Heart of the island nation

A Man of Heart Liam Guilar, Swindon: Shearsman Books, 2023, pb., 197pps. The state of modern poetry can be a cause of acrimonious arguments, with critics reprehending poets’ loss of interest in craft, opacity of meaning, and the burgeoning of often McGonagallesque political verse. Liam Guilar demonstrates that at least some modern poets reverence their… Continue reading

Island queendom

The Britannias: An Archipelago’s Tale Alice Albinia, Allen Lane, 2023, hb., 512pps., £25 Islands always intrigue, hovering on the horizons of our imaginations – seen according to lights as territories to be taken, ancient redoubts, repositories of secrets, even loci of lands of youth. Where there are no islands, we often imagine them – Plato’s… Continue reading

The prices of freedom

Obedience is Freedom Jacob Phillips, London: Polity, 2022, pb., 172 pages, £13.55 Johannes Brahms had a personal motto, frei aber froh (‘free but happy’), which features famously as the note sequence F-A♭-F in the first movement of his Third Symphony. He adopted this cheerful philosophy as a jovial riposte to his friend, the violinist Joseph… Continue reading

The imperial imperative

In the Shadow of the Gods: The Emperor in World History Dominic Lieven, London: Allen Lane, 2022, 500 pps. hb., illus., £35 In the battle for precedence between the ‘great man’ and more ‘inclusive’ views of history, an account of emperors across centuries and cultures feels like a defiant assertion of the older school. Cambridge… Continue reading

A poet’s pole position

Arctic Elegies Peter Davidson, Carcanet, 2022, pb., 72pps. £11.99 There are poets associated with particular places, or special states of mind, but Peter Davidson has made a genre of his own, as celebrant of a cardinal point. His interests are wide-ranging, but magnetized in one compass direction – towards ‘Norths’ geographical and conceptual, Norths as… Continue reading

The world in motion

Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape Cal Flyn, William Collins, 2021, pb, £9.99 In our era of ecological Angst, many are desperately seeking strategies to mitigate human damage, but Scottish writer Cal Flyn suggests a holistic new way of seeing these problems – one that is simultaneously haunted, and hopeful. She writes often… Continue reading

England in infra-red

Nightwalking – Four Journeys Into Britain After Dark John Lewis-Stempel, Doubleday, 2022, hb, 104pps, £9.99 John Lewis-Stempel is nearly as prolific as the natural world about which he writes so famously, and so well. His voice is welcomely distinctive – a traditional agriculturist of lyrical articulacy, an observant ecologist who finds mythopoeic magic in everyday… Continue reading

The goodness of King George

George III – The Life and Reign of Britain’s Most Misunderstood Monarch Andrew Roberts, London: Allen Lane, 2021, 758pps, £35 Andrew Roberts is renowned for Winston Churchill scholarship, starting with the lacerating Eminent Churchillians of 1994 and culminating in 2018 with his exemplary Churchill: Walking with Destiny. But he has always had other interests, as… Continue reading

A painter’s peregrinations

Field Notes: Walking the Territory Maxim Peter Griffin, London: Unbound, 132pps, hb., £16.99 Several years ago, when I was thinking about writing a book about Lincolnshire, I found a strikingly original Twitter account. Almost every day, the seemingly tireless Maximpetergriff posted pictures painted during or after apparently endless walks across Lincolnshire, in all weathers and… Continue reading