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Take out all the adjectives

Jeremy Harding: The poetry of George Oppen

6 May 2004
New Collected Poems 
by George Oppen, edited by Michael Davidson.
Carcanet, 433 pp., £14.95, July 2003, 1 85754 631 8
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... careful, somewhat old-fashioned besides. Once he had started to write again, he never ceased to admire or cultivate the young, and he fell in with a new generation of poets in the 1960s, including RobertDuncan and Robert Creeley, but he was not entirely at home with the spirit of the decade, or the radicalism of the New Left. His wonderful letters, in which he thinks on his fingers, clattering away ...

Charging about in Brogues

Jenny Turner: Sarah Waters

23 February 2006
The Night Watch 
by Sarah Waters.
Virago, 472 pp., £16.99, February 2006, 1 84408 246 6
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... you all day, Viv,’ he says on their latest outing. She doesn’t believe him, but puts her hand inside his trousers to keep him happy all the same. Viv’s brother, the delicate, ‘fey-looking’ Duncan, has a weird job in a candle factory: his old friend Robert Fraser can’t believe it when he finds him there, working in what is essentially sheltered employment for people too damaged to do ...

The Most Eligible Bachelor on the Planet

Thomas Jones: ‘The President is Missing’

5 July 2018
The President Is Missing 
by Bill Clinton and James Patterson.
Century, 513 pp., £20, June 2018, 978 1 78089 839 1
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... The president​ in question is Jonathan Lincoln Duncan. He’s a Gulf veteran and former prisoner of war, an Army Ranger who was tortured in Iraq but didn’t betray his comrades or his country. He’s also a former governor of North Carolina, the state ...

Speaking in Tongues

Robert​ Crawford

8 February 1996
The Poetry of Scotland: Gaelic, Scots and English 1380-1980 
edited and introduced by Roderick Watson.
Edinburgh, 752 pp., £19.95, May 1995, 0 7486 0607 6
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... an angry piece of book-making. In retrospect what stands out is its inclusiveness. Here (in English translation) are the great Latinist George Buchanan and the Gaelic poet Alexander Mac-Donald. Duncan Ban MacIntyre’s expansive 18th-century Gaelic poem on deer (echoes of which can be heard in Crichton Smith and Les Murray) is juxtaposed with John Davidson’s ‘A Runnable Stag’. This should ...

A Bit Like Gulliver

Stephanie Burt: Seamus Heaney’s Seamus Heaney

11 June 2009
Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney 
by Dennis O’Driscoll.
Faber, 524 pp., £22.50, November 2008, 978 0 571 24252 8
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The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney 
edited by Bernard O’Donoghue.
Cambridge, 239 pp., £45, December 2008, 978 0 521 54755 0
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... an assertive response could be made: ‘I was taller and freer in myself at the end of the year than at the beginning.’ Daily life there ‘added up to one long steady protest’, with poets – RobertDuncan, Robert Bly, Gary Snyder – joining in: the engagé styles that repelled other American writers showed Heaney ‘what it meant to be American. There was a trust that things could be changed ...

Deep Down in the Trash

Robert​ Crawford

21 August 1997
God’s Gift to Women 
by Don Paterson.
Faber, 64 pp., £6.99, May 1997, 9780571177622
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... Younger Scottish writers seem to be preoccupied by gender. It is a theme crucial equally to Duncan McLean’s novel Bunker Man and to Kathleen Jamie’s poetry collection The Queen of Sheba. It is insistent in W.N. Herbert’s poem ‘Featherhood’ and Janice Galloway’s Foreign Parts. It ...

Snarly Glitters

August Kleinzahler: Roy Fisher

20 April 2006
The Long and the Short of It: Poems 1955-2005 
by Roy Fisher.
Bloodaxe, 400 pp., £12, June 2005, 1 85224 701 0
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... reading, looking at and listening to the important moderns and had begun publishing his own poems. As was, and remains, his custom, he nosed about on his own. One early non-Modernist influence was Robert Graves, and the ‘brusque conversational tone’ in some of his poetry. In the mid-1950s, the poet Gael Turnbull, who was editing a special British number for Cid Corman’s magazine Origin, took an ...

Kick over the Scenery

Stephanie Burt: Philip K. Dick

3 July 2008
Four Novels of the 1960s: ‘The Man in the High Castle’, ‘The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch’, ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’, ‘Ubik’ 
by Philip K. Dick.
Library of America, 830 pp., $35, May 2008, 978 1 59853 009 4
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Five Novels of the 1960s and 1970s: ‘Martian Time-Slip’, ‘Dr Bloodmoney’, ‘Now Wait for Last Year’, ‘Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said’, ‘A Scanner Darkly’ 
by Philip K. Dick.
Library of America, 1128 pp., $40, August 2008, 978 1 59853 025 4
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... the Elizabethan composer John Dowland). In 1947 the awkward young man with literary ambitions moved into a flat with other young littérateurs, including the future avant-garde poets Jack Spicer and RobertDuncan. He also took a job in a record store, where he met his first wife (they split up after six months) and then his second, Kleo, who introduced him to Bay Area hard-left politics and became his ...


Duncan​ Campbell

19 October 1995
The Autobiography of a Thief 
by Bruce Reynolds.
Bantam, 320 pp., £15.99, April 1995, 0 593 03779 0
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... or the hitman’s bullet (Wilson) glamorous then that’s that. Scotland Yard decided in the Fifties to dissuade senior detectives from having a high profile. They were irritated with people like Robert ‘Fabian of the Yard’ Fabian claiming glory for what were essentially team efforts. The high-profile gumshoe was discouraged. Partly as a result of that, there have been few detective memoirs of ...

Seductress Extraordinaire

Terry Castle: The vampiric Mercedes de Acosta

24 June 2004
‘That Furious Lesbian’: The Story of Mercedes de Acosta 
by Robert​ Schanke.
Southern Illinois, 210 pp., £16.95, June 2004, 0 8093 2579 9
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Women in Turmoil: Six Plays 
by Mercedes de Acosta, edited by Robert​ Schanke.
Southern Illinois, 252 pp., £26.95, June 2003, 0 8093 2509 8
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... acquaintance to nickname her ‘Countess Dracula’. Yet such was de Acosta’s sinister allure she managed to bed just about everybody who was anybody in the sapphic world of her time: from Isadora Duncan, Alla Nazimova, Pola Negri, Tamara Karsavina, Katharine Cornell, Marie Laurencin, Michael Strange and Eva Le Gallienne in the 1920s and 1930s to Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Hope Williams, Libby ...

On Not Being Sylvia Plath

Colm Tóibín: Thom Gunn on the Move

13 September 2018
Selected Poems 
by Thom Gunn.
Faber, 336 pp., £16.99, July 2017, 978 0 571 32769 0
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... easily find work. Thom Gunn photographed by Rollie McKenna in 1957 It was strange being alone with these two books; even the names of the poets – Charles Tomlinson, or David Gascoyne, or Robert Conquest, or John Holloway, or Christopher Middleton, or Geoffrey Hill – stood for a world that was fully England. Looking at the list of poets was like having one’s Irish nose pushed up against ...
11 April 2013
Collected Poems 
by Edward Dorn.
Carcanet, 995 pp., £25, November 2012, 978 1 84777 126 1
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... that unitary vision expressed at the 1967 Congress for Dialectics of Liberation, up the road at the Roundhouse, the former engine-turning shed. Stuart Montgomery, the publisher of Gunslinger (and of RobertDuncan, Gary Snyder, Basil Bunting, David Jones and Roy Fisher), a wispy-moustached medical man with a significant hobby, decided to do something about the sluggishness and indolence of mainstream ...

Gray’s Elegy

Jonathan Coe

8 October 1992
Poor Things 
by Alasdair Gray.
Bloomsbury, 317 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 7475 1246 9
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... in the style of William Strang, even a joke erratum slip which tells us with sublime irrelevance that ‘the etching on page 187 does not portray Professor Jean Martin Charcot, but Count Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac.’ Technically the most impressive thing in the book is a 90-page letter from Bella describing her European tour and brutal political education, with the accelerating ...

Goodbye Moon

Andrew O’Hagan: Me and the Moon

25 February 2010
The Book of the Moon 
by Rick Stroud.
Doubleday, 368 pp., £16.99, May 2009, 978 0 385 61386 6
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Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon 
by Craig Nelson.
John Murray, 404 pp., £18.99, June 2009, 978 0 7195 6948 7
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Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon 
by Buzz Aldrin and Ken Abraham.
Bloomsbury, 336 pp., £16.99, July 2009, 978 1 4088 0402 5
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... of being ‘the second man on the Moon’. Buzz is a nice man but naive as all get-out; perfect, in a way, for the picture-postcard commentary he has always been asked to provide. There was no Robert Frost or Allen Ginsberg in space, but we have Buzz: ‘Our blue and brown habitat of humanity appeared like a jewel of life in the midst of the surrounding blackness. From space there were no ...

Flickering Star

Robert​ Crawford: Iain Crichton Smith

21 January 1999
TheLeaf and the Marble 
by Iain Crichton Smith.
Carcanet, 80 pp., £6.95, October 1998, 1 85754 400 5
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... one of his English poems asks ‘Shall Gaelic Die?’ and states ‘He who loses his language loses his world.’ An admirer of Eliot, Lowell and the Classical tradition, as well as a translator from Duncan Ban Macintyre and the great heritage of Gaelic verse, Crichton Smith was a superb mediator between the various cultures native to his imagination, an imagination often haunted by loss. In review ...

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