September 1, 1939: A Biography of a Poem

September 1, 1939: A Biography of a Poem

by Ian Sansom


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One poet, his poem, New York City, and a world on the verge of change.

W. H. Auden, a wunderkind, a victim-beneficiary of a literary cult of personality, became a scapegoat and a poet-expatriate largely excluded from British literary history because he left. And his poem, “September 1, 1939,” was his most famous and celebrated, yet one which he tried to rewrite and disown and which has enjoyed—or been condemned—to a tragic and unexpected afterlife.

These are the contributing forces underlying Ian Sansom’s work excavating the man and his most celebrated piece of literature. But Sansom’s book is also about New York City: an island, an emblem of the Future, magnificent, provisional, seamy, and in 1939—about to emerge as the defining twentieth-century cosmopolis, the capital of the world.

And so it is also about a world at a point of change—about 1939, and about our own Age of Anxiety, about the aftermath of September 11, when many American newspapers reprinted Auden’s poem in its entirety on their editorial pages.

More than a work of literary criticism or literary biography, this is a record of why and how we create and respond to great poetry.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062984609
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/01/2020
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,148,489
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Ian Sansom is the author of 10 books of fiction and non-fiction. He is a former Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge and a former Writer-in-Residence at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry in Belfast. He is currently a Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick. He is a regular broadcaster on BBC Radio 4 and Radio 3 and he writes for The Guardian and The London Review of Books.

Table of Contents

Wow! 1

Your Least Favourite Auden Poem? 15

Just a Title 30

I ≠ A 47

The Modern Poet 56

Not Standing 64

A Not Insignificant Americanism 74

A Rolling Tomato Gathers No Mayonnaise 82

Clever-Clever 91

Various Cosmic Thingummys 96

Offensive Smells 106

A Little Spank-Spank 115

Strangeways 127

Is Berlin Very Wicked? 133

Do Not Tell Other Writers to F*** Off 144

The Latin for the Judgin' 153

Aerodynamics 171

Get Rid of the (Expletive) Braille 176

Tower of Babel Time 185

The Liquid Menu 195

Below Average 205

Soft Furnishings 212

Talking Trash 221

You Can't Say 'Mad' Nijinsky 230

Homo Faber 241

As Our Great Poet Auden Said 257

We Must Die Anyway 268

Twinkling 277

A New Chapter in My Life 292

Twenty-Five Years' Worth of Reading 305

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