From Publishers Weekly
"Slowly the poison the whole bloodstream fills./ The waste remains, the waste remains and kills." This spectacular and assiduously compiled volume restores to print, and amplifies, the considerable achievements of a good poet and a major British intellectual. William Empson (1906-1984) remains best-known for his literary criticism, especially Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930). Despite his slender poetic output, he also belongs among the most original, strangest and most powerful poets of the British 1930s. His densely worked poems combined his devotion to John Donne with a deep knowledge of science and math: the lesser verse makes fascinating puzzles, while the standouts combine great intellect with hard self-knowledge and great range erotic love ("Camping Out"), literary parody ("Just a Smack at Auden"), a diving board, moons and planets, archaeology, real estate law, even "Dissatisfaction with Metaphysics." (Empson also, almost single-handedly, reinvented and popularized the villanelle.) The poet spent, all told, 10 years in Japan and China; his deep engagement with their history, politics, religion and language also inform later poems like "Autumn on Nan-Yueh." Haffenden's edition adds to Empson's Collected Poems (1955) an assortment of very early or lost pieces, most of which appeared in The Royal Beasts (1986); even so, the poems themselves come to just over 100 pages. What of the rest of the volume? Empson appended fascinating notes to his own poems, and Haffenden has included them all. To these he adds bibliographical and scholarly data; his own interpretive comments; and much unpublished prose by Empson and others. The result is a giant book sure to attract all Empson's admirers, and a promising attempt to place him firmly in the literary canon. (June) Forecast: The book's U.K. publication, from Penguin, sparked widespread publicity and long reviews in all the highbrow journals; American readers and editors (particularly scholarly) should follow that overseas lead.
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About the Author
William Empson is well-known for his landmark in literary criticism SEVEN TYPES OF AMBIGUITY (written at the tender age of 24) but his poetry is regarded as his greatest literary achievement. His academic career was varied and distinguished and throughout the course of his life he published widely. John Haffenden is recognised as being the foremost authority writing on Empson today. He has written a number of books, and is currently working on a biography of Empson.
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