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Opal Sunset: Selected Poems, 1958-2008 Hardcover – September 17, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (September 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393067076
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393067071
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,041,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Famous for decades in Britain and in his native Australia as an essayist, critic and television presenter, James has latterly gained attention in both those countries for his poems, long a sidelight, but now moving toward center stage. James's most memorable works include jokes (The book of my enemy has been remaindered/ And I am pleased), and he shows the ease and comic timing of a born performer in free verse and in easily rhymed stanzas. Yet he is not only a comedian: Philip Larkin, he says in an elegy for that poet, didn't sound like poetry one bit,/ Except for being absolutely it, and James sets himself a similar goal. James evokes long-ago student days in Sydney or 21st-century scenes in London, along with male lusts, both absurd (Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini) and touching (a May-December romance glimpsed in a train station). James's high profile may help win reviews, but his selection (not scanty or overlong) will win hearts and minds only if readers find in it what James finds in his favorite paintings: Proofs that the incandescent present tense/ Is made eternal by our transience. (Sept.)
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From Booklist

“In a culture growing weak from forgetfulness,” James says, “to be memorable should be the aim.” That’s a dangerous way to introduce a half-century’s work, rather daring us to find it forgettable. But there is much to remember in these poems (e.g., “I think her tongue was in her cheek, / but with that much plastic surgery it was hard to tell”) that themselves are acts of memorization. Unlike many other contemporary writers, James recalls not only personal memories, like the titular sunset (a phrase that, in an extravagantly clever poem, drifts down the stanzas like the poet moving towards home), but also cultural memories. In “Six Degrees of Separation from Shelley,” he dines with a woman who knew a man who . . . you get the drift. Personal experience is important in this poem because it connects James to a larger cultural history. “Fifty years on, the place still packs a thrill,” James says of Hemingway’s Africa. Fifty years on, his verse does, too. --Patricia Monaghan

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Simon Barrett on September 28, 2012
Format: Paperback
From national treasure to bard? A little hard to take at first gasp, these highly (some might say consummately) wrought pieces grow on one. The first 'ding!' moment for me was The Ferry Token (p48). The entertainer in him is never quiescent even when the moralist is in the ascendent; conversely, even when he's playing, these pieces are deeply pondered (Only Divine, p169). And when did a poet last make you cry? Try reading Occupation: Housewife out loud to somebody you care for (having read it yourself first, obviously), or Yusra, or Special Needs - national treasure isn't the half of it
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Michael Haig on August 27, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Clive James is at the present time at the end of his life (he is terminally ill) writing the poetry by which he will be remembered as a major figure. John Keats, Percy Shelley, W. B. Yeats: I don't think he falls far short of being admitted to their company. Perhaps it all seems a bit easy for him (he is phenomenally gifted) and he lacks a certain seriousness, but his forms are sufficiently well-worked to give him a permanent showing. Certainly his poems about Australia are the best 'thing' the country has produced (the loving positiveness of "Fashion Statement" from Nefertiti in the Flak Tower, for example -- such a tonic after the aeons of negativity). Opal Sunset includes poems selected from his early days (even pre-Great Britain days). They show that James has been entitled to think of himself as a poet pretty much from the beginning, even while he was making a name for himself as a critic and a TV personality (James is a man of many parts, but don't let that distract you). For people interested in James's entire poetic oeuvre (and such an interest begins increasingly to seem a must), Opal Sunset is a good place to start.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Michael Salcman on January 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Unless one is a masochist, which I am not, there is no reward in heaven for one poet reviewing the work of another, particularly when that other is one of our most important, lucid and exacting literary critics, Clive James. "Opal Sunset", his self-selected book, collects his own work from a career of fifty years. Although there are occasional poems in free-form, the great majority are strictly metered and cleverly rhymed. James has probably forgotten more about technical matters than most poets have ever managed to learn. The voice in his poems is a lot like that of Frederick Seidel, world-weary, all-too-knowing, cynical and satiric. As in his prose, James does not suffer fools gladly; the chief problem with the poems is that he rarely suffers at all. The fun is usually at the expense of someone else as in the famously brilliant poem that opens the collection, "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered." Even this jewel is perhaps one section too long. The great majority of the poems are in four and five line stanzas; the quatrains, especially, are so precise in their rhythm and rhyme that a certain weariness sets in, a sameness that confounds Emerson's and Frost's advice in regard to the meter-making argument; purposeful variation is all but not often enough found here.

The first half of the book contains work from the first 45 years of his career; the second half is devoted to the most recent five years of production! Fortunately, the poems in the new section, from "Status Quo Vadis" (p.122) through "As I See You" (p.204), actually his first published poem used as a bookend, improve the overall effect and mitigate the tedium of tone and structure. "Status Quo Vadis" concludes with a stunner of a stand-alone line: "the breath of life is what actually kills you.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I find it hard to describe how much I enjoy this collection of modern verse. So much contemporary verse requires more effort than the verse justifies, but these poems are accessible, understandable, and above all, they are technically proficient. They rhyme too! They contain everything that makes reading poetry satisfying. There is a comprehensive introduction by the poet and a very generous selection of his works. It is also easy to navigate between poems.
I can't praise this volume enough.
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