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God speed

Duncan Hamilton
FOR THE GLORY
The life of Eric Liddell: from Olympic champion to modern martyr
372pp. Doubleday. £20.


The Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter Eric Liddell is a rare example of a consummate sportsperson who transcended sport. Duncan Hamilton’s portrait of one of Britain’s greatest track athletes serves as an important reminder of sport’s true value at a time when athletics is marred by scandal, big money and loss of perspective.

Liddell will be familiar to many through the film Chariots of Fire (1981). He is perhaps better known for the race he refused to run – the 100 metre Olympic heat in Paris, 1924, on the principled grounds that his Christian faith forbade him to compete on the Sabbath – than for the 400 metre final of those same Games, in which he defied the doubters to earn a spectacular win. Born to Scottish missionary parents in China, Liddell had no sporting pedigree. He did, however, study at an English boarding school that forged an indomitable character, before …
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The Trouble with Poetry: Billy Collins's Aimless Love - review

Dubbed the “most popular poet in America” by the New York Times, Billy Collins has won countless admirers for his chatty, witty, wholly dependable poetry. At pains to welcome the reader with avuncular charm, he writes lines that are more serious than they seem, though by how much, you’d be hard pressed to say. Wry and self-mocking, his favoured territory is the suburban everyday – a pop song stuck in your head; people-watching on public transport; a “perfect” spring day – though he is most at home striking a knowing and self-referential pose, “looking every inch the writer / right down to the little writer’s frown on my face”. ‘If This Were a Job I’d be Fired’, quips the title of one poem, its narrator swanning off having penned the most inconsequential of verses. Philip Larkin would have surely labelled him the “shit in the shuttered chateau”. But while some critics have called Collins a philistine, there is a productive quirkiness to his poems, finding surprise and profundity in unp…

Way More Than Luck in The Poetry Review

Jade Cuttle gives her verdict on Way More Than Luck in the latest issue of The Poetry Review, in a critical essay that takes in two other debuts: Richard Scott's Soho and Zaffar Kunial's Us.

It's clear that the love of the beautiful game extends to Wilkinson's poetics, for he embraces a variety of forms and modes of address. From formally dexterous sonnets and sestinas, to epistles and endearing confessionalism, this is a book that likes to keep the reader's on their toes. Something Wilkinson does well is navigate the dark abyss of clinical depression [...] from "going about / the tedium that strings our lives / together: paperchain people, / baskets lined under strip-lights" ('To David Foster Wallace'), to shivering over a beige Cornish pasty, "ticking over / before some godforsaken motorway service station" ('You Must Be Joking'), there is tenderness and touching honesty to be found in the darker moments he describes. For this …

"It's not what you think": Remembering John Ashbery (1927-2017)

As our new century has grown ever more peculiar and unpredictable, there has been something strangely reassuring about the arrival of a new book of poems by that impish treasure of American letters, John Ashbery. Ashbery didn’t quite publish a book every year in his final quarter century, but the past score have seen some 13 surface, a rate of productivity that would have made Paul Verlaine blush. Which would be great if – as we expect of our most celebrated 'experimental' poets – the abstract wordsmith were breaking new ground. But if the past couple of decades of reading Ashbery confirmed one thing, it’s that the late great man settled into a style so impressively self-parodic he almost looked like one of his legion of poetic imitators. Just as global warming becomes ever more physically manifest and unignorable, the creeping sense that, towards the end of his life, Ashbery was knocking out complete nonsense and passing it off as poetry simply because he could, is a concern …

Way More Than Luck: 27.2.18 - the launch

Books of the Year 2017

If 2017 was a lean year for poetry, as someone has said, I can’t say I noticed. Daljit Nagra’s The British Museum (Faber) introduced a clear-eyed, politically incisive approach to the poet’s established facility for socio-cultural commentary, in poems as rangy and playful as ever. Among debuts, Kayo Chingonyi’s Kumukanda (Chatto) is every bit as good as I expected, from its unflinching negotiations with lingering racial divisions, to its playfully nostalgic hymns to mixtape assembly, as well as rap and hip-hop’s influence on the poet. Simon Armitage’s The Unaccompanied (Faber) also deserves a mention, negotiating our strange times through precise image-making, conversational wit and formal skill. For poetry pamphlets, business again is booming, with too many to list here (though The Poetry Business has the lion’s share; hence their recent Best Publisher win at the Michael Marks). But one that’s definitely worth seeking out is Al McClimens’ Keats on the Moon (Mews Press). McClimens’ is…

Way More Than Luck (Seren Books, 2018)

From the thumping heartbeat of the distance runner to the roar of football terraces across the decades, Ben Wilkinson’s debut confronts the struggles and passions that come to shape a life. Beginning with an interrogation of experiences of clinical depression and the redemptive power of art and running, the collection centres on a series of vivid character portraits, giving life to some of football's legends. By turns frank, comic, sinister and meditative – ‘the trouble with you, son, is that all your brains are in your head’ – these poems uncover the beautiful game’s magic and absurdity, hopes and disappointments, as striking metaphors for our everyday dramas. Elsewhere there are tender love poems, political satire and strange dream worlds, in an urgently lyrical book of poems that take many forms and modes of address: pantoum, sonnet, sestina; epistle, confession, dramatic monologue. All are united by a desire to speak with searching clarity about matters of the heart. Way More …