"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, 6 April 2016

The Migrant Ship

My new pamphlet collection of poems, The Migrant Ship (Melos) is now available from the publisher.  As well as the title poem it contains other poems on the theme of migration and loss and I hope it represents an attempt to engage poetically with one of the most important of current political issues. Poets sometimes hesitate about writing 'political poetry' for fear of appearing strident, or even banal. (We can all think of poems that fit into that category.) But the idea that poets shouldn't write about politics would have mystified Milton, Marvell, Shelley, Yeats, Auden (not to mention a range of international 20th Century poets from Ritsos to Neruda) even though it was Auden who famously wrote "poetry makes nothing happen". Maybe it doesn't, in the sense of provoking events or actions, but it is part of our awareness of the world around us. It expresses a range of imaginative approaches to reality, it can show empathy and understanding, and all the things that the nastier political manifestations of our time seek to eliminate. Poetry, in fact, can be about anything it likes.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Mightiness of Apple

GA week ago Apple released their latest operating system for iPad (and presumably iPhone but I don't have one of those). It immediately became clear that the browser wasn't working and that sites couldn't be opened.  Quite a serious flaw you might think but a week on there is no sign of any solution or "bug fix" being proposed and the iPad browser is unusable.  

If this were a railway company there would be a note on the website apologising for delays to trains caused by signal failures, derailed goods trains or whatever but in the world of Apple there are no apologies and no explanations.  Yesterday I popped in to the gleaming white cathedral that is the Apple Store in Covent Garden in London and mentioned the problem to what turned out to be a relatively senior manager.  He conceded uneasily that there was a problem but he talked about it as if it were someone else's issue not Apple's and when asked if there would be a bug fix it was all he could do to stifle a yawn. Subjects, I was made to feel, must not question the moods and habits of the Emperor.

Those of us who use Apple products – largely for aesthetic reasons I sometimes think – have become used over the years to the lofty mandarin style of Apple, the company's serene washing of its hands of problems like this. It is nothing new.

And I suppose, like everyone else in the Mac cult, I will simply bow my head and accept and light a taper in front of the iconic white apple.

Update on 2 April no sign of that update. Apple still floundering and searching impossible. Have a nice day.

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.

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!