Patrick McGuinness

Patrick McGuinness’s Real Oxford, an exploration of the city behind the university, is out now.

Outside in the Bar: Ten Years in Sheerness

Patrick McGuinness, 21 October 2021

In Uwe Johnson’s work, perspective doesn’t come from a bird’s-eye view but from staying at eye level – from looking and never stopping. His characters are suspicious of any claim that there is an omniscient history.

Diary: Oxford by Train

Patrick McGuinness, 17 June 2021

Edward Thomas​ called the approach to Oxford by train ‘the most contemptible in Europe’. There’s no view to speak of, and the station is a big shed with lots of glass and cheap detailing: blue pillars and PVC fascias. The city’s relationship to the railway, like its relationship to the world, is arrogant but insecure, high-minded but petty. Oxford was offered a...

Their Mad Gallopade: Nancy Cunard

Patrick McGuinness, 25 January 2018

When male poets​ have dramatic, bohemian or tragic lives, it is a triumph of consistency; when they have boring ones, it is a triumph of manly compartmentalisation. The rules are different for women: their tragedy and bohemianism must occlude their writing (while also keeping it marketable), and any gift they display for normality – or, worse, happiness – must be proof of the...

On Rosemary Tonks: Rosemary Tonks

Patrick McGuinness, 2 July 2015

In​ The Waste Land, a ‘young man carbuncular’ makes a play for ‘the typist home at teatime’:

Flushed and decided, he assaults at once; Exploring hands encounter no defence; His vanity requires no response, And makes a welcome of indifference.

Anyone who wants the typist’s side of this brief, bleak encounter might find a version of it in Rosemary Tonks’s...

Poem: ‘Charleville’

Patrick McGuinness, 11 February 2010

It’s not why Rimbaud left that mystifies, though this new year the Place Ducale sports ice rink, carousel, and a waffel-stand from nearby Belgium. It’s why he kept returning. On ne part pas: he answered it himself, ‘we never leave.’ After Harar,

he thought his home town was a desert by other means, and everywhere he walked he walked on sand; sinking and finding his...

Poem: ‘[Dust]’

Patrick McGuinness, 3 June 2004

after the 14th-century Flemish

Form and form-giver, light and light-bearer, mistaken for air, for light by the eye, flies wingless, lighter than what it bears

Stored in the eye, makes sight substance, guides the pen, the brush, thickens dimensions; shorelines hinge on it, feathers aspire to it

Form and form-giver, translates the sun a bauble turns it and turns in it leaves coil in it, shine...

Prophetic Chattiness: Victor Hugo

Patrick McGuinness, 19 June 2003

The size and variety of Victor Hugo’s oeuvre – around 200,000 lines of verse, plus dozens of novels, plays and critical works – makes it difficult to get an overview, let alone make a selection. In his Hugoliade, Ionesco suggested that Hugo’s best chance of survival lay in the impossibility of reading everything he’d written. But no other French poet has had such...

Poem: ‘Notes for ‘Anatole’s Tomb’’: A Translation by Patrick McGuinness

Stéphane Mallarmé, translated by Patrick McGuinness, 14 November 2002

child sprung from us both – showing us our ideal, the way – to us! father and mother who in sad existence survive him, like the two extremes – ill-matched in him and sundered from each other – whence his death – abolishing this little child ‘self’

sick in the springtime dead in the autumn – it’s the sun

the wave idea the cough 2)


Two Poems

Patrick McGuinness, 27 June 2002


One house next next again pert green lawn white garage sprinkler muted

nothing out of order no thing untoward

wraparound sound, sigh

of fridge door

city tightening

the mountains seem not to move have texture

pavement empty, road adrift, the car shining safely the neighbour hood coming to a slow

coming to a rolling boil


The police stations seamless, riveted and sealed, foreign as...

Roaming the stations of the world: Seamus Heaney

Patrick McGuinness, 3 January 2002

In a shrewd and sympathetic essay on Dylan Thomas published in The Redress of Poetry, Seamus Heaney found a memorable set of metaphors for Thomas’s poetic procedures: he ‘plunged into the sump of his teenage self, filling his notebooks with druggy, bewildering lines that would be a kind of fossil fuel to him for years to come . . . Thomas had to be toiling in the element...

Thetis, the mythical self-transforming nereid, could be the shape-shifting guiding presence behind these three books. Carol Ann Duffy and Jo Shapcott write poems about her, or more exactly through her, while transformation and metamorphosis, travel through time, space and states of being lie at the core of Gwyneth Lewis’s second English-language collection, Zero Gravity (her mother...

Going Electric: J.H. Prynne

Patrick McGuinness, 7 September 2000

‘Calme bloc ici-bas chu d’un désastre obscur’ (‘calm block fallen here below from some obscure disaster’): this line from Mallarmé’s ‘Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe’ seems an apt description of his own poems – aftermaths of stellar catastrophes, meteors sitting impassively in their craters, enigmatic wreckage from some temporal or spatial elsewhere. But it would also do for J.H. Prynne’s poems, which contain lines like these, in ‘Star Damage at Home’, from the 1969 collection The White Stones:’‘

Enlarging Insularity: Donald Davie

Patrick McGuinness, 20 January 2000

In a recent poem, ‘Languedoc Variorum: A Defence of Heresy and Heretics’, the American poet Ed Dorn honours Donald Davie’s penultimate collection of poems, To Scorch or Freeze (1989), as ‘the most economical rebuke … this age in moral free-fall is likely to get’. It is Davie’s most experimental poetry book: a series of religious meditations based on the Psalms (he edited The Psalms in English for Penguin) which take their bearings from Pound’s Cantos (he also wrote two ground-breaking books on Pound and numerous essays on the Poundian tradition). Dorn’s homage is apposite, too: his poem is founded on the conviction that heretics have been persecuted because they are, in fact, the only people who really care about religion, putting established cults to shame. Davie, a dissenter rather than a heretic, in religion as in poetry, had his fair share of polemical spats with what he called the poetry ‘establishment’: big commercial publishers and the metropolitan journals (the LRB gets a dishonourable mention in this category).‘

Anthologies are powerful things: movements are launched, periods are parcelled up, writers are made and broken. They are, or want to be, the book world’s performative utterances: defining what they claim only to reflect, they make the things they speak of come to pass. But one last fin-de-siécle anthologising project remains: an anthology of anthology introductions. We would then be able to follow the growth not only of a market but of a genre, a genre with its own protocols and house rules, in which, much like poetry itself, the new product tussles with the predecessors it both rejects and feeds off. Such a book would show us the anthology in its many guises: the anthology as canon or as anti-canonical dry-run for a canon, as launching-pad or stock-take, as sampler or as revelation, as provocation or as consolidation. If, as Auden wrote, poetry makes nothing happen, then the poetry anthology has no such self-effacing qualms. Blake Morrison and Andrew Motion knew this, as did the predecessor they were tussling with, A. Alvarez’s The New Poetry (which was tussling with its predecessor, Robert Conquest’s New Lines). ‘This anthology,’ they wrote in their preface to the Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry, ‘is intended to be didactic as well as representative.’ Though the things anthologies make happen may be confined to poetry, the representative and the didactic are hard to tell apart.‘


Sonic Boom

16 July 1998

For every book that challenges or debates ‘theory’ there are probably a hundred that don’t. A look at publishers’ catalogues and academic job adverts is enough to establish that theory is the orthodoxy in the humanities, and its foundational texts just as canonical as whatever canons they have displaced, questioned or enriched. Sokal and Bricmont have every right to debate the...

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences