1917 ...

Three Poems

Bill Manhire, 19 June 2008

... to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great. Randall Jarrell Often they are naked; clothing is scattered across a field; or trousers and shirt appear in some nearby village – a little tattered, waiting to be folded. Sometimes with women the chemise is scorched, yet – strange – the dress and ...

Charmed Quarantine

James Wood, 21 March 1996

Soul Says: On Recent Poetry 
by Helen Vendler.
Harvard, 266 pp., £15.95, June 1995, 0 674 82146 7
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The Breaking of Style: Hopkins, Heaney, Graham 
by Helen Vendler.
Harvard, 100 pp., £18.95, January 1996, 0 674 08121 8
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The Given and the Made: Strategies of Poetic Redefinition 
by Helen Vendler.
Faber, 137 pp., £7.99, April 1995, 0 571 17078 1
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... to her influence and gentle longevity – she is the most powerful poetry critic in America since Randall Jarrell. She started reviewing in 1966, a year after Jarrell’s death, when the Massachusetts Review asked her to write a journal of the year’s work in poetry. Like ...

Doing It His Way

Adam Mars-Jones, 11 May 1995

Brownout on Breadfruit Boulevard 
by Timothy Mo.
Paddleless, 286 pp., £13.99, April 1995, 0 9524193 0 0
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... Was it Randall Jarrell who defined a novel as a long piece of prose fiction with something wrong with it? By that yardstick, Brownout on Breadfruit Boulevard is a novel thousands of times over. Timothy Mo has decided to go solo with this book, and has set up his own press for the purpose. This is not vanity publishing as that phrase is normally understood (Mo has in the past made money for himself and his publishers) but vanity certainly seems to come into it ...

Ashamed of the Planet

Ian Hamilton, 2 March 2000

No Other Book: Selected Essays 
by Randall Jarrell, edited by Brad Leithauser.
HarperCollins, 376 pp., $27.50, June 1999, 0 06 118012 2
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Remembering RandallA Memoir of Poet, Critic and Teacher Randall Jarrell 
by Mary von Schrader Jarrell.
HarperCollins, 173 pp., $22, June 1999, 0 06 118011 4
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... In April 1965, Randall Jarrell’s just published book of verse, The Lost World, was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review by Joseph Bennett. Bennett quite liked four of the poems but the rest of them, he said, were ‘taken up with Jarrell’s familiar, clanging vulgarity, corny clichés, cutenesses, and the intolerable self-indulgence of his tear-jerking bourgeois sentimentality ...

Toad in the Hole

Geoffrey Wall: Tristan Corbière, 16 July 1998

These Jaundiced Loves: A Translation of Tristan Corbière’s ‘Les Amours Jaunes’ 
by Christopher Pilling.
Peterloo, 395 pp., £14.95, April 1997, 1 871471 55 9
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... of Villon. Verlaine noticed this affinity, and Pound, who had read Verlaine, passed it on. Randall Jarrell returned to the comparison in a brief essay on Corbière, published in Poetry and the Age, where he praised the ‘cruel and magical tenderness’ of the verse. The figure who emerges at the end of the poem to embody these feelings is an ...

Roaring Boy

Adam Phillips: Hart Crane, 30 September 1999

The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane 
by Paul Mariani.
Norton, 492 pp., $35, April 1999, 0 393 04726 1
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O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane 
edited by Langdon Hammer and Brom Weber.
Four Walls Eight Windows, 562 pp., $35, July 1997, 0 941423 18 2
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... to write The Bridge as if he had the sensibility typical of Whitman.’ Dylan Thomas’s poems, Randall Jarrell wrote in 1940, ‘often mean much less than Crane’s – but when you consider Crane’s meanings this is not altogether a disadvantage’. And whether he was thought to be confused and self-deceiving, or vacuous, or even crazy, Crane was ...

How to do the life

Lorna Sage, 10 February 1994

Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World 
by Carol Brightman.
Lime Tree, 714 pp., £20, July 1993, 0 413 45821 0
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... job: if Brightman is a woman in some sense after her subject’s own heart it’s not in the way Randall Jarrell was thinking of when he put Mary McCarthy in Pictures from an Institution, saying that people couldn’t mention her style ‘without using the vocabulary of a salesman of kitchen knives’. On the contrary, Brightman is not murderous at ...

Dazzling Philosophy

Michael Hofmann, 15 August 1991

Seeing things 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 113 pp., £12.99, June 1991, 0 571 14468 3
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... of stress on the ‘I must’. The greatest difficulty for the poet is how to go on being one. Randall Jarrell set it out like this at the end of his essay on Stevens: ‘A man who is a good poet at 40 may turn out to be a good poet at 60; but he is more likely to have stopped writing poems, to be doing exercises in his own manner, or to have reverted ...

Lying doggo

Christopher Reid, 14 June 1990

Becoming a poet 
by David Kalstone, edited by Robert Hemenway.
Hogarth, 299 pp., £20, May 1990, 0 7012 0900 3
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... less common. Why, though, has it been so difficult for people just to see that she’s great? Randall Jarrell did, clearly enough, when in a 1956 review of the Poems he wrote: ‘Occasionally you meet someone and feel in astonished joy: “Well, this is what people ought to be like”; this is what poems ought to be like.’ For ...

Other Selves

John Bayley, 29 October 1987

How I Grew 
by Mary McCarthy.
Weidenfeld, 278 pp., £14.95, September 1987, 0 297 79170 2
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Myself and Michael Innes 
by J.I.M. Stewart.
Gollancz, 206 pp., £12.95, September 1987, 0 575 04104 8
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... long gone, as all good composers of memoirs should. He makes himself amusing for our benefit, as Randall Jarrell, in a somewhat different spirit, made Mary McCarthy amusing for us as Gertrude Johnson, in Pictures from an Institution. Maybe not an accurate portrait, or intended to be (indeed Jarrell might have ...

C.K. Stead writes about Christina Stead

C.K. Stead, 4 September 1986

Ocean of Story: The Uncollected Stories of Christina Stead 
edited by R.G. Geering.
Viking, 552 pp., £12.95, April 1986, 0 670 80996 9
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The Salzburg Tales 
by Christina Stead.
498 pp., £4.95, September 1986, 0 86068 691 4
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... circles. It took the 1965 American reissue (1966 in London) of The Man Who Loved Children, with Randall Jarrell’s long introduction describing it as ‘one of those books that their own age neither reads nor praises, but that the next age thinks a masterpiece’, to jolt the Australian consciousness into reading Stead and reclaiming her. By that year ...

A Hammer in His Hands

Frank Kermode: Lowell’s Letters, 22 September 2005

The Letters of Robert Lowell 
edited by Saskia Hamilton.
Faber, 852 pp., £30, July 2005, 0 571 20204 7
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... poet’s by some two years. Of at least equal importance are the poets of his own generation: Randall Jarrell, John Berryman, Theodore Roethke, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop. There are more letters to Bishop than to anybody else. For thirty years Lowell and Bishop admired and influenced one another’s poetry and took unusual trouble over their ...

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