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 [...]
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 [...]
"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 [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
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. [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
Leonard Quart Gentrifying New York The New York one walks through these days is unrecognizable from the city that existed a decade ago. New developments are...
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 [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
Patrick Maxwell Tony Harrison: Poetry & Class The use of poetry as a form of class war has arguably never had particularly significant results in much of...
Caoilinn Hughes On winning the Collyer Bristow Prize First thanks go to my peers—Sophie Mackintosh, Danny Denton, Samuel Fisher and Katherine Kilalea—for writing such good books...
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 [...]
Jelgava, lying just a short distance south of the Latvian capital Riga, once the seat of the Dukes of Courland as well as being a western outpost of the Russian Tsarist empire, has historically been something of a cultural crossroads. Whereas Riga became prosperous [...]
“The best way to live in the present is less carefully”: for better or worse, Jeremy Over’s winningly preposterous fourth collection, Fur Coats in Tahiti, follows its own advice to the letter. On the whole, I think, the better wins out, but let’s start by getting some of the worse [...]
The following essay is an extract from Kenneth Womack's forthcoming book Solid State: The Story of “Abbey Road” and the End of the Beatles,...
A maverick anarchist, bookseller and entrepreneur, Richard Booth, who has died aged 80, transformed the small Powys town of Hay-on-Wye into a mecca for the second-hand book. His significant and colourful legacy in the book trade inspired a formula [...]
A. E. Housman was an introverted man whose poetry is somewhat unique in its widespread appeal. Despite only producing two collections of poetry in his lifetime (A Shropshire Lad in 1896 and Last Poems in 1922), his reputation as a master of lyricism [...]
In 2016, Roisin O’Donnell published an article in The Irish Times which addressed the curious fact that so few Irish writers wrote in the magic realist mode. Putting in a plea for magic realism, she argued that “Ireland, with its healthy litany of bread-crusts-make-your-hair-go-curly superstitions, along with its hand-me-down myths [...]