"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
For more information about the books of Nicholas Murray
click HERE and access his website
Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

A Winter Song

Mirie it is while sumer y-last
With fugheles son
Oc nu neheth windes blast
And weder strong.
Ei, ei! What this nicht is long
And ich with wel michel wrong
Soregh and murne and fast.

Mirie It Is

(13th century English)

How days of summer
filled with birdsong end
and all my pleasure’s cut
by winter’s heralds,
cold and wind.

And now the nights
are harsh and long;
my heart aches
from sorrow, grief,
and hunger’s pangs.


Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Huxley the Controversial Prophet

To Bath to deliver a lecture on "Aldous Huxley: Writer and Prophet".  As Huxley's biographer I try to avoid becoming too partial towards my subject but the reaction of some people to the writer does occasionally surprise me and make me want to come to his defence.  I am particularly struck by the reaction of some academics to Huxley and their readiness to brand him a "fascist". This has happened twice now at public events and I wonder what it is that makes people in universities so hot under the collar at his critique of 20th Century consumer culture.  In terms very similar to Arnold, Ruskin and Morris before him and the Marxist critic Adorno after him Huxley argued that the culture of the free and independent-minded individual that he favoured was being challenged by mass cultural forms that turned the individual into a passive recipient of what the controlling providers wanted him or her to consume.  This is the theme of Brave New World (1932) with its dystopian vision of a society controlled by deceptively benign manipulators of consciousness, wielders of 'soft power' who control us through the brainwashing of advertising and commercialisation of every natural experience ("a love of nature keeps no factories busy" is one of the jingles heard in the novel).  I must say that this seems very prescient to me as we look out on the world controlled for us by the digital oligarchs of today. But certain academic critics (who I hope are in a minority) beg to differ. These self-hating custodians of high culture rage against his 'fascist' critique that would insist on the individual's right and power to choose. They claim that Huxley was an 'elitist' who wanted to force decent people to have richer cultural lives. One senses that they like the lower orders to know their place and not to assume that they can come barging in through the front swing doors of the palace of the culture normally reserved for the toffs. Their business is to stay where they are and not get above themselves.  People like me, by contrast, whose slogan is "nothing is too good for the working class" beg to differ. Everyone has a right to a slice of the cultural cake. The debate will continue. Meanwhile I wonder what these spluttering dons would do if they met a real fascist.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Corbyn Creates New Post of Shadow Poet Laureate!

New Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has announced the creation of a new cultural post of Shadow Poet Laureate. 24 year old Arabella Strunk, currently Poet in Residence at Paradise Vale chicken-processing factory near Oswestry in Shropshire, was the surprise choice to shadow Carol Ann Duffy the official Laureate. “I’m over the moon,” she told the Shropshire Star. “I think Jeremy’s like really cool. I like the way he never wears a tie like that Iranian prime minister, whatshisname. And this girl has a thing about beards.”

The Labour leader said today: “I think many people write off contemporary poetry as being just a lot of bores reading second-rate ‘poetry’ to each other at their interminable and excruciating ‘gigs’ where ego exceeds talent but I think, as Shelley pointed out, it has the potential to change the world.”

Arabella, whose new book, Yo Bella! has just been published by Dirty Denizen Press, runs the pioneering Poetry Nuggets Project at Paradise Vale where employees write haiku in their lunch-break. "We are very keen not to be seen as anti-business," says Arabella, "so we invite senior management and HR into the workshops to make sure there is no inappropriate satire. Staff are very excited at the imminent launch of the new line, Turkey Tickle Balls, but they still found time to throw themselves into the poetry workshop."

Arabella's new collection has received a welcome boost from the news. "All my Facebook friends are thrilled for me," she says. "They all say they plan to buy a copy and some say they will buy three copies. I am thrilled and excited."

Jeremy Corbyn is 66.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Secrets of the Sea: New Poetry

My new poetry pamphlet, The Secrets of the Sea (Melos) is launched on 8th September in London but if you would like to buy a copy now you can do so, post free, from Melos direct.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Poetry and Politics

Below is a contribution I made to Poets for Corbyn  an e-book of 21 poems by various hands, just published, expressing support for what seems to be, to this contributor at least, a new movement on the left of British politics towards remaking the Labour Party after the fiasco of the recent election.  I don't like personality cults in politics but this seems to be different and an important re-alignment about which the conservative Labour pragmatists and old-fashioned Blairites seem to have nothing useful to say except to blow raspberries.

There are those who argue that, in Auden's much-quoted line, "poetry makes nothing happen", and the English, as opposed to many European or Latin American poets, have (nearly) always preferred this elegant fence-sitting to any kind of vulgar engagement.  Poetry can be crude and propagandist.  It can also be subtle, intelligent and resourceful when it engages with politics and partisanship is no worse for a poet than a citizen.  I am not a purist.

My contribution is in the Burns stanza I have used before, notably in my long poem Get Real! (2011). Burns didn't actually invent this stanza, though he was its best known practitioner.  It is sometimes called "the standard Habbie",  after the piper Habbie Simpson (1550–1620) about whom a Lament was was written in the form.  It's great fun to use. I hope it is also entertaining and amusing to read.

The ebook can be downloaded for free by following the link in my opening sentence.


Like sheep who’ve scattered to the field’s high corner,
the commentariat – now hunted fauna –
together cling.
The practised put-downs, and the usual sneers,
predictable pandering to baser fears,
the lazy tricks that served for years
no longer sing.

Pundits and pollsters, penny-a-liners,
effortless liars and maligners,
pieces pitched,
to Guardian or 4 no longer hack it.
The zeitgeist’s moved; they can no longer track it
and there’s a note inside the salary packet:
you’re ditched!

Chancellor Osborne’s undeterred,
and gives his underlings the word:
Class-warrior of an antique kind
he makes his colleagues of one mind
to hound the workers from behind.
A pack

of snapping Tory dogs
emerging from the autumn fogs
The ‘enemy within’ attracts their curses
(that’s dinner ladies, carers, nurses
who learn there’s little in their purses).
It’s the cult

of settling scores, unleashing dogs of war
(though strikes are fewer than before).
They winch
their arses to the saddle, salivating,
excited by the prey that’s waiting,
eased by commentators’ Left-baiting:
a cinch.

Their anti-union bill’s revealed,
and like a rotten fruit when peeled
it’s vile
inside: more harsh than any iron regime
has yet to implement, or even dream,
where strikers must declare the theme
of any Tweet

before releasing it or face a fine or gaol:
that’s Britain now where oppositions fail
to fight.
Until J.C. discovers that the old and young
are eager to bite back, give tongue
to protest, scrap the song that’s sung
stage Right.

Its mandate twenty five per cent of votes,
the Government each day emotes:
until our ears become resistant to the sound,
detect the lie that is its constant ground,
refuse the claim that they have found
a ‘norm’.

Corbyn’s no knight in shining vest,
or bright Messiah from the West
(he’d say)
but someone who has found a way to voice
a fractured country’s need for choice,
to say we’ll make another kind of noise:
No way!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Losing Israel: Jasmine Donahaye

There's a delightful bird (illustrated on the jacket of this book) called the Palestine sunbird. Or is it? An Israeli twitcher would call it an orange-tufted sunbird.  Even the birds of the air are drawn into the contested space that is Israel/Palestine and it is this world that Jasmine Donahaye explores in this fascinating memoir of her troubled and difficult relationship with modern Israel.

Born in England of parents raised on a very hard line kibbutz (where parents greeted other people's children before their own in order to demonstrate their fealty to collectivism) Donahaye has spent much time in Israel (and California) and now lives in a peaceful but rain-soaked valley in Mid Wales.  This book is the story of her gradual discovery that the narrative of happy enterprising peasant communitarianism promoted by the kibbutz masked another story of the destruction of Arab villages in what is now Israel.  Guided by her mother's revelations, Donahaye returns to Israel with many questions to be answered and the time that interests her is that of the early days of the founding of Israel in the late 1940s when the British Mandate in Palestine was ending.  She learns from historical accounts, archives, maps, that the Arab villages on which the kibbutz-dwellers built were not depopulated by some form of natural wastage or voluntary emigration but their inhabitants were expelled, the names of the villages erased and renamed.

What makes this book so absorbing is the author's unflinching honesty about herself and her Jewish family, its powerful moral clarity never wobbling off into priggish self-righteousness. She simply looks at the evidence and it is unmistakeable. She also has a gift for describing people and places and presenting her conversations in vivid dialogue so what might have been an over-earnest endeavour stays alive and readable. She describes the moment when she first spoke to her mother in Hebrew: "there was a look on her face, in the hesitation before she answered, of nakedness. It felt like a transgression, this entry into who she was not possible except in her first language. It shocked her. It shocked me too. For one unguarded moment her deep past, her buried childhood rushed up in her and responded, and I witnessed it; for a brief moment, before she once again guarded herself, there was an intimacy I had never before known. And then it was gone."  Discovering her family's "culpability in the displacement of Palestinians" she finds eventually that "my sense of who I was came undone".

But it is not a simple matter of going to Israel, finding, on foot, the slight vestiges of the old Arab settlements that were not officially there in the environs of the kibbutz which her grandfather helped to build.  There is a whole family and national history to come to terms with.  Donahaye firmly rebuts the standard charge of "Jewish self-hatred" levelled by the Israeli right when such matters come up. "According to that view, any criticism of Israel is a criticism of your Jewish self, shows a disconnection and corruption in your Jewish core, and yet because I cannot hate my Jewishness, and cannot hate Israel that I feel conflicted." In her lyrical passages about her current Welsh home and about the wonderful richness and variety of Israeli birds which, as a birdwatcher from childhood, she describes so well and so accurately Donahaye is not offering us a 'misery memoir' but she is trying to reverse a process which she calls "telling one story and erasing another".

Has she reached the point suggested by her title?  It is hard to imagine that she would ever, could ever, cut Israel out of her life but: "My country is leaving me because its story is ceasing to exist, and because of what it has strangled out of existence. I grieve the loss, I grieve its departure from me, but it's a grief coloured darkly by shame."

Losing Israel by Jasmine Donahaye is published by Seren (£12.99 hardback).

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Square Eyes: Rosie Millard's New Novel

Rosie Millard at the launch

To Soho for the launch of Rosie Millard's highly entertaining new novel The Square at the House of St Barnabas aka The House of Charity as it was known in the Victorian era.  Under the splendid rococo ceilings even the Bibliophilic Blogger who normally doesn't get out much was seen quaffing beakers of wine (thanks to the kindness of Legend Press in inviting me) and applauding this witty and clear-eyed satire on the life of a London square.  It was the same night as the first episode of Life in Squares, the BBC drama on the Bloomsbury set about which the less said the better. Rosie Millard has a very sharply observant eye for the vagaries of London bourgeois behaviour (she said she started writing by looking out of the window and trying to imagine the life that was going on behind those Georgian facades) and this one will be a perfect summer read as the publishers very properly suggested.

I met one of the author's neighbours from, as Thackeray would have written it, Th**********Square, N*, who said he had asked the author whether he should have brought his libel lawyer with him. She assured him it wouldn't be necessary. In spite of the presence of her children and parents beneath the St Barnabas chandeliers Rosie read some of the mildly naughty bits and a great time was had by all.

The Square by Rosie Millard is published by Legend Press in paperback at £8.99

The calm before the book-signing storm