In the course of reviewing three recently-published collections of poetry poetry, Darwin: A Life in Poems by Ruth Padel, The Cinder Path by Andrew Motion and Angels Over Elsinore Collected Verse 2003-2008 by Clive James, the academic and frequent contributor to the literary pages of newspapers and literary magazines, Jeremy Noel-Tod suggests that, given the kind of poetry he writes, James possesses many the qualifications needed to replace Motion as Poet Laureate
Drying up seems to be something that Clive James only does between washing up and writing another poem. In fact, his facility for turning unfussy verses on just about any occasion, and his knack for neat lines and rhymes, would make him an ideal Poet Laureate. The first poem in Angels Over Elsinore, “Windows is Shutting Down”, is sure to become a popular hit for what its William-Empson-meets-Lynne-Truss take on the word-processed end says of English grammar. ‘‘Too bad for we, us what has had so long / The best seat from the only game in town. / But there it am, and whom can say its wrong? / Those are the break. Windows is shutting down.’’ Verse writing is another literate skill that is dying out, but James shows that it is still the place to start if you want to make words memorable in themselves.
There is something appealing about this suggestion, and one can see whiy it was made, but I imagine that the post would place too many unacceptable restrictions on James and would not allow him to do what he does best, which is play with subject matter and form unhampered by the thought that he has to fulfil anybody’s expectations.
Angels Over Elsinore: Collected Poems 2003-2008
by Clive James
102pp, Picador, £14.99