I’ve been feeling in need of poetry this month. Certain books of poetry are fixed points of reference for me—writing of a nourishing density with the uncanny ability to expand in significance with every re-reading. Wordsworth’s The Prelude is one book I was astonished by on a first reading (I was an undergraduate, and had always assumed Wordsworth was a rather boring, desiccated Victorian; suddenly, here were these beating, living visions of hills and lakes; a young man striding across the Alps wrestling with his own mortality), and that has since become an emblem for me of absolute poetic seriousness.
Wordsworth never published The Prelude in his lifetime, yet revised it incessantly, producing some of the most sustained, unsentimental self-examinations that verse has ever seen. Poetry, when it’s great, crystallises fragments of the human condition; it is the highest pitch to which we can bring our impulses of beauty and comprehension. Wordsworth, striding across the hills he loved, gathering perfect blank verses in his head to be later committed to paper, had a humane, restless genius that has left me—again—in awe.
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Yates has come back into vogue in recent years, and, for once, I’m very pleased I jumped on the bandwagon. It’s one of the most flawlessly crafted works of fiction I’ve read in years.
To outsiders, Frank and April Wheeler seem like the ideal 1950s suburban couple, but privately they both feel increasingly unfulfilled and trapped. They concoct a plan to escape their stultified lives, but it unravels with tragic inevitability. This is a quintessentially American tale of thwarted dreams and materialist pressures; prescient, in many ways, but also absolutely, vividly in its moment, and Yates has captured his characters’ inner torment with unique and terrifying precision.
The most depressing thing I read last week was Ziauddin Sardar’s attack in the Guardian on the Quilliam Foundation—the new think tank set up by Ed Husain (author of The Islamist) to counter British Muslim extremism. Zia should be the poster boy for a modern, liberal British Islam—he is clever, articulate (in a blustery sort of way) and immersed in Islam, the history of science and leftist western politics. He could be our own Tariq Ramadan—although without the latter’s baggage and much more liberal. The Guardian piece illustrated why he is not.
Sardar dismissed the new foundation, without any evidence, as…