August 10, 1987

Mixed Relics

Filed under: Archive,Books

The New Review Anthology
Edited by Ian Hamilton

In 1968 Ian Hamilton edited a collection called The Modern Poet -Essays from The Review. It was a greatest hits from his little magazine of the Sixties which included commentary by Colin Falck, John Fuller, Hamilton himself writing on Robert Lowell (he was later to produce Lowell’s biography) and A.Alvarez, the firebrand of English criticism, breathing heavily against gentility and raising the literary stocks of Sylvia Plath, John Berryman and, again Lowell.

Embracing contradictions The Review also had a soft spot for Philip Larkin even though Alvarez detested all those bicycle clip poems. The collection included poetry as well – by Falck, Fuller, Hamilton, Alvarez again (that was before he became expert on suicide and marriage, having tried both once) and Hugo Williams. The New Review was unveiled in 1974 but it was really the new old Review from the Sixties with the faithful retention of Falck, Fuller and Hugo Williams among others.

As well, Hamilton went on to publish work from all of the bright young male things from Oxbridge – movers and shakers like Andrew Motion and Craig Raine, who are currently picking up all the establishment laurels and the odd ten thou in glittering prize money. By the Seventies Hamilton had redressed some of the boys’ club impression by letting a few women into the Long Room. Jean Rhys’ stylish story “Sleep it off Lady”, Fleur Adcock’s fine poem “The Soho Hospital for Women” and Lorna Sage’s early essay on Angela Carter are some of the strongest inclusions in the anthology.

Elsewhere in this miscellany, Clive James miscalculates with an unctuous essay on Kingsley Amis, Ian McEwan offers more from his oblique angle with “Solid Geometry” and there is an eloquent, unguarded piece by Robert Lowell on John Crowe Ransom. Hamilton also includes “In Isfahan” a story from the great Irish writer, William Trevor, a witty memoir by Jonathan Raban, some early instalments of Hugo Williams’ tiresome odyssey in the United States and some painful prose by Shashi Tharoor, archly entitled “The Loneliness of the Short Story Writer.”

The New Review Anthology is a justifiable skite for Hamilton as talent scout but it’s a motley collection, much of which has dated or is available to us in more finished form. Seamus Heaney has produced more and better than “The Skunk” and Gavin Ewart has rarely done worse than “Just a Smack at”.

Hamilton tells us in his Preface that he ditched back reviews and instalments from The New Review’s Edward Fygge column- at one stage written by Julian Barnes, the Flaubert’s Parrot man – on the grounds that even first rate ephemera must pass. It is a judgement to be regretted because it might have infused this accomplished, but unnecessarily priggish, collection of relic from the near past with some welcome spontaneity.

“Mixed Relics” The Adelaide Review, No. 41, August, 1987. p.17.

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