Clive James

To some it may seem solipsistic to be reviewing what is, in effect, a collection of reviews, but when the reviewer in question is as smart as the late Clive James and the subject is as substantial as Philip Larkin (1922–85) this is unlikely to be the case.

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An Oka kamikaze rocket bomb
Sits in the vestibule, its rising sun
Ablaze with pride.
Names of the fallen are on CD-ROM.
The war might have been lost. The peace was won:
A resurrection after suicide.

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For admirers of Clive James’s poetry written since he became terminally ill in 2011 (and this reviewer is certainly one), The River in the Sky will pose something of a quandary. In collections like Sentenced to Life (2015) and Injury Time (2017), the poems were generally tough, vulnerable, well-turned and ...

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‘You might ask how a man who spent his days with the major poems of Browning could wish to spend his evenings with the minor movies of Chow Yun-fat,’ Clive James asks ...

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Clive James’s series of memoirs began in 1980 with the Unreliable one. Thirty-five years and four more very funny books later, the Five Lives of Clive have been rounded with a sixth: a slim volume of poems. It is probably also the most reliable, as if, paradoxically, James took more poetic licence when working in prose. The prevailing tone is a long way fro ...

High dungeon was a feeling I knew well
When mockery from men weighed on my soul.
As your Prime Minister I went through hell,
If I can say so without hyperbowl.

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Old age is not my problem. Bad health, yes.
If I were well again, I’d walk for miles,
My name a synonym for tirelessness.
On Friday nights I’d go out on the tiles:
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Much as I loved you in the snow and ice,
Side-slipping down the chute below Spinale –
It’s twenty years now since we saw Madonna
(Di Campiglio, not Ciconne)

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Most editors look forwards, not back. We have to: there are pages to fill, readers to court, deadlines to meet. But publication of a 300th issue of a literary review invites retrospection, if not undue nostalgia... ... (read more)

Conversation is the raison d’être of this monumental monologue. But you might not think so if you read only the reviews. Splenetic, greensick criticism – and there has been plenty of it – insists that what Clive James has built out of a life’s voracious reading and careful noticing – his ‘notes in the margin’ – is a platform for his ego. Not so. But how ruthlessly we skin our own ...

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