Clive James (b. 1939, Sydney) is well known to UK audiences for work throughout the cultural sphere. His career as a poet has continued alongside work that is, perhaps, more high-profile - he is the author of more than thirty books, a well-known journalist and critic, and a familiar face from television - but his biography includes the literary editorship of his university paper, honorary degrees from the universities of Sydney and East Anglia, and the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal. He has written, however, "I can only wonder, looking back, if my name as a poet might not have made quicker progress had I been less notorious for the other things."
James' poetry shares the range of interest in those "other things." On this recording, for example, there are pieces that draw on the same sardonic humour that characterises his television work, such as 'Bring Me the Sweat of Gabriela Sabatini', and others that turn to the literary strand of his career, as 'A Valediction for Philip Larkin'. This allows for creative misleadings; the Blade Runner
reference of 'Deckard Was a Replicant' suggests a poem based on film criticism, but in fact the piece that follows touches on nature, aging, love and art.
The importance of form to James is clear from his frequent use of rhyme and metrical effects, from the strict pentameter of 'Lucretius the Diver' to the deliberate irregularities of 'The Artificial Horizon'. He is also drawn to longer poems, such as 'The Great Wrasse', written for Les Murray's sixtieth birthday, which demands space for its meditations on memory, on the eponymous fish in its reef, on the dedicatee and on "Those new and strange and lovely living things," his poems.
As would be expected from a broadcasting professional, James' delivery is polished, and moves from irony to sincerity with the same ease as his writing. It allows its audience to hear the poet's commitment to his assertion that a poem "ought to be something that could be recited and performed: something entertaining in the first instance." The New York Times wrote that James "knows how to write poems worth reading"; this recording shows that he also knows how to read poems worth writing.
These recordings are taken from The Artificial Horizon: Poems from The Book of my Enemy read by Clive James
, available from Macmillan Digital Audio
2003 Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal