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News and reviews

London Library Anthology

No one had any idea when the London Library’s inaugural “emerging writers” scheme kicked off in spring 2019 (a year’s membership and a programme of workshops for forty writers at various stages of emergence) that it would end with us not being there. Of all the tragedies wrought by this pandemic the premature end to […]

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Wastebook

Some Trouble With Blurbs

It’s remarkably hard to describe a book – or at least any good book. The problem isn’t simply that you have a large number of words to summarize. There is a basic formula for that. What kind of book is it? What happens? But as soon as I get past the basics, I find it […]

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Poems

The Uncomfortable Beach Chair

W. H. Auden is still best known for the poetry he wrote in the 1930s, which captured the spirit of an anxious age. But his later poems are unsettling in their own way too, if you know where to look.

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Poems

A Long Slide from a High Window

Philip Larkin is one of the most distinctive and best loved voices in modern poetry, yet a poem like ‘High Windows’ hits home because he was also a master of switching register.

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Poems

Boom, Boom

‘View of the Capital from the Library of Congress’ by the American poet Elizabeth Bishop sounds like an austere landscape painting, but the poem gently mocks the seriousness of its surroundings.

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Poems

Poemy unpoeticness

Part of the genius of ‘Snow’ is the way Louis MacNeice works against the readers expectations. It’s unpoetically poetic.

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Poems

Negative virtues

Poems are not social in any normal sense of the word. You must spend a lot of time alone to write or read them. The reader might share them or even read them to someone else (it does happen) and you can say that this is a kind of socialness. Here we get a little […]

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Wastebook

Into My Own: A Proposal

There is something about poetry which speaks to isolation. A poem is a highly concentrated moment of communication. Or at least a highly concentrated moment of attempted communication. Poets are generally more solitary than most, but a poem is never solitary: it’s a signal sent up into the sky, trusting someone will receive it. I […]

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News and reviews

2 reviews: Hannah Lowe and Stewart Sanderson

I enjoy doing OPOIs (it stands for ‘one point of interest’) for Sphinx Review, the brainchild of Helena Nelson at HappenStance Press. The form, 350 words on one thing you liked about a new pamphlet, works like all forms – the restriction becomes a kind of freedom. If you haven’t written any criticism before it […]

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News and reviews

Another Way of Forgetting

I wrote something about ‘A Very Expensive Poison’, a play on at the Old Vic last year about the Litvinenko poisoning, how I enjoyed it (the play, not the poisoning) and what I thought it said about the way in which we think about ‘Russia’ for the Observer/Anthony Burgess Foundation prize for arts journalism and […]