By MICHAEL CAINES
I took a tour of Shakespeare's England yesterday morning – without leaving central London.
It seemed like the right time to do it. The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death has inspired an extraordinary number of exhibitions and events. I feel as if I reached "peak Bard" some time ago, following the previews for By me William Shakespeare and the BFI's Shakespeare on Film season (where Sir Ian McKellen restated his view, as in his Richard III, that updated or contemporary costumes can help viewers to understand what's going on in the plays). Nevertheless, there has been much more to enjoy. . . .
By SAMUEL GRAYDON
On entering 50 Albemarle Street, I felt as Ali Baba might have as the stone was rolled back from the mouth of the thieves’ cave. For an inconspicuous white town house, a minute’s walk from Green Park underground station, it certainly held more than its fair share of treasures. This was John Murray’s house and, from 1768 to 2002, it was the site of operations for the publisher that bears his name. I was directed up a wide staircase to the first floor where, in a room with grand bookshelves and gold wallpaper, lay a spread of tea, coffee, pastries and fruit (and, oddly, Bloody Marys). This was the “Frankenstein Breakfast” of the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association. Evidently, Frankenstein went for the Continental.
We were celebrating the winners of the 2016 Keats-Shelley Prize for poetry and essays on the theme “After Frankenstein” (for the bicentenary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s novel), and the winners of the Young Romantics Prize, for sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds, now in its second year. The Association had organized a reading, by the actors Helen McCrory and Damian Lewis, of extracts from Frankenstein intermingled with extracts from Shelley’s diary, arranged by the poet Pele Cox.
By JIM McCUE
Manuscripts of sixteen early poems by Sylvia Plath will be auctioned at Bonhams on March 16, along with photographs of her, and a birthday-card-letter to her mother from 1953, in which a rapturous Plath describes meeting W. H. Auden. Some of the material was first seen on the market when sold by the Plath estate in New York in 1982; more is anticipated, as a large collection is broken up.
By MICHAEL CAINES
Publishing in the eighteenth century was meant to be a disreputable business. The standard caricature of Grub Street is of a literary alley-way infested with parasites and plagiarists. Among others lurking there you might find the bookseller Edmund Curll, who regularly ran into trouble with fellow booksellers, authors and the authorities. Curll's reputation has improved as scholars have reassessed his astutely impudent, innovative side; but there is no gainsaying such misfortunes as his hour in the stocks (a potentially fatal punishment, given how the public could treat the condemned), Alexander Pope tricking him into drinking an emetic for publishing his work without permission, and the pupils at Westminster School making him kneel and beg forgiveness, then tossing him in a blanket.
Such associates were not for every aspiring writer, especially those who fancied making their way in the world via polite society, in order to gain the ear of an affluent and free-handed patron. It was better to be seen to be above business altogether, disreputable or not, while exploiting whatever scarce possibilities for personal enrichment publication had to offer. Hence the back-handed compliment Alexander Pope could pay the great Jacob Tonson, as noted in a review by Norma Clarke in the latest TLS – that he was "least a bookseller". . .
By MICHAEL CAINES
Last Tuesday: at the Museum of London I hear Belinda Jack speak about the difficulties of releasing Sylvia Plath’s poetry from the straitjacket of biography and the critical limits posthumously imposed on it by others.
Wednesday: at the Poetry Café I hear Jeremy Noel-Tod point out, in the course of a wide-ranging conversation about modern British poetry and its discontents, that Plath was born in the same year as Geoffrey Hill. Imagine the Collected Poems of a Plath now in her eighties! That would make Ariel an early work. (I recall Professor Jack’s observation of the previous evening that it was Hughes who had labelled everything Plath wrote before she met him “juvenilia”.) What could a longer-lived Plath (not) have done? What would her influence be now?
By ROBERT POTTS
In Laurie Anderson’s extraordinary performance piece (or poem, perhaps?) “Same Time Tomorrow”, she murmurs the following lines:
“And so when they say things like
‘We're gonna do this by the book’,
you have to ask ‘What book?’,
because it would make a big difference if it was
Dostoyevsky or just, you know,
I was reminded of “Same Time Tomorrow” by National Poetry Day, an annual event, when various media and institutions get excited about this beleaguered and much misunderstood art. Not the day itself – it's hard to be curmudgeonly about such a good-natured attempt to remind the nation of the power and pleasure of a literary genre – but the press release for it, a pro-forma piece of boosterism which linguistically offends against much of what it ostensibly values (“an opportunity to break with the tyranny of prose”). For we are all urged to “Make like A Poet” – to “dream, speak, love, live, act and think ‘like a poet’”.
By MICHAEL CAINES
Here's a gladdening thought: By Our Selves, Andrew Kötting's "abstract documentary" about the poet John Clare and his "Journey out of Essex", is out today. I blogged about this film last year, when it was in production but also in need of crowd-funding. Quite rightly, the crowd helped out – so here it is . . . .
By DAVID HORSPOOL
Congratulations to Claire Harman, whose poem "The Mighty Hudson", about a New York strongman (first published in the TLS), has been awarded the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem 2015. In an interview on the Forward site, Claire, better known as a biographer and critic, reveals that she is a prolific but mostly unpublished poet. In fact, she says, only four of her poems have been published. I wonder if any other poets can claim that a quarter of their published oeuvre is prize-winning?
This week's TLS also happens to feature an article in Commentary by Claire Harman about Charlotte Brontë.
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