Mark Ford’s latest book is Thomas Hardy: Half a Londoner. He teaches in the English Department at University College London. (October 2017)

IN THE REVIEW

She Shampooed & Renewed Us

Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen at the Newport Folk Festival, July 1967

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell

by David Yaffe
In an interview with Gene Shay for the “Folklore Program” broadcast on March 12, 1967, Joni Mitchell revealed the improbable origins of one of her best-known and most frequently covered songs: I was reading a book, and I haven’t finished it yet, called Henderson the Rain King. And there’s a …

On the Trail of ‘A Shropshire Lad’

A.E. Housman, circa 1900

Housman Country: Into the Heart of England

by Peter Parker
In the summer of 1902 the American novelist Willa Cather set off from Pittsburgh for Europe with her friend Isabelle McClung. Soon after docking at Liverpool they excitedly embarked on a literary pilgrimage to an English county that had hitherto rarely featured in Americans’ European itineraries. “When we got into …

Why Dylan Deserves It

Patti Smith and Bob Dylan at the Bitter End on the night they first met, New York City, June 1975
In her interview for No Direction Home (2005), Martin Scorsese’s brilliant three- and-a-half-hour documentary about Bob Dylan, Joan Baez suggested there is something in Dylan’s music that goes “to the core of people”; there are those, she acknowledges, who are simply “not interested—but if you’re interested, he goes way, way …

Derek Walcott: ‘What the Twilight Says’

Derek Walcott, St. Lucia, 1994; photograph by Inge Morath

The Poetry of Derek Walcott, 1948–2013

selected by Glyn Maxwell
The first poem in this substantial selection of the work of the St. Lucia–born poet Derek Walcott was written when he was only eighteen. It initially appeared in a privately printed volume entitled 25 Poems (1949), a self-publishing venture subsidized by Walcott’s widowed mother (who worked as a seamstress and …

Pound: Genius, Confucian, Fascist & Crazy

Ezra Pound, Vienna, 1928; photograph by Bill Brandt

Ezra Pound: Poet: A Portrait of the Man and His Work, Volume II: The Epic Years, 1921–1939

by A. David Moody
Ezra Pound’s only meeting with his great hero Benito Mussolini took place at 5:30 on the evening of Monday, January 30, 1933. Mussolini’s imposing “office” was the vast Sala del Mappamondo (sixty feet long, forty feet wide, forty feet high) on the first floor of the Palazzo di Venezia in …

Cool, Clinical, and Outrageous

X-ray, Tazz, Algeria

Leaving the Sea

by Ben Marcus
Unless they are subscribers to Harper’s or The New Yorker, admirers of the experimental fiction of Ben Marcus are likely to find themselves somewhat baffled by the four stories that make up the first section of Leaving the Sea—although not, perhaps, as baffled as the uninitiated reader who picked up …

Is Humbert Humbert Jewish?

Vladimir Nabokov, right, with his cousin the composer Nicolas Nabokov, Montreux, Switzerland, 1975

The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov

by Andrea Pitzer

The Tragedy of Mister Morn

by Vladimir Nabokov, translated from the Russian by Thomas Karshan and Anastasia Tolstoy
Nabokov’s conception of the artist as quasi-divine inventor means that—as is the case with one of his great heroes, James Joyce—critics tend to find themselves in the role of enchanted hunters looking for clues and connections, spotting recondite allusions, praising the novels’ elaborate artistry, or elucidating labyrinthine patterns. It would take a bold critic to read such a dazzling, seemingly omniscient, and utterly self-conscious oeuvre as depicting the bars of Nabokov’s own cage. Andrea Pitzer doesn’t, perhaps, go quite that far, but she does invite us to step back a little and ponder the oddness of the relationship Nabokov’s writings create between the fictive and the historical.

NYR DAILY

Ted Hughes’s ‘Last Letter’

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath on their honeymoon, Paris, 1956

“What happened that night?
    Your final night.”
So begins “Last Letter,” a poem, or rather draft of a poem, by Ted Hughes published in the October 11 issue of the British magazine the New Statesman. “Last Letter” was clearly intended to take its place in Hughes’s 1998 collection of poems to Plath, Birthday Letters, but it’s also clear that he never managed to finish it before he died on October 28, 1998. I suppose anything a poet as famous as Hughes didn’t get around to destroying before he died is likely to end up in the public domain eventually, and certainly a poem that at last sets out what he was up to on that fatal, freezing weekend of February 9 and 10 of 1963 was not going to languish in the British Library’s archive forever.

NYR CALENDAR