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Mick Imlah

Selected Prose


André Naffis-Sahely and Robert Selby

As well as a highly respected poet and editor, Mick Imlah (1956–2009) was one of the finest literary critics of his generation. He spent most of his twenty-five-year career working for the Times Literary Supplement, reinterpreting familiar writers from Tennyson and Trollope to Larkin and Muldoon, and – as his interest in his Scottish background grew – elucidating those fallen from favour, such as Barrie, Buchan, Muir and Scott. With a preface by Mark Ford, this volume draws together a selection of Imlah’s essays that reveal the formidable breadth of his unique literary insight, and the flair with which he communicated it. The volume also encompasses some of his pieces on miscellaneous subjects such as sport and travel, as well as on his own poetry, in order to provide a rounded sense of Imlah the man and writer.
Mick Imlah was born in 1956 and educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he taught as a Junior Fellow. He was editor of Poetry Review from 1983 to 1986, Chatto and Windus poetry editor from 1989 to 1993, and worked at the Times Literary Supplement for many years until his death in 2009. His second collection of poetry, The Lost Leader, won the Forward Prize in 2008.
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Preface by Mark Ford


← vi | vii → Preface

In the essay that he wrote for the Oxford Poetry issue (XIII, no. 2, Winter 2009) devoted to Mick Imlah’s life and work, Alan Hollinghurst praised the ‘canny wit’ and ‘fraternal tenderness’ of Mick’s discussion of writers, such as Robert Bridges and Laurence Binyon, who were popular enough in their time, but are nowadays not much read. Mick’s critical pieces, Hollinghurst continued, ‘deserve to be collected, for their own merits, and also as adjuncts to his growth as a poet’. This volume contains all Mick’s most significant reviews and literary essays, and does, I believe, fully bear out his friend’s assessment. Mick was a shrewd and entertaining critic, whether writing on canonical favourites such as Tennyson, or resuscitating minor figures like S. R. Crockett, or responding to new work by Douglas Dunn or Posy Simmonds; at the same time, the reading that he undertook for these reviews, in conjunction with his co-editing (with Robert Crawford) of The New Penguin Book of Scottish Verse, increasingly fed into, even shaped, his poetry. To take the most obvious example, it is unlikely that he would ever have written his brilliant ‘B. V.’, which deals with the life of the alcoholic Scottish-born poet James Thomson, had he not been sent Tom Leonard’s 1993 biography of Thomson to review for the Independent on Sunday.

‘B. V.’ is the middle section of a sequence entitled ‘Afterlives of the Poets’, which was in many ways the pivotal work of Mick’s...

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