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Faber & Faber

Charles Drazin tells us that his interest in French cinema began as a student at Oxford in the early 1980s, when he attended screenings at the Maison Française, an institution established after World War II to encourage cultural exchange between Britain and France. Some of the films were obscure, some better known; the audience comprised devotees and newcomers who never quite knew what they were going to see. The free admission, the 16 mm projector, the portable screen fixed to a tripod, even the scraping of chairs on wooden floors contributed to the sense of occasion for the young cinéastes.

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Human Chain by Seamus Heaney & Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney by Dennis O’Driscoll

December 2010–January 2011, no. 327

Auden wrote of the mature Herman Melville that he ‘sailed into an extraordinary mildness’. The same sort of thing could be found in Seamus Heaney, even though he has always written with a degree of calm, with hospitable decorum. It was this level-headedness that enabled him to write about sectarian violence in the magisterial Station Island poems (1984) ...

All living organisms are made of cells. Some, like bacteria, consist of just single cells; others, like humans, contain trillions of individual cells. The term ‘cell’ was first used in this context by the remarkable Robert Hooke in his beautifully illustrated masterpiece Micrographica: or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries Thereupon (1665). Hooke had been observing a thin slice of cork under his newly developed microscope. These cells were ‘[the] first microscopical pores I ever saw, and perhaps, that were ever seen, for I had not met with any Writer or Person, that had made any mention of them before this.’ He then showed why:

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It is fitting that ‘Waking’, a poem that links waking with birth, opens this inspired début collection from Emma Jones: ‘There was one morning // when my mother woke and felt a twitch / inside, like the shifting of curtains. // She woke and so did I.’ So the narrator-poet announces her arrival. The birthing theme continues in the next poem, ‘Farming’, in which pearls are ‘shucked from the heart of their grey mothers’. The same poem also foregrounds the poet’s interest in Ballard-like submerged worlds – oyster farms and shipwrecks, but also entire cities – and in the polarities of sky and sea. Indeed, this collection as a whole engages imaginatively with many dualisms: worldly/other worldly, internal/external, being/not being, self/other. Jones’s method is one of controlled playfulness, and despite many allusions to biblical themes and imagery, she avoids the didactic dualism of good/evil.

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The dust jacket describes James Fenton as ‘rightly praised for his own love poetry’. Evidently, Fenton does not demur, because he has found room for six of his own poems when other likely names are represented less generously or not at all. But more of that anon. The introduction begins by quoting Michael Longley: ‘I have believed for a long time … that love poetry is at the core of the enterprise: if poetry is a wheel, then the hub of the wheel is love poetry. Poems which articulate all the other cares and attachments … radiate from the hub like spokes on a wheel.’ Fenton continues: ‘I love you. You love me. I used to love you. You don’t love me. I want to sleep with you. Here we are in bed together. I hate you. You betrayed me. I’ve betrayed you. I want to kill you. Oh no! I have killed you. Such are the simple propositions on which these lyrics elaborate.’

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By chance the other day, watching British director Herbert Wilcox’s toe-curling ‘Scottish’ whimsy, Trouble in the Glen (1954), one of Orson Welles’s worst films (one of anybody’s worst films), I was struck anew by the fact that even when Welles could not save a film, he was always sure to be remembered in it. Here he plays a Scottish laird, long absent in South America, who returns to take up the castle he has inherited and, failing to bring a castful of theatrically canny Scots to heel, admits his errors and ends by presiding – benignly, but still presiding – in a kilt, yet. A romantic liaison and an appalling little girl taking her first post-illness steps may be intended to warm our soured hearts, but it is the massive figure avoiding the worst punishments for hubris that grabs what is left of our attention.

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In the mid-1980s, Paul Carter and I used to meet and talk from time to time. On a hot day just before the Ash Wednesday fires, I mentioned to Paul that I was becoming disappointed with the book of fiction that I was then writing. Paul said much in reply to this, but all I remembered afterwards was his opening sentence: ‘The only material any writer has is his thoughts and feelings.’ What Paul Carter said was not new to me, but I have often felt grateful to him for having said it to me just at that time.

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