Poetry

The story of the cook who spent 10 years preparing food for those on death row

1 December 2018 9:00 am

You don’t need headphones to appreciate, and catch on to, the unique selling point of radio: its immediacy, its directness,…

Credit: gradyreese

I love life – and girls – too much to act my age

17 November 2018 9:00 am

New York A little Austrian count was born to my daughter last week in Salzburg, early in the morning of…

St Francis receiving the stigmata. Credit Getty Images

Francis of Assisi’s life in poetry will stay in the mind forever

3 November 2018 9:00 am

This passionate series of engagements with the life of St Francis will stay in my mind for a very long…

Pithy and profound: the beauty of aphorisms

13 October 2018 9:00 am

It’s not surprising, perhaps, that Emil Cioran isn’t much read in England. Born in Romania, but winning a scholarship to…

A woman-child of dangerous assurance: Allison Cook as Salome in Adena Jacobs’s new production for English National Opera. [Catherine Ashmore]

A fascinating failure, but a failure nonetheless: ENO’s Salome reviewed

6 October 2018 9:00 am

Yes, Oscar Wilde never wrote it. No, Strauss didn’t intend it. In fact, the composer famously demanded the Dance of…

What a scorcher: bearing the brunt of Harold Pinter’s temper was one of life’s central experiences

The night I kissed Harold Pinter

22 September 2018 9:00 am

I think everyone was a little nervous of Harold. Including Harold, sometimes. He was affable, warm, generous, impulsive — and…

Like ‘gammon’, ‘spasmodic’ was a term to put down a despised tendency

2 June 2018 9:00 am

To find out why the poetry of Ebenezer Jones was thought execrably bad, I turned to The Spectator of September…

Benjamin Zephaniah once found the leg of a man in the back of a Ford Cortina

5 May 2018 9:00 am

‘For me rhyming was normal,’ said Benjamin Zephaniah, reading from his autobiography on Radio 4. Back in the 1960s, on…

He, they, fae, fer or ze? Check your pronouns

7 April 2018 9:00 am

Jay Bernard won the Ted Hughes Award last week. I managed to hear a snippet of the winning poem on Today…

A Book of Chocolate Saints: an Indian novel like no other

24 March 2018 9:00 am

The Indian poet Jeet Thayil’s first novel, Narcopolis, charted a two-decade-long descent into the underworlds of Mumbai and addiction. One…

Trahison des clercs — a phrase that dates back all the way to 1927

3 March 2018 9:00 am

I had long associated the phrase trahison des clercs with the writer Geoffrey Wheatcroft, though I can’t put my finger…

‘Glad Day’ by William Blake

What do Walt Whitman, Jackson Pollock and Jimi Hendrix have in common?

13 January 2018 9:00 am

On 3 September 1968, Allen Ginsberg appeared on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line. Buckley exposed Ginsberg’s politics as fatuous —…

Nine reasons to be cheerful this year

6 January 2018 9:00 am

Since it’s the first week of the New Year I’m going to pretend the bad stuff isn’t happening and focus…

I never understood the appeal of Ken Dodd

11 November 2017 9:00 am

It’s always odd to hear a familiar voice on a different programme, playing an alternative role. They never sound quite…

Songs of the blood and the sword

28 October 2017 9:00 am

Jihadi Culture might sound like a joke title for a book, like ‘Great Belgians’ or ‘Canadian excitements’. But in this…

How pleasant to know Mr Lear

14 October 2017 9:00 am

Edward Lear liked to tell the story of how he was once sitting in a railway carriage with two women…

Who is Sylvia – what is she?

7 October 2017 9:00 am

In May 1956, three months after meeting Ted Hughes, one before they will marry, Sylvia Plath writes to her mother…

A kind of posthumous existence: a death mask of Keats, sold at auction for £16,100 in 1996

A beautiful place to die: Italy and the Romantic poets

28 May 2016 9:00 am

People can be mightily protective of their Romantic poets. When I worked at the Keats Shelley House, overlooking the Spanish…

BBC4’s Bob Geldof on WB Yeats was one of the best literary documentaries I’ve seen

9 April 2016 9:00 am

In recent years there’s been a fashion for arts documentaries presented by celebs rather than boring old experts — presumably…

What I’ve learned reciting poems in the street

2 April 2016 9:00 am

It was past midnight in Norwich. There was a keen wind rifling up London Street. It was dark and it…

‘The upper part of the cascade at Hafod’ by John ‘Warwick’ Smith, 1793

How to view the view

20 February 2016 9:00 am

Landskipping is about viewing the view, from the 18th century to the present. From the title (which is the only…

An otter’s metabolism is so high that you’d have to eat 88 Big Macs a day to match it

Charles Foster: ‘I need to be more of a badger’

20 February 2016 9:00 am

Being a Beast is an impassioned and proselytising work of philosophy based on a spectacular approach to nature writing. That…

The confessions of Gerard Manley Hopkins

9 January 2016 9:00 am

‘I am 12 miles from a lemon,’ lamented that bon vivant clergyman Sydney Smith on reaching one country posting. He…

How pop is Peter Blake?

5 December 2015 9:00 am

Painters and sculptors are highly averse to being labelled. So much so that it seems fairly certain that, if asked,…

Rex Whistler: ‘a desolate sense of loneliness amidst so much fun’

14 November 2015 9:00 am

When Hugh and Mirabel Cecil’s book In Search of Rex Whistler was published in 2012, the late Brian Sewell reviewed…