"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, 28 November 2007

Meet the Author

I was told off shortly after I launched this blog for not being subjective enough, this being the USP of blogging, so here's a picture of me (a little out of date because the beard has gone) in a poster for an event tonight at Chelsea Library in the King's Road where I shall be talking about my books, the writing life and The Meaning of the Universe between 5.30 and 7.30. The event is free so do come along and join in the conversation. Or throw some rotten fruit....

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Mr Feelbad: Euripides' Women of Troy

Katie Mitchell's latest production, Euripides' bleak tragedy Women of Troy, opens tomorrow night at the National Theatre and I caught a preview last night. When I looked again at my tattered Penguin translation by Philip Vellacott and read the scene: "The ruins of Troy, two days after the city's capture, before dawn. First are seen only silhouettes of shattered buildings against a red glow and rising smoke..." I imagined we might be shimmying down to old Baghdad town but the play opened in what looked like a prisoner of war processing centre, a very British-looking bleak institutional building with an upper floor where the imprisoned Helen paced like a mad woman in the attic. Done here in a translation by the late Don Taylor, Mitchell appears to have dispensed with the Gods and this is all on a very human scale. In Vellacott's version the play opens with some fine poetry from Poseidon ("I come from the salt depths of the Aegean Sea/Where the white feet of Nereids tread their circling dance") promising ruin for the impious Greeks who have violated sacred shrines, but in the new version we cut straight to Hecuba lamenting the ruin of Troy and the fate of its women who are now at the mercy of the invaders. The production is nonetheless visually and dramatically exciting with some spooky music and sound effects and Mitchell's trademark choreography of jumpy posh women in frocks (aka the Chorus). In a short intense version like this (lasting barely an hour and twenty minutes without an interval) something has to go and it looks as though it is the poetry but it's still an exciting show. Euripides is not a feelgood kind of guy and his vision is stark, seeming to dismiss even the role of the gods in human affairs - it's all random suffering. By focussing on the atrocities of the Greeks he probably didn't do himself any favours in Athens where the Costa Tragedy Award in 415 BC went instead to Xenocles whom no one has ever heard of since. Well worth an outing.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

A Taste of Modern Greece

A refreshing look at modern Greece has just appeared in a memoir by English professor John Lucas. The title refers to a noisy address in the Athens sprawl where Lucas lived during his stint as a visiting professor at the University of Athens in 1984-85. My review of the book appeared in yesterday's Independent.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Mortality and Dr Browne

I don't know whether it's the ending of the year, the dark nights, or wading through several inches of Welsh snow yesterday morning at six o'clock in the morning but I found myself picking up again the inimitable seventeenth century prose master Sir Thomas Browne yesterday to read on the train to London. Thomas Browne's syntax is something of a marvel (and more than once one stops to make sure one has got it) but when he is on form no one can beat him for eloquent musings. Try this from Hydriotaphia or Urne-Buriall prompted by the discovery of some funerary urns, possibly Roman, in a field in Norfolk, shortly before he wrote the book in 1658: "But the long habit of living indisposeth us for dying..." Or maybe: "But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity." It's the way he tells 'em.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Anne Stevenson: Poetry, Youth and Age

With publishers and most media allegedly engaged in a frantic (and sometimes unintentionally comic) pursuit of the "yoof" market (forgetting that the demographics seem to point to a future hegemony of the oldies) it's interesting to see how serious writers who have already collected their bus passes deal with the topic. Yeats set up the benchmark for modern poets with his magnificent lines in "Sailing to Byzantium", one of the finest poems in his great volume The Tower (1928).

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress.

Reading Anne Stevenson's new collection Stone Milk (she is 74) I have been struck by the wit and wisdom of her meditations on being old and I would strongly recommend this book. I have been commissioned to review it so I won't go into detail but if you only read one new book of poems between now and Christmas this should be it. More later.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Zorba the Greek

To King's College in The Strand to see a special showing of Michael Cacoyannis' 1963 film of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel Zorba the Greek. The evening was organised by the Centre for Hellenic Studies at King's which organises many free events about modern Greek subjects and the movie was preceded by the first showing of a videotaped interview with the director Michael Cacoyannis, who, it must be said, wasn't giving much away.

Kazantzakis' novel was written during the Nazi occupation of Greece, but set twenty years earlier, and was published in 1946. He intended the story of Alexis Zorbas to be on the model of the traditional saint's life or synaxarion in Greek but I wonder how saintly the character, played magnificently by Anthony Quinn, really was? The film remains very powerful, beautifully realising in black and white the old Cretan landscape and customs, some of which are rather hard to take, like the vendettas and the murder of the character pictured here. Played by Irene Pappas, her throat was cut by the vengeful peasants for the crime, it would appear, of being a beautiful widow who said no to a man with a knife and a moustache. The machismo of this film may now be as remote as the quaint tavernas and peasant costume it preserves (or one hopes it is) but the movie certainly repays seeing.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Poets of the Blogosphere

Have you noticed how rarely poetry figures in the literary "blogosphere"? I am working on this but in the meantime do visit the Rack Press blog where you will learn that the new series of Rack Press poets is being launched in London on 15th January 2008. You are all invited to that annual poetryfest in the cold early weeks of January, cold even in Bloomsbury (cold also in the Radnor Hills at Rack Press HQ but we are rugged folk). Watch this space for further details.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The People Show: Still Crazy (Naturally)

Excitement mounted to fever pitch last night in Bethnal Green...Well, anyway it was the first night of the London run of the latest People Show, No 118: "The Birthday Tour". The People Show, founded in 1966 by sixties-person Jeff Nuttall, is celebrating its fortieth birthday this year and I can report with relief that they are just as crazy as ever. The Stage once said that in one of their shows there was "anarchy lurking around every corner". I would put it differently and say that anarchy is constantly in your face. When one of the characters leaves the stage through the circular door of a washing machine you know that the madness is in a safe pair of hands.

In their day the People Show, whose roots are in the 1960s idea of a "happening" and in performance art, but who are literally indescribable, have played all the smart venues like the ICA and the Riverside Studios but these days they ignite the fireworks in their East London base at the People Show Studios. This is a former church hall where those nice boys the Kray Twins first learned to box and last night a film crew was shooting an episode of Eastenders or something similar just down the road, adding to the excitement. People Show original stars George Kahn, with his trademark sax, and the faux-naif Mark Long were in the show alongside some excellent new performers and...no, I'm not even going to try to describe what happened. Let's just say we didn't remain in our seats all night, following the show around the Studios, and boarding a zany tour-coach at one point, before being returned to the main auditorium for the final act of discreet lunacy. There have been highs and lows over the past 40 years and Mrs Bibliophilic Blogger and I were present at one of the latter a few years ago at the Welsh town of Builth Wells where the audience consisted of the two of us plus four bemused locals. When Mark Long pushed his quizzical face through a gap in the curtains to start the show his heart must have dropped. So don't let this happen again folks. Get down to Bethnal Green sharpish. There's nothing quite like it in London theatre at the moment and it's on until 17th November.

I learn that People Show 119 is going to take place in the famous Sefton Park Palm House in Liverpool as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations. Does Liverpool know what it has let itself in for?

Saturday, 3 November 2007

The Art of the Cash Register

There are three very interesting current exhibitions at the Royal Academy (and that's without mentioning Zhang Huan's extraordinary, giant, Three Legged Buddha in the RA forecourt). There was so much to see today I wouldn't be surprised if I popped back on Monday. The most striking of the three is a retrospective of the work of German artist Georg Baselitz (if you're a podcast sort of person you can download a little spiel on him from the RA website). But on my way out I noticed this little message from the sponsors, Eurohypo. Call me a superannuated old leftie but isn't there something a little impudent about a sponsoring bank equating its "creativity" with that of a major artist? Thanks for the cash, folks, but this is an art exhibition not a corporate PR jolly.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Fatos Kongoli: New Albanian Fiction

To Foyle's Bookshop in London for the launch of the first English translation of Albanian novelist Fatos Kongoli's 1992 novel I Humburi/The Loser. Kongoli himself was there, a likeably modest man without any of the trappings of the celebrity writer. He said that he had no desire to write under the Hoxa dictatorship in Albania during which time he had been a mathematics professor. Elsewhere he has written that there are no Marxist theorems in geometry. But with the fall of the dictatorship in 1991 he felt released to write and The Loser - about which I can say nothing because I acquired it only last night - is the product. At question time I asked if he was alone in feeling this sense of lifted restraint. Had there been a sudden renaissance in contemporary Albanian literature? Speaking through his interpreter, Robert Elsie, who with Janice Mathie-Heck translated the book for Welsh publisher Seren's promising new translation series, Kongoli was cautious. He did not seem to wish to speak for anyone but himself. There were many writers in Albania, some of whom, he suggested, thought they were important. The life of a writer is hard, he said, it is economically unrewarding, but one has no choice but to pursue it. This book was directly stimulated by the events of 1991 and the collapse of the regime (we recall those memorable images of Albanian refugees piling onto ships for Italy) and it is, apparently, an exploration of the consequences of state repression. This is the first of Kongoli's books to be translated into English though he has a much higher profile in France. Although he does not speak English he is fluent in French, which enabled me to have a few words with him at the end and to carry off a copy of the book signed: 'bien cordialement, Fatos Kongoli'. I look forward to reading it (Seren, £8.99)

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Poets and (Super) Furry Animals

Q. Who is the man in the chair?
A. Gruff Rhys of the Welsh band Super Furry Animals

He is being interviewed in the latest issue of the Welsh magazine Planet which, as anyone who lives in Wales knows, is one of the few essential magazines in what used to be known quaintly as "the Principality". Under the heading "Punk Rock in Bethesda" it's the first of two articles on Rhys whose new album Hey Venus! has just been released.

This issue of Planet also contains a review (by me) of John Barnie's new poetry collection, Trouble in Heaven (Gomer). Barnie is one of the best living Welsh poets and I strongly recommend this title. Barnie is a poet alive to the Welsh countryside, and particularly its bird life, in all its dimensions, especially the environmental.

You can find out more about Planet from its website: www.planetmagazine.org.uk