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Students of the ever-changing political positioning of W. H. Auden and Friends in the Thirties will want to catch up with poet-essayist Spender's latest words on his own flirtation with the Left. He prefaces ten of his prose pieces from the Thirties with a gawkily engaging essay, mixing some gentle defenses of himself and his colleagues with a slew of devastating serf-deprecations (""if their poetry strikes one as addressed to anyone in particular, it is to sixth formers from their old schools and to one another""). He and others were conflicted writers, he says, ""wearing blinkers"" in their infatuation with Marxist orthodoxy, repressing their basic distrust of the involvement of art in politics. And, true enough, his Thirties essays on Yeats and Lawrence--drawn on strictly political lines--are embarrassing, as is ""I Join. . . the Communist Party"" (""I am thoroughly ashamed of it""). Spender was able at the same time, however, to denounce the Red Front's Louis Aragon--""Readers of the poems should compare it with any speech by Hitler."" Far less coherent are the preface-and-essay sections on the Forties, the ""antiCommunist"" (but non-McCarthyist) Fifties, and the Sixties. The decade-bydecade generalizations seem glib (""the individualist phase was over""), and the selections (mostly journal excerpts) don't really crystallize the political-cultural moods described. Here, rather, the rewards are the non-scholarly ones of some scatter-rug reminiscences of Cyril Connolly (mostly in connection with Horizon magazine), Auden, and others--and the welcome reprinting of the delightful ""Remembering Eliot."" The overblown format may make this collection seem rather pompous--and unsuccessful; but read with low-key expectations, Spender's charm and unique blend of tenderness and spikiness will fairly well compensate for the shakiness of the grand literary/political overview.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 1978
Publisher: Random House