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Friday, 16 September 2011

Hope Is Back

Dr Sandeep Parmar
I was glad to attend the Bloomsbury launch of the Collected Poems of Hope Mirrlees, from Carcanet's Fyfield Books, last evening.  The book has been edited by British poet and scholar Sandeep Parmar, currently a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge.  Mirrlees is the little-known modernist who wrote the splendid and astonishing poem 'Paris', published in 1919.  It anticipates many of the elements of The Waste Land, and is one of the most experimental English poems from the period.  It has recently become seen as integral to a reformation of the modernist canon.

This rediscovery of Mirrlees is down to a few people, and Parmar is one of them, who have heroically worked these past few years to bring proper attention to bear on this writer.  Mirrlees has a complicated life, in that she was a lesbian who turned against her past life and became a Catholic, moving to South Africa, and writing relatively traditional verse in later years, dying in her 90s.

Her three novels are obscure, though one, a fantasy book, has recently been republished, championed by of all people Neil Gaiman.  Anyone concerned with modernist poetry will want to read this new book edited by Parmar, especially for the thorough introduction, which is the most complete discussion of the poet's work and life to date - Parmar had access to hitherto unseen archives, and was able to discover and publish many new poems.  Parmar is currently working on the biography of Mirrlees, which will be most welcome.
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