Clive James

Clive James is working on the fourth volume of his unreliable memoirs.

Poem: ‘Lock Me Away’

Clive James, 22 September 2005

In the NHS psychiatric test

For classifying the mentally ill

You have to spell ‘world’ backwards.

Since I heard this, I can’t stop doing it.

The first time I tried pronouncing the results

I got a sudden flaring picture

Of Danny La Rue in short pants

With his mouth full of marshmallows.

He was giving his initial and surname

To a new schoolteacher.

Now every time I read the

Poem: ‘The Zero Pilot’

Clive James, 5 February 2004

On the Hiryu, Hajime Toyoshima Starred in the group photos like Andy Hardy, He was so small and cute. His face, as friendly as his first name (In Japanese you say hajime at first meeting), Could have been chirping: ‘Hey, why don’t we Put the show on right here in the barn?’ After Pearl Harbor he was one of the great ship’s heroes And the attack on Darwin promised him...

Antony and Cleopatra swam at Mersa Matruh In the clear blue shallows. Imagine the clean sand, the absence of litter – No plastic bottles or scraps of styrofoam packing, No jetsam at all except the occasional corpse Of a used slave tossed off a galley – And the shrieks of the dancing Queen as the hero splashed her While her cheer-squad of ladies-in-waiting giggled on cue, The...

A bit of a fast-talking dame herself, Maria DiBattista is justifiably excited by the characteristic flip lip of her prewar and wartime Hollywood heroines. In her mind, I imagine, she is of their number: Jean Harlow, Rosalind Russell, Irene Dunne, Barbara Stanwyck, Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn, Maria DiBattista. A professor of English and comparative literature at Princeton, and published...

Poem: ‘The Eternity Man’

Clive James, 20 July 1995

Never filmed, he was photographed only once, Looking up startled into the death-trap flash Like a threatened life-form. Still underlining his copybook one-word message With the flourish that doubled back under the initial ‘E’, He was caught red-eyed with the stark white chalk in his hand Writing Eternity.

Before he died in 1967 At the age of eighty-eight He had managed to write it...

Bullshit and Beyond

Clive James, 18 February 1988

In its short history, Australia has weathered several storms. By world standards they were minor, but at home they loomed large. The First World War was a rude awakening; the Great Depression hit harder and lasted longer than anywhere else in the developed world; and the Second World War could have been the end of everything. Australia survived all these crises and given its usual luck should...

Last night the sea dreamed it was Greta Scacchi. It wakes unruffled, lustrous, feeling sweet – Not one breath of scandal has ever touched it.

At a higher level, the rain has too much power. Grim clouds conspire to bring about its downfall. The squeeze is on, there is bound to be a shake-out.

The smug sea and the sky that will soon go bust Look like antagonists, but don’t be...

Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini For I know it tastes as pure as Malvern water, Though laced with bright bubbles like the acqua minerale That melted the kidney stones of Michelangelo As sunlight the snow in spring.

Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini In a green Lycergus cup with a sprig of mint, But add no sugar – The bitterness is what I want. If I craved sweetness I would...

Poem: ‘The Light Well’

Clive James, 23 July 1987

From Playa de Giron the two-lane blacktop Sticks to the shoreline of the Bay of Pigs – The swamp’s fringe on your left showing the sea Through twisted trees, the main swamp on your right – Until the rocks and tangled roots give way To the soft white sand of Playa Larga, The other beach of the invasion. Here Their armour got stopped early. At Giron They pushed their...

Poem: ‘Jet-Lag in Tokyo’

Clive James, 21 May 1987

Flat feet kept Einstein out of the army. The Emperor’s horse considers its position. In Akasaka men sit down and weep Because the night must end.

At Chez Oz I discussed my old friend’s sex change With a lovely woman who, I later learned, Had also had one. The second movement Of the Mahler Seventh on my Boodo Kahn Above the North Pole spoke to me like you.

Neutrinos from 1987A...

Poem: ‘Go back to the opal sunset’

Clive James, 19 February 1987

Go back to the opal sunset, where the wine Costs peanuts, and the avocado mousse Is thick and strong as cream from a jade cow. Before the passionfruit shrinks on the vine Go back to where the heat turns your limbs loose. You’ve worked your heart out and need no excuse. Knock out your too-tall tent-pegs and go now.

It’s England, April, and it’s pissing down, So realise your...

Triangular Macquarie Place, up from the Quay, Is half rain forest, half a sculpture park Where can be found – hemmed in by palms and ferns, Trees touching overhead – the Obelisk From which, one learns, All Public Roads are Measured Leading to the Interior of the Colony. Skyscraper cliffs keep this green garden dark.

The Obelisk is sandstone. Thomas Mort Is also present, bronze on...

You never travelled much but now you have, Into the land whose brochures you liked least: That drear Bulgaria beyond the grave Where wonders have definitively ceased – Ranked as a dead loss even in the East.

Friends will remember until their turn comes What they were doing when the news came through. I landed in Nairobi with eardrums Cracked by the flight from Kichwa Tembo. You Had...

With more than eight hundred high-grade items to choose from, London Reviews gets the number down to just 28. But already it is the third such selection from the London Review of Books. Is three neat volumes sitting on a shelf better than hundreds of copies of the magazine mouldering in a corner? Yes, but not emphatically. When a literary magazine is as good as this one it hurts to throw old copies away. Visiting I.F. Stone once in Washington, I was impressed by his complete bound files of the New York Review of Books, and more impressed still that he had extracted these from the editor as part-payment.

Poem: ‘Sack Artist’

Clive James, 18 July 1985

Reeling between the redhead and the blonde Don Juan caught the eye of the brunette. He had no special mission like James Bond. He didn’t play the lute or read Le Monde. Why was it he on whom their sights were set?

For let’s make no mistake, the women pick Which men go down in history as avid Tail-chasers with the enviable trick Of barely needing to chat up the chick – From...

Diary: Lord's Day

Clive James, 7 February 1985

The first televising of the House of Lords, on 23 January was, I found, a pleasant shock. It might well be that the other viewers consisted entirely of the unemployed, but I doubt if even the most bitter among them felt that time and money were being wasted. Helping to make the broadcast a surprise were one’s expectations, which could not help but be dire.

Poem: ‘Echo echo echo’

Clive James, 20 December 1984

Changes in temperature entail turmoil.Petits pois palpitate before they boil. Ponds on the point of freezing look like oil And God knows what goes on below the soil.

God and the naturalists, who penetrate With camera crews to depths as dark as fate And shoot scenes hideous to contemplate Where burrowing Attenboroughs fight and mate.

In outer space the endless turbulence Seems too far gone to...

Hostathion contains Triazophos, Controls seed weevil, pea moth, carrot fly. Of pesticides Hostathion is the boss. Pests take one sip, kick up their heels and die.

They never find out what Hostathion is. Triazophos remains the merest word, Though partly echoed by the acrid fizz Which suddenly grows too loud to be heard.

Hostathion was once Achilles’ friend, Staunch at his elbow before...

My gesture towards Finnegans Wake is deliberate.

Ronald Bush, T. S. Eliot: A Study in Character and Style

The gesture towards Finnegans Wake was deliberate. It was not accidental. Years of training went into the gesture, As W.C. Fields would practise a juggling routine Until his eczema-prone hands bled in their kid gloves; As Douglas Fairbanks Sr trimmed the legs of a table Until, without...

Female desire aims to subdue, overcome and pacify the unbridled ambition of the phallus.

Roger Scruton

The unbridled phallus of the philosopher Was seen last week galloping across the South Downs, Flame spurting from its flared nostril.

The phallus being a horse in which Both mane and tail are bunched together at the back end, This unharnessed piece of horseflesh was of necessity unable...

Poem: ‘Funnelweb’

Clive James, 5 April 1984

The flame reflected in the welder’s mask Burns the board-rider’s upstage fingertips That cut a swathe across the curved sea-wall Inside the Banzai Pipeline’s tubular swell. Sopranos feel the same fire on their lips Kissing Jochanaan as befits the task.

The crank-winged Chance-Vought F4-U Corsair When turning tightly spilled white vortices Behind its wing-tips in the cobalt...

Apart possibly from waving hello to the cliff-divers Would the real Tarzan have ever touched Acapulco? Not with a one-hundred-foot vine. Jungle Jim maybe, but the Ape Man never. They played a tape at his funeral In the Valley of Light cemetery of how he had sounded Almost fifty years back giving the pristine ape-call, Which could only remind all present that in decline He would wander...

May the Lord have mercy on all those peoples Who suffer from a perversion of religion – Or, to put it in a less equivocating way, Who suffer from an excess of religion – Or, to come right out with it, Who suffer from religion.

Let Him tell those catholic protestants or protestant catholics Who in Northern Ireland go to bed on Saturday night Looking forward to a morning of Holy...

Snails in the letterbox. It is a surrealist image which might have been cooked up by Dali in the presence of Buñuel, by André Breton in the presence of Eluard. But the words were said by Barry Humphries in the persona of the ruminating convalescent Sandy Stone, and in the Australian context they are not surreal. They are real. Every Australian, even if he lives in Sydney’s Point Piper or Melbourne’s Toorak, has at some time or other found snails in the letterbox. When you step outside on a dark and dewy night, the snails crunch under your slippered feet like liqueur chocolates. Snails in Australia are thick on the ground. Nothing could be less remarkable than a cluster of them in your letterbox.

Boys will be girls

Clive James, 1 September 1983

The English are not at their best, although they may well be at their most characteristic, when they go on a lot about the dear old days at school or the ’varsity. Not even the inspired Cyril Connolly could get his tongue far enough into his cheek to be anything more tolerable than stomach-turning about Eton. George Orwell, who had been there too but thought it was possible to have a life afterwards, was surely right to tell him to come off it. Even if there were room for doubt in this matter, however, there can be no question that an ex-Colonial transplantee who happens to have done some of his growing up in an English school or ’varsity should be slow to bring forth his cosy reminiscences, and very slow to hand them over to anyone else. So when the author of this book about the Cambridge Footlights approached me, in my capacity as one of the club’s numerous surviving ex-Presidents, I imitated the action of the clam. Judging from the relative sparseness of the acknowledgments list, a lot of other alumni did the same thing, for whatever reasons. Probably they were just being cautious. For a professional performer after a certain time, every interview he doesn’t give counts as a victory, on the principle that the label you help them lick is the one that will stick to you longest.

The book of my enemy has been remainderedAnd I am pleased.In vast quantities it has been remaindered.Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seizedAnd sits in piles in a police warehouse,My enemy’s much-praised effort sits in pilesIn the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aislesOne passes down reflecting on...

On the library coffee-table

Clive James, 17 March 1983

Last year, the year of his death, Mario Praz’s An Illustrated History of Interior Decoration was once again made available, after being out of print for a decade. William Weaver’s English translation of La Filosofia dell’ Arredamento was first published in 1964, which means that there were about ten years when you could buy it new, and then about ten years when you couldn’t. No doubt it was obtainable second-hand if you looked hard enough. For myself, only recently did it begin occurring to me that some of even the most famous books on art would have to be bought second-hand if they were to be bought at all, since their chances of being reprinted in any form weren’t bright, and if they did get a reprint they wouldn’t necessarily look their best – no small consideration when the quality of the design was part of the original appeal. As it happens, Interior Decoration is now reissued looking almost as good as before, even if some of the colour plates are a bit lipsticky. But the book might just as easily have done a quiet disappearing act. Our reassuring assumption that Thames and Hudson, Phaidon, and a few other imprints, are looking after the whole business – the business, that is, of getting our eyes educated and keeping them that way – is not necessarily well founded. They’ve done just that for a long time, but by now the job of transmitting the past seems to have used up some of the energy that was once available for it. The sense of mission is gone. There is no need to beat one’s breast at its passing, especially if it was a response to catastrophe in the first place, but perhaps it is time to begin appreciating some of its fruits at their true high value.

How Montale earned his living

Clive James, 17 February 1983

If Eugenio Montale had never written a line of verse he would still have deserved his high honours merely on the basis of his critical prose. The product of a long life spent clearing the way for his poetry, it is critical prose of the best type: highly intelligent without making mysteries, wide-ranging without lapses into eclecticism or displays of pointless erudition, hard-bitten yet receptive, colloquial yet compressed. The only drawback is that it constitutes a difficult body of work to epitomise without falsifying.

Poem: ‘Diary’

Clive James, 10 January 1983

For Mrs Thatcher’s visit the Chinese Have laid on a Grade Three official greeting. Which doesn’t mean the bum’s rush or the freeze: She gets an honour guard at the first meeting. But not much bunting flutters in the breeze. Tian’anmen Square contains no special seating. Instead there is a lot of open space With here and there a mildly curious face.

Poem: ‘Diary’

Clive James, 21 October 1982

Foot plumps for Aslef but as if in spite The TUC does not and the strike’s broken. Foot’s coiffe should go a purer shade of white Unless his fiery gesture was a token To make him look a tough nut in a fight For all those gritty doctrines he has spoken On that day when they have to be renounced And Arthur Scargill’s strike bid must be trounced.

Poem: ‘Godfrey in Paradise’

Clive James, 2 September 1982

Admirers of Godfrey Smith’s ‘Sunday Times’ column, one of whose principal concerns is the various promotional free meals to which he is invited, were not surprised to learn, from a recent feature article by him in the same newspaper, that lunch is his idea of heaven.

When Godfrey Smith goes up to Heaven He’ll see more cream teas than in Devon And angels in...

Poem: ‘Diary’

Clive James, 19 August 1982

As fifty thousand people in Warsaw March for Walesa and for Solidarity, They rate, beside the South Atlantic war, The same space as a fun run staged for charity. The Falklands dwarf even El Salvador, Which ought to be a ludicrous disparity, But clear-cut issues fought out to a finish Have sex appeal no slaughter can diminish.

Australia’s Nineties

Clive James, 15 July 1982

No Australian poet before Christopher Brennan was fully conscious of the artistic problem posed by isolation from Europe, and no Australian poet since has been fully disabled by it. Brennan’s life and death dramatised the problem once and for all. It was and is a true problem, not just a difficulty. Brennan, whether he wanted to or not, lived the problem to the full, and thereby, on everybody else’s behalf, got it out into the open. His messy crucifixion was all the more thorough for the degree to which he co-operated, and it doesn’t have to happen again. If it does, then someone is being pretentious. Brennan spent too much of his time acting as an awful warning. That was one of the main reasons why his achievement fell so far short of his ambition: he put less energy into writing poetry than into being the poet. It was an aberration in which personality conspired with circumstances, creating a tangle which Axel Clark, in this admirably hard-headed critical biography, does much to sort out.

Poem: ‘Diary’

Clive James, 20 May 1982

As Amersham achieves Privatisation And sells the way hot cakes do when dirt cheap We realise with a sickening sensation, As of a skier on a slope too steep, That if the soundest firms owned by the nation Are flogged, the duds are all we’ll get to keep – And when the auction ends they’ll sell the hammer. We’re heading downhill faster than Franz Klammer.

Poem: ‘Diary’

Clive James, 18 March 1982

The old year ends with Cambridge under snow. The world in winter like the Moon in spring Unyieldingly gives off a grey-blue glow. An icy laminate caps everything. Christmas looks Merry if you wish it so. One strives to hark the Herald Angels sing, But at each brief hiatus in the feast A bitter wind howls sadly from the east.

Mrs Stitch in Time

Clive James, 4 February 1982

Either she was the biggest tease in the universe, or else well-born young ladies did not fall into bed quite so easily then as they are widely supposed to do now. The author of this biography favours the first explanation, writing as if the lady had told him about it herself, but he doesn’t say why he believes her. She might be just saying that she was a tease. From my own admittedly limited experience, Lady Diana Cooper is capable of saying anything, if she thinks you are dumb enough to swallow it. Philip Ziegler has reason to consider himself astute, but he perhaps ruled out too soon the possibility that the queen of the put-on had spotted the ideal patsy. The chief lacuna in an otherwise interesting book is its failure adequately to convey the heroine’s play of wit, which even today can leave everybody else in the room sounding retarded.

Poem: ‘An Address to the Nation’

Clive James, 17 December 1981

Dear Britain, Merry Christmas! If I may Presume on your attention for the space Of one broadsheet, I’d simply like to say How pleased I am to see your homely face Perked up and looking forward to the day When even the downcast are kissed by grace – The day a perfect birth is celebrated And we who are imperfect feel elated.

It’s normally the Queen, I’m well aware, Who...

A Dream in the Presence of Reason

Clive James, 15 October 1981

Poetry, Eugenio Montale said in his Nobel Prize address, is not merchandise. On that basis he excused himself for having turned out comparatively few poems. Put together, however, they make a volume of impressive dimensions, especially if you count in the fourth dimension, time. Annotated with unimpeachable scholarly patience and critical judgment by Gianfranco Contini and his pupil Rosanna Bettarini, L’opera in versi is the book with a capital ‘b’, or libro with a capital ‘l’, which this great poet, as personally modest as he was vocationally proud, always looked forward to in trepidation and worked towards with confidence. Unless, which seems unlikely, Montale wrote a hill of material in the very year of his death, there is not much that escapes its purview. It contains all the poems, all the variants which led up to the established texts, and a closely relevant selection from the poet’s prose, ranging from pertinent sentences drawn from already well-known articles and interviews to excerpts from letters never before seen in public. If this book is not the first and best way for the average reader to become acquainted with Montale, for the average reader who has become so acquainted it is likely to be appreciated as the ideal assemblage and distillation of everything he has come to know and respect about a great national poet. A national poet and a world poet, since his cultural significance extends to providing a living definition of civilisation applicable beyond any kind of national barrier, including that of language – and now that he is dead the living definition becomes more alive than ever.

Dear Craig,

    I’ve brought your books down to the sea In order to catch up with what you’ve done Since first I gasped at your facility For writing Martian postcards home. The sun Illuminates The Onion, Memory Two pages at a time. The beach girls run With naked bosoms on my low horizon And yet yours are the lines I’ve got my eyes on.

Not all the time...

Malcolm and the Masses

Clive James, 5 February 1981

Even those of us who don’t know Malcolm Muggeridge personally can be certain that the charm to which his friends attest would quickly enslave us too, should we be exposed to it. One would probably soon give up quarrelling with him. But his public persona invites quarrel and not much else. He is not really very illuminating even when he is right. As a writer and television performer he has always had the virtue of embodying the questioning spirit, but he has been even more valuable as an example of what happens to the questioning spirit when it is too easily satisfied with its own answers. Self-regard makes him untrustworthy even in the pursuit of truth. Life has been brighter for his having been around, but for a long time his explanations have not done much more than add to the general confusion. From one who makes so much noise about being hard to fool it is hard to take being fooled further. There he is waiting for you up the garden path, all set to lead you on instead of back.

Poem: ‘To Anthony Thwaite at Fifty’

Clive James, 4 December 1980

To γαϱ φοβειοθαι τον θανατον ληϱος πολυς παοιν γαϱ ήμιν τουτ’ όφειλεται παθειν....

Wild about Misia

Clive James, 4 September 1980

At the beginning of her life, Misia Sert met Liszt, whom she remembered for his warts, long hair and transvestite travelling companion. She lived almost long enough to meet two more piano-players, the co-authors of this book. In between, she knew just about everybody who counted in artistic Paris. The painters painted her and the composers aired their masterpieces at her piano, which she herself could play very well. But what gave her long life its fascination, and gives this book its strength, is that she was no mere dabbler. Her taste was original, penetrating and in most cases definitive. Without directly creating anything, she was some kind of artist herself – rather like Diaghilev, of whom she was the soul-mate and valued adviser. For most of her life she was too rich to be a true bohemian, and too passionate about art to be a true representative of high society. Instead, she was, for her time, the incarnation of that special energy released when talent and privilege meet. This book has several faults but at least one great merit: Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale have seen that Misia’s personality, even if it can never quite be captured, remains highly interesting for the light it casts on how talent can cohabit with gracious living and yet still keep its distance. Misia features a good deal of novelettish speculation about the way people long dead ‘must have’ thought and felt, but on the whole it is a refreshingly humane book about how creative work actually gets done. It would be praiseworthy at any time, but is particularly so now when too many abstract treatises are being foisted on us by coldly able young academics who behave as if the arts, like their salaries, came out of a machine.

with acknowledgments to Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, authors of ‘Misia

‘I’ve left that great page blank,’ said Mallarmé When asked why he’d not written of his boat. There are such things as mean too much to say. You have to let it drift, to let it float.

The man who did the asking was Manet, Whose niece’s journal treasures the reply. There...

A Blizzard of Tiny Kisses

Clive James, 5 June 1980

To be a really lousy writer takes energy. The average novelist remains unread not because he is bad but because he is flat. On the evidence of Princess Daisy, Judith Krantz deserves her high place in the best-seller lists. This is the second time she has been up there. The first time was for a book called Scruples, which I will probably never get around to reading. But I don’t resent the time I have put into reading Princess Daisy. As a work of art it has the same status as a long conversation between two not very bright drunks, but as best-sellers go it argues for a reassuringly robust connection between fiction and the reading public. If cheap dreams get no worse than this, there will not be much for the cultural analyst to complain about. Princess Daisy is a terrible book only in the sense that it is almost totally inept. Frightening it isn’t.

These Staggering Questions

Clive James, 3 April 1980

Previous books by Wayne C. Booth, especially The Rhetoric of Fiction, have been well received in the academic world. Since it first made its appearance in the early Sixties, The Rhetoric of Fiction has gone on to establish itself as a standard work – a touchstone of sanity. Probably the same thing will happen to the book under review. Critical Understanding is such a civilised treatise that I felt guilty about being bored stiff by it.

No moons are left to see the other side of. Curved surfaces betray once secret centres. Those plagues were measles the Egyptians died of. A certain note of disillusion enters.

Were Empson starting now no doubt exists That now no doubt exists about space-time’s Impetuosity his pithy gists Would still stun, but no more so than his rhymes.

Physics has dished its prefix meta. Science, First...

Catacomb Graffiti

Clive James, 20 December 1979

Appearing unannounced in 1977, Charles Johnston’s verse rendering of Eugene Onegin established itself immediately as the best English translation of Pushkin’s great poem there had yet been. It was an impressive performance even to those who could not read the original. To those who could, it was simply astonishing, not least from the technical angle: Johnston had cast his Onegin in the Onegin stanza, a form almost impossibly difficult in English, and had got away with it. Only an accomplished poet could think of trying such a feat. Yet as a poet Charles Johnston was scarcely known. Indeed, his profile was not all that high even as Sir Charles Johnston, career diplomat and quondam High Commissioner for Australia. All the signs pointed to gentlemanly dilettantism – all, that is, except the plain fact that anyone who can convey even a fraction of Pushkin’s inventive vitality must have a profoundly schooled talent on his own account.

Bernard Levin: Book Two

Clive James, 6 December 1979

For all his faults, the absence of Bernard Levin has been one of the best reasons for missing the Times during the months it has been off the streets. His first book since The Pendulum Years, and indeed only the second book he has ever published, Taking Sides is part compensation for not being able to read his latest opinions in less durable form. The book contains a selection of his strongest pieces from the last decade or so, most of them Times columns. The introduction informs us that another selection, to be published next year, will focus mainly on British politics, with particular attention to the achievements of Sir Harold Wilson. The present compilation deals with every subject but that.


A liberal writes

17 March 2005

Is Sheila Fitzpatrick sure of what she means when she talks about ‘the Bukharin/Darkness at Noon model of confessing everything, no matter how bizarre the accusations, “for the good of the cause"’ (LRB, 17 March)? That was indeed what Koestler’s fictional Old Bolshevik did, but it wasn’t what Bukharin did. Bukharin confessed because his family was threatened. So the confidently...


6 March 2003

Jeremy Noel-Tod’s meticulously close reading of a single stanza by Geoffrey Hill (LRB, 6 March) would have been an even better example of how these things should be done if he had spotted the provenance of the word ‘superflux’. In Hill’s Western Front context, it might very well be ‘a word which, horribly, blends the bleeding men with the rain and mud’. But it also...

Mischief in Melbourne

16 November 1995

Peter Craven’s Diary about the Demidenko imbroglio was fair comment except in one respect. He had no business portraying Jill Kitson as some sort of cultural commissar. I wouldn’t need to have known her and respected her most of my life to know that she is a good servant of literature in Australia – meaning that she is a good servant of world literature as a whole, and does her energetic...
SIR: It is gratifying to be taken so seriously by Peter Porter (LRB, 22 January), even when he takes me to task. On points of fact: a. There is a misprinted line in my verse letter to Pete Atkin, but the line Mr Porter puzzles over is not it. I wonder why that line sounds wrong to him, although not as hard as I wonder how the other line sounds right. b. In the stanza he quotes from my verse letter...

Serious Mistake

17 March 1983

SIR: When I write something self-contradictory, the least you could do is print it incorrectly. In my piece called ‘On the library coffee-table’, which you ran in the last issue, the sentence ‘Not that the old European scholar-popularisers have died off’ makes no sense in that context. Obviously I set out to write, ‘Now that the old European scholar-popularisers have died...


4 September 1980

SIR: In my article on Misia Sert (LRB, 4 September), a mysterious entity called a ‘gondala’ made one of its few recorded appearances. Most readers probably do not know that a gondala is a mandala-shaped gonad, not to be confused with the Venetian boat so fomiliar to us from photagraphs and the paintings of Conoletta.
SIR: John Goldblatt (Letters, 3 July) should blame me rather than the magazine. Reviewing Princess Daisy was my own idea, since the book promised, as it duly proved, to be an instructive example of best-selling schlock. Dissecting the latest trash is not just an honourable critical tradition but an indispensable adjunct to appraising real worth. There is also the consideration that it doesn’t...

Burning Love: Clive James’s Dante

Colin Burrow, 24 October 2013

Everyone agrees that The Divine Comedy is wonderful. Just a shaft of song from the spirits in paradise, a phrase or two of Marco of Lombardy in purgatory explaining the birth of the soul, or even...

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Roth, Pinter, Berlin and Me: Clive James

Christopher Tayler, 11 March 2010

‘An onlooker’, Clive James writes in North Face of Soho (2006), the fourth instalment of his memoirs, ‘might say that I have Done Something. But I’m still not entirely...

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Lucky Brrm

John Sutherland, 12 March 1992

Recently in this journal C.K. Stead explained the dilemma of being a popular Australasian performer in England: ‘He can only be fully understood at home: but there he’s likely to...

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Modern Masters

Frank Kermode, 24 May 1990

The qualities these Australian writers have in common, apart from their nationality, are exotic industry, autobiographical fluency and, to adapt what somebody once said about Ford Madox Ford, a...

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Australia strikes back

Les Murray, 13 October 1988

Among Australians, there are punishments for making one’s career abroad, just as there are for living and writing at home. Few of these punishments have come Clive James’s way. His...

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Carnival Time

Peter Craven, 18 February 1988

The more Britain affects a déclassé manner while Thatcherism increases the gulf between rich and poor, the more it comes, superficially, to resemble Australia. Linguists speculate...

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Like a row of books by Faber

Peter Porter, 22 January 1987

It was the young Auden, writing at about the time he was composing his ‘Letter to Lord Byron’, who declared that you could tell if someone was going to be a poet by considering his...

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Opera Mundi

Michael Neve, 1 December 1983

Opera and opera-going proliferate at very strange times. The opera revival of the last decade is a matter of considerable interest, since in some ways it seems so inappropriate, so profligate,...

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Chances are

Michael Wood, 7 July 1983

‘What a chapter of chances,’ Tristram Shandy’s father says, ‘what a long chapter of chances do the events of this world lay open to us!’ The thought is echoed in the...

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Christopher Ricks, 17 June 1982

‘He is stuck on himself. It isn’t all that easy to see why. He is, after all, only a literary journalist.’ Clive James hardily dispatches someone who is a television celebrity...

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Ian Hamilton, 2 July 1981

The first ‘poems’ by Clive James I can remember seeing were in fact song lyrics written to go with the music of Pete Atkin. I call them ‘poems’ because that’s what...

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Banality and Anxiety

Michael Mason, 19 March 1981

It is common knowledge that British publishing is in the doldrums. This is generally thought of as a temporary state of affairs, but it is conceivable that something irreversible is taking place....

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The Whole Secret of Clive James

Karl Miller, 22 May 1980

A little over a year ago, a very good play was screened on BBC Television, Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills. A troupe of adult actors climbed into shorts and re-enacted the days of...

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