Anthony Thwaite

Anthony Thwaite’s latest collection, Going Out, will be published next month.

Poem: ‘Fernando Lobo’

Anthony Thwaite, 23 April 2015

My dark Brazilian friend, seventy years back In Washington. Both of us were foreign, On the edge of Gordon Junior High. After my English prep-school shine wore off, My grades slid down and I lost interest In most things, except stamps and snakes and sex. We visited the embassies, cadging stamps, And messed about off Massachusetts Avenue Playing the hub-cap trick on passing cars (You threw one...

Two Poems

Anthony Thwaite, 28 January 2010


These little steps and quivers Remind me of my mother’s, Yet now they are made by me In part-senility – Gestures and postures passed Across the years, not lost But, as if imitated, Put on and animated By limbs, and flesh, and features, With movements and with gestures, So that what was me Becomes this parody, Shuddering and moving on In jerks, till I have gone For...

Poem: ‘Elegiac Stanzas’

Anthony Thwaite, 4 September 1997

The famous poet’s mistress, forty years ago, Now heard five times a week on radio Acting an ageing upper-class virago.

‘The deadbeats of the Caves de France, the suicidal’, The substance of a novelist’s rapt recall, One who escaped the death from alcohol.

The ravaged visage of a copywriter Who was an intimate of him and her, Encountered at the funeral of another.


Poem: ‘Snakes (Virginia, 1940)’

Anthony Thwaite, 28 May 1992

Down in the creek, snakes: Snakes in the opposite wood. There were snakes everywhere. This was new. This was good.

At home in England, snakes Were pets you kept in a cage. Here they slipped free, and swam. This was a golden age.

Most folk I knew hated snakes, Shrank if I brought one back And let it run over my arm Or gathered and then lay slack.

Whipsnakes, cornsnakes, snakes Swollen, and...

Poem: ‘Elegy for George Barker’

Anthony Thwaite, 21 November 1991

And there, beneath a bull-nosed Buick Inert in Kensington, the poet lay, Grease smeared on cheek-bones, a fallen god Who rose to greet me, seventeen, with Blake And Langland in the triptych. Stay Yet a little longer, genius of the place, Fitting my footprints in the prints you trod, Letting me see those lineaments, that face.

It was apotheosis. It was epiphany. Already there were elegies at...

Japanese Love

Anthony Thwaite, 14 June 1990

Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965) is rightly regarded as one of the handful of 20th-century Japanese novelists whose work has to be seen as of universal and not just Japanese interest. One can, indeed, number them quickly: Tanizaki’s senior, Soseki; his contemporary, Kawabata; his juniors, Endo, Abe and Mishima. This is to leave out too many writers, I know: but the rest can generally be classed under other headings – the pathologically interesting, such as Dazai; the producers of one powerful novel, such as Osaragi (Homecoming) or Ooka (Fires on the Plain); or those who qualify through a sense of potential rather than actual worldwide achievement, such as Oe. The women novelists – Uno, Ariyoshi, ‘Banana’ and many others – have not broken through to an audience outside Japan.

Poem: ‘Cockroach Story’

Anthony Thwaite, 14 June 1990

The reason for a cockroach in a story must differ from the reason for a cockroach in a kitchen.

Leon Wieseltier, TLS

It was not home. It was in Tokyo At half-past ten at night or thereabouts. I went into the kitchen, flicked the switch, And saw him crouching on the table’s edge.

He was enormous, brown, and very still. His feathery branches waited, so it seemed, For further...


Anthony Thwaite, 26 October 1989

Writing a BBC Third Programme review of Donald Hall’s Penguin Contemporary American Poetry exactly a month before she killed herself early in 1963, Sylvia Plath praised ‘the inwardness of these images … the uncanny faculty of melting through the leaves of the wallpaper, through the dark looking-glass, into a world which one can only call surrealist and irrational’. It was a process she could see happening in herself, to her own poems, and she welcomed it:

In Service

Anthony Thwaite, 18 May 1989

There’s an Auden sonnet, written in 1938 as part of the ‘In Time of War’ sequence, in which the setting seems to be a country house where great matters are being discussed:

Family Romances

Anthony Thwaite, 2 February 1989

Candia McWilliam’s first novel, A Case of Knives, won the Betty Trask Award last year. I expect I am wrong in persistently remembering this as a prize for something called Romantic Fiction; I believe I am right in thinking that the rubric was extended to include the words ‘or traditional’. The formidable young McWilliam doesn’t seem to me to fit comfortably under either label. A Case of Knives was a dazzling, burnished, stilt-walking stylistic exercise, like that of a very clever student who had been nourished on a forced diet of John Cleveland, George Barker (The Dead Seagull) and Craig Raine, and who had once heard the plot of a novel by Iris Murdoch. The novel’s characters were indeed Romantic, if by that one means fabulous, fanciful, whimsical, high-flown, etc, as under Roget 515: Lucas Salik, Anne Cowdenbeath, Cora Godfrey and the rest seemed precocious fictions, made palpable only by the finely-honed language in which they expressed themselves (‘Language is a case of knives’): ‘I was driven home by a man with no hands, my heart belonging to a man who was a mender of hearts, and within me was growing another heart, not mine at all, but never quite not mine. These grotesque anatomical tmeses touched my dreams through a thin sleep.’ Grotesque tmeses appeared to be what Candia McWilliam was good at.

Poem: ‘Civil Service’

Anthony Thwaite, 24 November 1988

The government department is deserted But all the lights are on. It lies below The pavement, rises up, a stump of glass, And all the lights are on, and no one there. It’s Friday night, at nine. And why indeed Should anyone be there? But all the lights are on.

Banks of computers sit there, room on room Frozen in rectangles of green on black; And here’s an office where two chairs...


Anthony Thwaite, 27 October 1988

In a long tape-recorded conversation she had with Kay Dick in November 1970 (the best source for the flavour of her speech), Stevie Smith remarked:

Ruined by men

Anthony Thwaite, 1 September 1988

Alison Lurie’s new novel is, among other things, an anthology of several characters from her earlier novels. Readers unfamiliar with these books need not be apprehensive, however: The Truth about Lorin Jones is perfectly self-contained. Indeed, that self-contained quality helps to account for the powerful, painful oppressiveness of the book, as Polly Alter becomes more and more deeply enmeshed in her quest for the eponymous woman she is pursuing.

Eyes and Ears

Anthony Thwaite, 23 June 1988

The innocent child, eavesdropping on adults and adulteries, puzzled by half-heard conversations and half-understood hints, has a respectable history in fiction: What Maisie knew, The Go-Between, many other novels and stories. Such children are at the centre of William Trevor’s tenth novel and David Profumo’s first; or rather, Trevor seems to have chosen to place young Tom both centrally and peripherally (as children often are, in fiction and in life), while Profumo makes young James the very eyes and ears of his book, though distancing him by telling the tale in the third person.

Poem: ‘Multiplied’

Anthony Thwaite, 18 February 1988

He’s gone with her, and she has gone with him, And two are left behind; and there’s four more – The children, two of each; grandparents, still Alive and well, till now, and taking sides; And neighbours, six close by, and more besides In half a dozen villages ... Until The whole thing multiplies by seven score – Why he went off with her, and she with him.

One, left...


One Is Enough

9 March 1995

In his review of Jon Stallworthy’s biography (LRB, 9 March), Ian Hamilton begins by asking, ‘Why did Louis MacNeice have to wait thirty years for a biography?’ and then doesn’t sufficiently go into the tangles of this search for a biographer, as well as being less than fair to Stall worthy in his account of Stallworthy’s supposed ‘reverential’ attitude to E.R....

William Trevor

23 June 1988

Carelessly, in my review (LRB, 23 June) of recent fiction, I called William Trevor’s Other People’s Worlds a book of short stories. It is of course, a novel.

Literary Theory

17 October 1985

SIR: I was surprised to find in the LRB’s Letters columns something which is not a letter at all but a contribution to another organ: a comment on the recent exchange between Graham Hough and Terence Hawkes in the LRB, lifted from the long-established monthly journal Eigo Seinen (literally, ‘English Studies’). This journal’s English-language name is The Rising Generation –...

Better than Ganymede: Larkin

Tom Paulin, 21 October 2010

Philip Larkin met Monica Jones in 1946 at Leicester University College. She was an assistant lecturer there, and Larkin was an assistant librarian. Both had firsts in English from Oxford. Monica...

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Bugger me blue

Ian Hamilton, 22 October 1992

There is a story that when William F. Buckley Jr sent a copy of his essays to Norman Mailer, he pencilled a welcoming ‘Hi, Norman!’ in the Index, next to Mailer’s name. A...

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Phil the Lark

Ian Hamilton, 13 October 1988

Philip Larkin, we are told, left instructions in his will that certain of his writings had to be destroyed, unread. His executors obeyed: the word is that several of the poet’s notebooks,...

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Denis Donoghue, 21 June 1984

One of Anthony Thwaite’s poems, ‘Tell it slant’, swerves from Emily Dickinson’s line ‘Tell all the Truth but tell it slant’ to settle upon an aesthetic...

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Larkin and Us

Barbara Everett, 4 November 1982

‘What are days for?’ asks a poem in The Whitsun Weddings. It’s a good opening line, with that abruptness and immediacy most Larkin openings have. And it’s a good question,...

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Barbara Everett, 7 May 1981

Donald Davie has proposed that Eliot’s Quartets are in some sense a work of self-parody, with ‘The Dry Salvages’ in structure and style parodistic of the quartets that preceded...

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