Over the past 50 years, Clive James has worked as a British television personality; a radio broadcaster; a travel writer; a trainee bus conductor; a book reviewer for major publications in the United States, Britain and his native Australia; a flunky in a machine shop; a recording artist (the six albums he wrote in the 1970s with the singer-songwriter Pete Atkin are cult classics); a sportswriter; a book shelver; an art critic; a prose elegist for Diana, Princess of Wales (“I am appearing ridiculous now, but it is part of the ceremony, is it not?”); and, naturally, a circus roustabout. He has also, all along and not entirely coincidentally, been a poet. While that last fact is well known in Britain and Australia, James’s new book, Opal Sunset: Selected Poems, 1958-2008 (Norton, $25.95), is the first volume of his poetry to be published in the United States.
It isn’t necessarily an advantage in the poetry world, especially the American poetry world, to be known for writing things that aren’t poetry. We’re suspicious of dabblers; we’d prefer for the poet to have, as Emerson put it, “only this one dream, which holds him like an insanity,” and we sometimes view single-minded devotion to poetry’s institutions as evidence of that larger dedication.
more from the NY Times Book Review here.