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Mark Ford

For the poet W.S. Graham, running away from Scotland ‘with my money belt of Northern ice’ at the age of nineteen, London was the ‘golden city’ in his poem ‘The Night City’. Graham ‘found Eliot and he said yes // And sprang into a Holmes cab. / Boswell passed me in the fog / Going to visit Whistler who / Was with John Donne …’ For other poets in this anthology, London is a ‘noisome sewer’, as Cowper tells us in an extract from his long poem ‘The Task’. John Wilmot, earl of Rochester, after a night of wine and ‘grave discourse / Of who fucks who, and who does worse’, goes out into the cool of St James’s Park to find among the trees ‘nightly now beneath their shade / Are buggeries, rapes, and incests made’, and that there is a great congress of sexual activity of all walks of London life.

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Like all of his earlier books, Raymond Roussel’s final work, New Impressions of Africa, published in 1932, was printed at his personal expense, and only after he was satisfied that the poem was as good as possible. He claimed that each line took fifteen hours to compose. Roussel wanted his work to have enduring importance, and wrote a book entitled How I Wrote Certain of My Books to help readers who might otherwise misunderstand his method (it appeared in 1935, two years after his suicide). Roussel, thanks to his vast inherited wealth, was a writer who answered to no one and nothing, except his own inimitable vision.

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