Essay | Books That Changed My Life: ‘Tales from Ovid’

‘I don’t get poetry.’ It’s a miserable cliché, but generation after generation takes it to heart. In fact, as a teenager studying for my GCSEs, I believed it myself. Still sporting K-Swiss trainers and a swooping Justin Bieber fringe long after it was a good look (if it ever was), I was stuck in my old ways. I was a novels person, I thought — poems were too brief to affect me deeply or really sear themselves onto my psyche [...]

Fiction | ‘Notes from Underground’ and Dostoevsky’s existentialism

Dostoevsky’s literary legacy lies not so much in the style of his novels as in the characters that inhabit them. His characters drive narrative forwards and fulfill their plot function yet are also miraculously idiosyncratic. It is this which makes them so resonant: their apparent freedom of will that so often leads to tragedy. Whether it is the Byronic heroism of Raskolnikov or the troubled Ivan Karamazov, Dostoyevsky is interested in egoism and irrationality in the human condition [...]

Essay | The Moving Finger: Edward FitzGerald and the consolation of...

It is bad practice to search for a single moment in the life of an artist for explanation of their greatest work, but for Edward FitzGerald such a moment calls out for itself. In 1856 Edward Byles Cowell, FitzGerald’s companion and close friend, decided to leave for India following his graduation from Oxford to pursue a professorship in Calcutta. Up until this point in his life FitzGerald had been listless, finding little to enthuse him [...]

Essay | An argument for theatres by Amber Massie-Blomfield

The last show I saw before lockdown was Love Love Love at the Lyric Hammersmith. 500 of us were in that room; all gathered together to do what, in my pre-quarantine life, I used to do two or three times a week. I didn’t hug my friend when I met him at the start of the evening. It was the beginning of March and what constituted acceptable public behaviour seemed to shift on an hourly basis. We touched elbows. ‘This is probably the last theatre show we’ll ever see,’ [...]

Essay | How to Run a Queer Reading Series at a...

Queers Read This is an ongoing reading series started independently by artist Richard Porter and myself at the Horse Hospital in London in 2017, and co-run with the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) since. Quarterly events feature readings of texts which work across intersectional systems of oppression, and challenge formal distinctions between prose and poetry or critical and creative writing. Themes range from pansies and twink mysticism [...]

Essay | Am fit. Always thinking of you. Love. by Sam...

Before he settled on The Plague for his title, Camus considered The Separated and The Exiles. Exile comes suddenly to the inhabitants of Oran, a ‘clean-cut deprivation’ of contact with their lives beyond the city. The roads are sealed overnight. Not even letters can escape for fear of infection. Phone calls are restricted to ‘urgent cases.’ Lovers parted by quarantine must ‘hunt for tokens of their past communion within the compass of a ten-word telegram’ [...]

Essay | Wholly Communion by Scarlett Sabet

On June 11th 1965, over 7,000 people filled the Royal Albert Hall for four hours, smoking, applauding and listening to men that would soon become myth: Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Adrian Mitchell, and Gregory Corso were just some of the poets that performed that night at the International Poetry Incarnation. It was a counter-culture ‘happening’ in one of London's most affluent boroughs, the Royal Albert Hall itself a testament to the power and wealth of the old British Empire [...]

Essay | Layli and Majnun: Romeo and Juliet of the East...

When it comes to love stories, none are as well known in the English language as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In Iran and elsewhere in the Persian-speaking world, however, another pair of star-crossed lovers reigns supreme. Lord Byron, who enthused over ancient Iran in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, called Nezami Ganjavi’s Layli and Majnun ‘the Romeo and Juliet of the East’. Though given to exaggeration, this was no exaggeration on Byron’s part [...]

Essay | Reflections on Orwell’s Coming Up for Air by Patrick...

"Call it peace, if you like. But when I say peace I don’t mean absence of war, I mean peace, a feeling in your guts. And it’s gone for ever if the rubber-truncheon boys get hold of us." What moves us about this passage? It is not particularly difficult to know which literary world we are in, which part of history we are being exposed to, and even which author is speaking [...]

Essay | Diary of a Pembridge Poet: June 1976 – March...

On 17th June 1976, Robert Greacen, Northern Irish poet and colleague of Chris Rice at a private language school in Holland Park, hosted the first of his poetry workshops from his flat in Pembridge Crescent, Notting Hill Gate. As the junior member at that first meeting, Chris kept a diary of the group’s comings and goings, and continued to do so for the next six years. The extracts below trace a ten-month period from the first meeting in a small flat in Notting Hill Gate to the group’s first public reading in Sloane Square [...]

Essay | The Meaning of La Grande Jatte by Jeffrey Meyers

Georges Seurat (l859-91) was a mysterious and elusive personality. Reserved in character and manner, extremely reticent about his private affairs, he kept no diaries and his rare letters were factual and impersonal. Born in Paris, the son of a retired court bailiff, he learned what he called the routine and dead practices of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, did his military service in Brest, painted in Paris and, in summers, on the Normandy coast. Like Caravaggio, Watteau, Van Gogh, Lautrec and Modigliani, he died in his thirties [...]

Essay | W. W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw, Revisited by Vidhi...

A cold, rainy night in February was apt for revisiting W. W. Jacobs’ 1902 short story, ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, first published in the collection The Lady of the Barge. Set in imperial Britain, the story endures as a spine-chilling classic of genre fiction; one which explores the folly of dabbling with the supernatural, darkness in its many forms, and the threat of the outsider.A non-commissioned officer, on leave from India, visits an elderly couple and their son. That evening he reveals [...]

Essay | Brighton Offshore by Shaun Traynor

Nine miles out from land but clearly visible, Brighton now has its own extensive windfarm. No matter where you live or work, in a strange way, it is always in front of you. Working at full capacity it can serve up enough electricity to light 350,000 homes and has become an established feature of the landscape. [...]

Essay | Dostoevsky and Poor Folk by Patrick Maxwell

Wilfred Owen captured the national spirit best when he talked of the ‘drawing-down of blinds’, surely the most succinct depiction of English melancholia. The English spirit – distinct from of Britishness, though also a part of it – is one of deep decline under the shadow of former empire. It is the spirit of T. S. Eliot’s line ‘winter’s afternoon | In a secluded chapel’ in ‘Little Gidding’; of the quiet introit sung by an evensong choir, backing away into the cathedrals’ dingy corners [...]

Essay | Kafka & Camus by Jeffrey Meyers

It is odd that the two book-length studies of Albert Camus’ The Stranger (1942), by English Showalter and Alice Kaplan, do not discuss the profound influence of Franz Kafka’s The Trial (1925). Other critics have emphasized, denied or deplored this influence. Herbert Lottman notes that while writing his novel Camus 'had read and reread Kafka, whose work seemed to him prophetic, one of the most significant of our time.' The critic Jean Paulhan - thinking of Hemingway’s simple sentences [...]

Essay | Reflections on The Brothers Karamazov by Patrick Maxwell

In his masterpiece, Enemies of Promise (1938), Cyril Connolly distinguishes between two different styles of writing, which he terms as the ‘Mandarin’ and the ‘Vernacular’. In the former group: Edward Gibbon, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce; among the latter: William Hazlitt, George Orwell, and Christopher Isherwood. Fyodor Dostoevsky is a writer of neither groups [...]

Essay | Vonnegut’s ‘Black Humor’

I had made her so unhappy that she had developed a sense of humor, which she certainly didn’t have when I married her . . . This line from Bluebeard’s narrator remarks on another kind of humor, the black humor Vonnegut is best known for. Its source is helplessness and despair. He explains: Laughter or crying is what a human being does when there’s nothing else he can do [...]

Essay | Gentrifying New York by Leonard Quart

The New York one walks through these days is unrecognizable from the city that existed a decade ago. New developments are occurring at a breakneck pace throughout the city, and while much of it is happening on an individual level, some of it is lumped into massive, overweening projects rising all over the five boroughs. They rise even in out-of-the-way and broken neighbourhoods which, in the past, one couldn’t imagine would attract expensive development. But now almost every piece of the city is ripe for development and profit – even in the impoverished South Bronx, large residential and retail project Bronx Point (offering affordable [...]

Essay | Proust’s Secrets Revealed

Marcel Proust and his oeuvre are at once overexposed and mysterious. Entire books and studies have explored the minute details of his personal life and literary work. There is a book about what cures and medications he took specifically for his insomnia. There is a hundred-page academic study dedicated solely to the eight-word first sentence [...]

Essay | On Angela Carter by Sharlene Teo

I was thirteen when I first encountered The Bloody Chamber, back in the humid and claustrophobic childhood bedroom that I shared with my older sister in Bukit Timah, Singapore. I remember idly scanning my sister’s bookshelf; plywood, festooned with glow-in-the-dark plastic stars. I spotted a bent orange spine on the second shelf [...]

Essay | Becket back in the cathedral

Great drama has a way of always being relevant whenever it is performed, even if, like T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, it isn’t performed very often. The play is, of course, about the assassination of Thomas Becket, but with undertones of the shadow of Fascism over Europe. Next year sees the 850th anniversary of the event [...]

Essay | Tony Harrison: Poetry & Class

Patrick MaxwellTony Harrison: Poetry & ClassThe use of poetry as a form of class war has arguably never had particularly significant results in much of...

News | Caoilinn Hughes, on winning the Collyer Bristow Prize 2019

Caoilinn HughesOn winning the Collyer Bristow PrizeFirst thanks go to my peers—Sophie Mackintosh, Danny Denton, Samuel Fisher and Katherine Kilalea—for writing such good books...

Essay | A Dream of Maps: Notes from a Book Launch...

Chris Rice first met Matthew Sweeney at a poetry workshop in London in 1976, and they remained friends for forty-two years until Matthew's death in 2018. Chris Rice's elegy to Matthew and their long friendship [...]

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