"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

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Dylan Thomas, like, wow, could write!

Strolling through Bloomsbury today what should I see, parked in a piece of open space on the very cusp of Fitzrovia, but Dylan Thomas's writing shed.  Except that, er, it wasn't.  It was a faithful reproduction that is being towed around these islands, having started out of course in Wales where I should have caught up with it before.  It is being called The Pop-up Writing Shed and inside (I learned when I read the handout after I had left the scene) visitors were being asked, "in honour of Dylan Thomas' love of words" to help to compile a dictionary of fresh new words.  "Be playful," the Shed's curators say, "be rhythmic, be onomatopoeic, be brave".  Had I noticed this option I think I would have posted to the projected Dictionary of Dylan the word "shamshed".  Instead I pottered amongst the reproductions of letters, photographs, and what may have been actual books from his boathouse.


It was very popular and it was soon difficult to turn round in the small space for fear of treading on eager poetry, or at any rate, Dylan lovers.  One woman expressed astonishment at the sight of his neat, legible handwriting on a letter spread out on the table.  "That's amazing, I didn't think he would write so clearly if he was drunk all the time."  I scanned her face for signs of irony but no, this is what she genuinely believed.  "Perhaps he had an old-fashioned Welsh education, taught how to write in pen and ink," I offered primly.  This earned me an old-fashioned look.  It's true that I may not have been careful enough in my perusal of the shamshed, but I couldn't see any poetic manuscripts about. But in a sense that's not the point.  DT is the point.  He is, as Cliff Richard said of Elvis "a phenomena".  He is popular, unlike most poets, so let's not carp.  And if you are in Fitzrovia this weekend there's a special "Dylan Thomas in Fitzrovia" festival which should be a lot of fun.  But get to the shamshed early before it's crowded out.

Monday, 13 October 2014

War, war

I am looking forward to taking part with some other writers and anthologists in an event on the First World War at the Working Men's College in Camden organised by Lucy Popescu on Thursday 6 November.  I won't actually be talking about my book on the war poets (illustrated here) but will be reading Trench Feet my verse satire on an academic who decides to turn the clich├ęs of the Great War into a TV career opportunity and comes badly unstuck.  I am also talking, but this time about the more serious book, at the Special Forces club on Monday 10th November and I have a forthcoming review in the Times Literary Supplement on some recent books of war poetry.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Brave New Worlds

I hugely enjoyed giving a talk last Friday (10 October) at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature on Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.  I was arguing that his 1932 novel is still highly relevant to current political and cultural debates, but I also was looking at its specific historical moment, at where it came from, at what made Huxley write it.  It was an excellent Cheltenham audience with some very interesting an intelligent questions.


Friday, 19 September 2014

Satirical Poetry: More Please!

Satirical poetry is relatively thin on the ground just now – it can hardly be for lack of provocation – but I have found that my own attempts have been sufficiently well received to make me think that it is worth more writers having a go.  I have tended to think that it works best when using relatively formal metres but of course that isn't a hard and fast rule.  My satire (or do I mean diatribe?) against the Coalition Government, Get Real!, published by Rack Press in 2011 used the very satisfying form perfected by Burns and my most recent one, Trench Feet, also from Rack Press earlier this year, has just earned some kind words from the Poetry Book Society selectors.

The PBS pamphlet choice for this quarter is Holly Hopkins' Soon Every House Will Have One (Smith/Doorstop) but they singled out several runners-up, including Trench Feet about which they wrote in the new PBS Bulletin: "After Get Real!, Murray's 2011 pamphlet satirising the Coalition Government, he now turns his attention to the celebrations of the centenary of the First World War.  Here bright, ambitious academic Jeremy Button, is commissioned to make a TV series focusing on the War Poets, but things do not go according to plan in this witty and erudite lampoon."  I should say that the wildly exaggerated scenes satirising a London literary prize-giving party are drawn from life but, no, I am not going to tell you where and when!

Get Real! is out of print as a pamphlet but the full text is in my Acapulco: New and Selected Poems (Melos Press) and it can be ordered online from Melos.  Trench Feet is still in print and can be ordered online from Rack Press or from poetry-loving bookshops like the London Review Bookshop in London or Foyle's.


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Mass Escape from the Zoo!!!

What is happening?  The thunder of animal hooves rushing down the gangplank from the Ark is being heard everywhere.  Ted Hughes's Bestiary just published is only the latest in a surge of animal poem collections.  I have even contributed to it myself.  Pascale Petit's Fauverie from Seren containing poems sparked by the Paris zoo, John Burnside's latest collection, poets in residence at London Zoo, workshops on animal writing...where will it end? It is good, I suppose, that we are all being tender towards our fellow creatures on this planet.


My collection of animal poems (pictured here) can be ordered online from Melos.

Monday, 8 September 2014

War, Jaw and Grub Street Revisited

Just about to enter the sacred cloister at Wadham
It suits a certain kind of scribbler to see themselves as an heroic outsider, speaking freely, beholden to no one, unlike the footling and pedantic scholars with their smug tenure, impossible sentences and saeva indignatio or do I mean odium theologicum? (We can do the Latin too).  In reality the old tussle between Grub Street and Academe no longer works and all of us are running after the same small (diminishing?) group of serious readers.  The self-indulgence of these past quarrels is indeed a thing of the past.

These thoughts occurred to me yesterday as I dipped through the mediaeval portal of Wadham College, Oxford, to deliver a paper at the English Association conference on British Poetry of the First World War.  My subject was "How 'Anti-War' were the War Poets?" and I argued for 20 minutes that the received wisdom that the poets of WW1 were 'anti-war' was not a piece of wisdom at all and that only the true pacifists could lay claim to that label.  I see Owen and Sassoon (decorated soldiers who pressed to go back to the front) as more 'anti-heroic' in their writing than 'anti-war'.

My audience unexpectedly (for me) included the poet Michael Longley whose new collection, The Stairwell, from Cape I had just read. It was a great pleasure to meet him and to hear him tell the hall he liked my paper.  Everything was charming and well-mannered with not a hint of odium anywhere and my nervousness (even as the author of a book on the subject of WW1 poetry) at addressing the scholars soon vanished.  In subsequent sessions, however, I discovered that Jeremy Paxman was not in such a favoured position and was honorary bogeyman of the day.  Absent also was the terrible theoretical jargon (the awful intellectual puns that made one wince, the turgid half-digested philosophy from Eng. Lit. academics not trained in philosophical discourse) of a decade or so ago.  Everyone is speaking plain English again and I could understand every word.  "I know, too, how apt the dear place is to be sniffy," Matthew Arnold said of Oxford in the 19th Century but it certainly wasn't yesterday.  In fact Grub Street (as represented in my latest verse satire, Trench Feet) is more likely to be snobbish and 'sniffy', with more cold-shoulders in the average literary or publishing party in London than in this gathering of friendly and communicative academics and teachers.

During the delivery of my paper I kept hearing a frantic buzzing vibration in my pocket from my silenced mobile phone.  Later I discovered that people had been tweeting my argument as it unfolded. I hope it didn't diminish their attention.  In fact it was the Grub Street Irregulars like me who seemed to lack the audio-visual flair and I felt rather old-fashioned arriving without memory stick Power Point or handout and relying on words alone.

The conference concluded with a panel on "The Historians v. The Poets" where the consensus seemed to be that this was a phoney war and that the alleged distorting effects on public consciousness of poetic representations of it were unproven and that both poetry and history were legitimate ways of exploring what happened.  Someone suggested from the floor that poets and historians should make common cause against the real culprits: the politicians who got everyone into this mess in the first place.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Presteigne Festival: The Welsh Poets of the Great War

Nicholas Murray outside Norton Church,
Thursday 21 August
The Presteigne Festival is in full swing in the Welsh Marches this weekend and already there have been some excellent events.  I was very pleased to have been asked to talk on Thursday about the Welsh poets of the Great War and had a great stroke of luck when I asked if there was anyone in the audience who could read out Hedd Wyn's famous poem "War", compensating for my regrettable lack of Welsh.  In the audience was Wyn Hobson, an experienced public reciter of poetry and a fluent Welsh speaker.  He gave a wonderful rendition of this classic Welsh poem and I read Gillian Clarke's translation of it.  I am very grateful to Wyn and to the audience for their intelligent and interesting questions.


Rhyfel (War):

Bitter to live in times like these.
While God declines beyond the seas;
Instead, man, king or peasantry,
Raises his gross authority.
When he thinks God has gone away
Man takes up his sword to slay
His brother; we can hear death's roar.

It shadows the hovels of the poor.

Like the old songs they left behind,
We hung our harps in the willows again.
Ballads of boys blow on the wind,

Their blood is mingled with the rain.

Hedd Wyn [translated by Gillian Clarke]



Wyn Hobson