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ABR Arts

Book of the Week

The Asking: New and Selected Poems

The Asking: New and Selected Poems by Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield writes a poem on the first day of each year. ‘Counting, New Year’s Morning, What Powers Yet Remain to Me’ is one of the new poems in The Asking, along with poems selected from nine collections published since 1982. It begins with a question the world asks (‘as it asks daily’): ‘And what can you make, can you do, to change my deep-broken, fractured?

From the Archive

March 2011, no. 329

Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten 1913–1976: Volume Five 1958–1965 edited by Philip Reed and Mervyn Cooke

The four years prior to the period covered by this new volume of Britten’s letters had been difficult for the composer, with the first real setbacks in a hitherto charmed career. In 1954, his opera Gloriana celebrated the dawn of a new Elizabethan age by looking back to the final, troubled years of the first Elizabeth’s reign, in particular her private life. Not only did the opera fail to please the first-night toffs, it was also the subject of questions in the House of Commons, the Establishment having hoped for something more like Merrie England in the coronation year. Then, in 1956, Britten’s only ballet score, The Prince of the Pagodas, caused him unprecedented difficulty: this most fluent and professional of composers was encountering something like writer’s block.

From the Archive

September 2010, no. 324

The Well at the World’s End by A.J. Mackinnon

The pretext of this book is as simple as it is delightful. In 1982, at the ripe old age of nineteen, Sandy Mackinnon found himself on the windswept island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. Iona is one of those places, familiar in the world of spiritual tourism, that is layered in irony. In ancient times it became home to a community of monks, most notably St Columba, for the simple reason that nobody in his right mind would follow them there. Now, of course, it is a popular destination for those who value more than their right minds. Iona, like Santiago de Compostella, has a small but cogent literature of its own. It weaves a spell. There is very little to buy there. It creates debt in other ways.

From the Archive

October 2008, no. 305

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville

In 2006, a year after the publication of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, Inga Clendinnen published ‘The History Question’ as part of Black Inc.’s Quarterly Essay series. ‘The History Question’ was, as its subtitle ‘Who Owns the Past?’ suggests, a wide-ranging meditation on the nature of historical understanding, and, more specifically, its uses and abuses. But at its heart lay an extended and surprisingly savage critique of The Secret River, the claims Clendinnen believed Grenville had made for it, and for fiction’s capacity to illuminate the past; and, more deeply, of the very idea of historical fiction.