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Mick Imlah

Selected Prose

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Edited By 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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Introduction

Extract



‘Brilliant and unfashionable’

Why write book reviews? For poets, the answer is simple: to hone one’s prose, expand one’s field of references, and keep one’s name before the public – essential activities during the inevitable lulls in between the writing of one poem and the next. Thus, poets tend to devote much of their time to essays and reviews, and for the most part, they tend to be relatively unconcerned with the almost endless notions of what a critic should be, other than that he or she should infuse their critical output with at least as much passion as they devote to their lyrical craft. In his review of W. H. Auden’s The Dyer’s Hand, John Berryman wrote: ‘A proper critic is as zealous as a young poet, crawling with ideas he burns to spread and enforce.’ Berryman, like Eliot, believed the critic and the creative artist should be one and the same. This was certainly the case with Mick Imlah, who was first and foremost a poet, although the tantalizing – nearly legendary – slowness with which he penned the two collections he produced during his lifetime – Birthmarks (1988) and the Forward Prize-winning The Lost Leader (2008) – left him plenty of time to focus his provocative brilliance on a slew of other activities. After his demyship at Magdalen College, where he helped to revive Oxford Poetry, Imlah spent the next fifteen years juggling various duties – a junior lectureship, editing Poetry Review and the poetry list at Chatto and...

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