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“Opal Sunset: Selected Poems 1958-2008” by Clive James

Book Review

“Opal Sunset: Selected Poems 1958-2008”
by Clive James, W. W. Norton & Company, $25.95

Flicking through the channels one night in the early 1990s, we landed on PBS and a British import: “Fame in the Twentieth Century.” It was so apt, so witty, so insightful we stored the creator and narrator’s name in the back of our minds, well enough that maybe a dozen years later when we happened upon Clive James again, we remembered. Now it was a byline on the front page of the New York Times Book Review, a critique of a pair of biographies of Hitler’s film-maker Leni Reifenstahl. By this time, Reifenstahl’s earlier associations were largely overlooked, a consequence of her post-Nazi work and her indisputable talents. But not by Clive James who savaged her and her hagiographies with fierce and deadly sarcasm. “She may be dead,” he said of the woman who had lived to celebrate her hundredth birthday, “but she won’t lie down.”

With that, we were committed Clive James fans, eager to read whatever he might next produce. That was “Cultural Amnesia.” Published in 2007, the subtext of this singular history of the 20th century told via vignettes of memorable figures of those traumatic decades is the battle between humanitarianism and totalitarianism. It is the realization of a brilliant idea marked by vivid prose, astute observations, and again that unmistakable wit.

Now there is “Opal Sunset,” a collection of poems written over the past fifty years. Yes, this critic, historian, and television personality is also a poet of great gifts and enormous scope. His subjects are classical, historical, elusive moments, the poignancy of the passage of time, the small pleasures of life, the horrific, the sublime. Not unexpectedly, the humor is often there, sometimes gentle, sometimes barbed. So is the keen power of observation and the lines that are arrows pointed straight at the human heart, most often arranged in patterns of delicious rhyme and musical rhythms.

From the unabashed “schadenfreud” of “My Enemy’s Book Has Been  Remaindered and I am Glad” to the erotic imagery of “You, Mark Antony,” the elegiac  power of “State Funeral,” the brutal horrors of “Fires Burning, Fires Burning,” the tenderness of “As I SeeYou,” (one of many touching love poems) and the many in between, these are poems that one will read and relish over and over again.  

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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