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Seven Verse Letters

Faber and Faber, London, 1977

to Russell Davies

Clive’s note for clivejames.com

Verse letters to friends which were published separately in periodicals during 1974–75, and then collected and published in this form by Faber and Faber in 1977. Philip Larkin, in a letter, pointed out that the title should not have a hyphen. A slim volume verging on the flimsy, it was reviewed like the plague but did me good. The different verse forms I adopted were identical in their salutary discipline. It sounds like masochism and sometimes felt like it, but in the long run the exigencies of rhyme and metre made plainness mandatory by revealing would-be profundities as fudge.

Of the seven letters, six are reproduced here. I felt bound to discard the first verse letter I ever wrote. Addressed to John Fuller, it was too clumsy to keep, in view of the high standards of craftsmanship he set for those poets of his generation who followed his example in producing, or trying to produce, urbane and entertaining public verse.

Later verse letters to Michael Frayn and to Craig Raine, and birthday poems to Anthony Thwaite and Gore Vidal, were collected, along with these six, in Other Passports, published in 1986 by Jonathan Cape.

Cover blurb

Of these verse letters to friends those which appeared in periodicals during 1974–5 have already attracted wide attention for the wit, energy and technical skill applied to poetic substance and the acute humorous perception characteristic of their author.

The friends addressed are John Fuller, Peter Porter, Martin Amis, Russell Davies, Pete Atkin and Tom Stoppard; another letter is addressed to the poet’s wife. The letters deliberately exploit a variety of verse forms and cogently relate current ephemera to permanent aesthetic concerns; and their manifest humour and colloquial vigour do not conceal a fundamental seriousness.

Archive Editor’s note

These seven pages (indexed at left) reproduce all seven verse letters as originally published in 1977 (or previously in the press), and include Clive James’s idiosyncratic use of italics and capitalization for emphasis and clarification. Six of these were later (1986) included in Clive's collection ‘Other Passports’ in revised versions omitting the extra emphases, along with six more recent letters. The 2003 collection ‘The Book of my Enemy’ reprinted all of these, and they can be found below that book's title in the menu bar at left. A selection also appeared in Clive’s ‘Collected Poems’ of 2016.