Poetry: The Book of My Enemy | clivejames.com
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The Book of My Enemy

Collected Verse 1958–2003

Picador Hardback, 2003
To the memory of my mother

Clive writes (for the original clivejames.com)

Following Other Passports, published in 1986, The Book of My Enemy was the second, much-expanded version of my Collected Verse, comprising all the work that I wished to keep from 1958 right through until 2003, including the complete text of Peregrine Prykke's Pilgrimage. Usually it is wise to cultivate an aversion to blowing one's own trumpet, but when it comes to verse, the occasional unsolicited bugle solo from oneself is sometimes the only supporting music available, so I don't mind saying that this volume did quite good business for a book of poetry. It was a Poetry Book Society choice and got some heart-warming reviews — as a lady of a certain age might be congratulated on her pose for a nude calendar — but even more unusual were the statistics. It ran through five printings in hardback and is still going in paperback, both in Britain and Australia. I gave a performance from the book at the Cheltenham Festival, and got my first hint that there might be an audience for my work in verse. Not as big an audience as for my work in prose, perhaps, but still a substantial number. Anyway, if anyone walked out they must have done so on tip-toe.

Jacket Blurb

The reputation of Clive James as a poet was slow to form, perhaps because he was too famous as a star journalist anc television entertainer. There was also the drawback that his poetry was so entertaining in itself, and therefore hard for many critics to take seriously. But after the notoriety achieved by a single self-satirizing poem, The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered — one of the most often anthologized poems of recent times — his poetic output became impossible to ignore and his 1985 collection Other Passports was greeted with praise for its thematic scope and technical accomplishment, even by critics who still doubted his seriousness.

Since then, more productive than ever as time goes on, he has emerged unarguably as one of the most prominent poets of his generation. Publishing his new poems in such mainstream outlets as the TLS, the London Review of Books, the Spectator, the New Yorker and the Australian Book Review, he has a direct line to a worldwide public that appreciates verse with all the vivid invention of his unique prose style and with a sense of rhythm, cadence and memorable form that is entirely his own.

This collected edition, which includes the full text of his legendary satirical epic Peregrine Prykke's Pilgrimage, marks the fulfilment of a long dedication to poetry practised as a way of life, without benefit of clergy. Straddling show-business and the world of learning, the variety of his activities has brought many a commentator, sometimes in admiration and sometimes in rage, to wonder if there is a central impulse that unites them. The answer, the elusive real Clive James, is in this dazzling book.

* * *

Clive James is the author of more than twenty books. As well as verse and novels, he has published collections of essays, literary and television criticism, travel writing and three volumes of autobiography: Unreliable Memoirs, Falling Towards England and May Week Was in June. His most recent novel was The Silver Castle. As a television performer he has appeared regularly for both the BBC and ITV, most notably as writer and presenter of the Postcard series of travel documentaries. He helped to found the independent television company Watchmaker, and is currently chairman of the Internet enterprise Welcome Stranger. In 1992 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia and in 2003 he was awarded the Philip Hodgins memorial medal for literature.


‘James writes with exquisite perception and surgical precision: he is a poet of powerful argument and emotional force’
— The Times

‘Page after page of The Book of My Enemy confirms James has the primary sine qua non gifts as a poet. He rejoices in language, and he shows enormous skill in using is’
— Sunday Telegraph

‘Reading these poems is like listening to a talking book, which infests the poems with personality, with that familiar braggadocio, that strictly upbeat delivery ... The poems here have skip, insights, timing and agreeable passion’
— Independent

Poetry Book Society Special Commendation

‘Clive James is a true poet. Line after line of his has a characteristic personal tone, a kind of end-stopped singingness which is almost independent of what it says’ — Peter Porter, London Review of Books

Reviews of The Book of My Enemy

The Age 


Telegraph, Alan Marshall 

Telegraph, John Gross