Best known for Lucky Jim, of course, Amis began as a poet and had his first collection published by the infamous R. L. Caton of the Fortune Press, as did his close friend Philip Larkin (see article in Bookride ). Amis published very little poetry afterwards ( much to the disappointment of Larkin), but alongside his novels he continued to teach and write about poetry, first in Swansea, where his son Martin attended your Jotter’s old school, and later on in Cambridge.
So it is interesting to find among the archive of the former academic and wartime diarist ( see previous Jots) Patrick O’Donoghue, a clipping of a review of a 1957 reprint of Sidney Colvin’s book on Keats originally published in 1887. In ‘The Poet and the Dreamer’, which appeared in The Spectator of November 22nd 1957 Amis asks whether such a book is relevant today.
He begins by declaring that unlike the work of Milton, Shakespeare and Wordsworth, that of Keats needed no ‘glossary’; he appealed directly to the imagination of sensitive adolescents looking for a romantic alternative to the ‘ real world ‘. Keats believed in Beauty, which appealed to those under the cosh of exam pressures at school and the job interview. Moreover his tragic short life, ‘engaging personality ‘and ‘high aspirations ‘made him an ideal poet in the minds of the young.
However, Amis regarded a familiarity with Keats’ poetry as ‘an obstacle to further literary development’. To Amis ‘a rational reading of Keats, whatever the long-term result, is initially destructive.’ While Colvin recognised the ‘dissonance ‘, for instance, in ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, he dismissed it as a minor flaw, whereas Amis saw it as indicative of the poet’s poor technique. Rather than discussing Keats’ faults, Colvin’s book was likely to inspire “another legion of essays maundering about the way ‘the poetry seems to throb in every line with the life of imagination and beauty “ in that sugary erotic extravaganza ,’ The Eve of St Agnes’. Continue reading