Chris Wallace Crabbe

Language like the weather, is something that everybody wants to talk about, itemise or complain about. All of us have our views about this or that departure from a supposed norm, this or that barbarous neologisms, this quaint local usage, that oddity of pronunciation. Many of us, too, can be as cranky about language as we are about our interpretations of the weather. For myself, I should like to see the apostrophe abolished, as being something which causes much confusion and error while doing virtually no good; but I am sufficiently conventional to use it, after all. In the upshot it’s not worth a cracker kicking against all the pricks. Let the apostrophe live out its natural life.

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I must admit to being intrigued by any self-proclaimed ‘Histories of Everything’, so I leapt at the prospect of a dense history of my favourite creative art and how it flourished in our past centuries, right down to a couple of writers who died in 2019. And occidental only: that is, apart from a sidelong glance at Hafez, Tagore, and Li Po’s fellow poets. Unless you regard the Russians, that is – bridging East and West.

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ABR asked a few colleagues and contributors to nominate some books that have beguiled them – might even speak to others – at this unusual time.

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We play because we kow-tow and are free;  
a set of guidelines activating choice
or so we hope. The mineral poet wrote,
‘By loss of memory we are reborn’,
but memory’s the root of active power:
we grab the minute and we grasp the hour
hoping that such engagements prove us free.

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As physical as he was metaphysical, his playful courtesy equal to his reflectiveness, Alec Hope has mortally gone from us now. In his time, which was far from short, he was like nobody else in our literary landscape. Coming from an age in which subject matter mattered, Hope became a poet of astonishingly wide range, as of remarkable intensity. His burning star has been clouded a little in recent decades because of his investment in masculine sexuality, but he survives powerfully: sometimes hilariously. We won’t forget his Red Riding Hood devouring the wolf. Among his recent forebears, he rejoiced in Baudelaire, Yeats, and early Auden, the latter an overpowering figure when the young Australian sailed to Oxford.

T.S. Eliot’s brand of juxta-positional modernism meant little to Alec, who found it all a bit shifty, but he did share the St Louis master‘s ideas about poetic impersonality: a poem was the Ding an sich, not the shadow of its writer within it. Once, indeed, he poked mullock at Eliot by citing his putative play, Merd, or In the Cathedral.

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Brunette or shocking white, these wallabies
have their own special nook nearby,
under that blackwood.
                                          Why ...

In memory of Graham Little

I scribble in cafes, which inspire
                  The forms in which I’m able:
Although invited, I‘ve declined
                  A pizza at ...
Below great ears like galleon sails
hangs an off-grey trunk – odd word –
more than the puny dangling tail
marking this leatherjacket.
So much overcoat in our tropics, then?
But why is any creature as it is?
The ark’s gangplank must have been sturdy,
shipping creatures from those Turkish hil ...
All those hominids stood around to watch,
scratching their heads and hairy armpits.
So like them it was,
                                     well, sort of
but ever so ...
Ah, the ever-lyrical, even if
stared into from a cabin up above:
snowy cloud-sonata which then
recedes into softness
with its airy iceberg flocks
can be the stuff of verse or
counterpoint, say, but can’t
feed serious fiction for
the yarnspinner has to eat
the heavy middle of our sand ...
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