On Writers

My first ever publication was a review of the American poet John Ashbery for the TLS (published June 17, 1988) which you can read, in PDF form, here. 

Two pieces about the Romanian-Jewish German-speaking poet Paul Celan grew out of my third novel, In the Shape of a Boar, which offers a refracted portrait of Celan and a much-altered retelling of his life. The first one, Hunting Boar with Paul Celan, was  given as a lecture at the Institute of Germanic Studies in London and later reprinted in the London Review of Books. A survey of several Celan translations followed in August 2001 and was published (in a slightly different form to this one) in the TLS.

In 1993 I moved to Chicago where I turned down a commission to interview David Foster Wallace just before “Infinite Jest” came out – I was finishing “The Pope’s Rhinoceros” and we couldn’t make the dates work. I still regret it. Eventually I had my say when I reviewed “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”. In general I’ve tried to avoid reviewing my fellow fiction-writers and for a long time I would review only poetry. This review of Paul Muldoon’s “The Annals of Chile” became one of those projects from which one is eventually thankful to escape. Here’s part of my (unsuccessful) attempt to figure out the rhyme-scheme. Another sanctum was the classics. This short essay on Tacitus was one of two (completely unrelated) broadcasts by me on that writer which both went out in the same week on BBC Radio. Jane Harrison’s “Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion” was one of the great inspirations for my first novel, a commission to introduce and edit a volume of Roman myths and legends for the Folio Society reminded me how weird were the corresponding folk-lores of Rome. That was also the occasion of my first (and probably last) foray into Latin (obscene) verse translation.