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This review is taken from PN Review 251, Volume 46 Number 3, January - February 2020.

Cover of The Grail Mass and Other Works
Hilary DaviesInterrupted conversation
Thomas Goldpaugh and Jamie Callison (eds) David Jones’s ‘The Grail Mass’ and Other Works (Bloomsbury) £130
It is forty-five years since the poet and artist, David Jones, died, and in that time his reputation has known the systole and diastole that those of many artists do after their death. For many years the recognition he received, or rather did not receive, seemed confirmation of the outmodedness of his way of life: Catholic in a time of relentless secularization, celibate and reclusive in the era of sexual liberation, an explorer of the sacred and incarnational nature of creation when everything around him shouted consumerism and materialism – an inveterate raider of the myth-kitty so famously disparaged by Larkin. All this helped to bolster an image of Jones as eremitic figure, pursuing obscure and old-fashioned, even obscurantist (in the root meaning of the term) interests. Not any more.

Such dismissal was, of course, always at odds with the fact that Jones’ long poem, In Parenthesis is arguably the best poem of the First World War and was categorised by T.S. Eliot as a work of genius, while Auden called his second, The Anathemata, ‘very probably the best long poem written in English this [twentieth] century’. This, coupled with Jones’ achievements as an artist – he has been described also as the greatest watercolourist in Britain in the 1930s, and an engraver and calligrapher of great originality – makes him a force to be reckoned with by any standards. In recent years, this has indeed been acknowledged: an opera based on In Parenthesis, commissioned as part of the 1914–18 commemorations, premiered ...

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