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This article is taken from PN Review 148, Volume 29 Number 2, November - December 2002.

Anthony Burgess: Poet Kevin Jackson

Anthony Burgess, 1917-1993: English Poet

Poet? Well, many other things, to be sure: exuberantly fecund and original and various novelist; equally prolific composer of symphonies and ballet scores and musicals and quartets and fugues; witty, learned and much-published reviewer, biographer, journalist, critic; noted polyglot, skilled amateur of, and fervent advocate for popular education in, phonetics and other mysteries of linguistic science; inventor of primaeval languages (for Jean-Jacques Annaud's lavish caveman movie Quest for Fire) and of the Russianbased teenage sociolect 'Nadsat' (for a short novel, his most famous, about juvenile thuggery, the basis for a film by Stanley Kubrick which has been distorting his popular reputation for three decades now); habitual world traveller; energetic teacher and lecturer; translator; pub pianist; showman and television celebrity; highly paid screenwriter; internationally recognised homme de lettres on a Johnsonian or Edmund-Wilsonian scale, and author of some sixty published volumes, including the two-volume Confessions, which rank among the most sublimely entertaining and endlessly re-readable autobiographies in English.

But, also, yes: poet:

'Wachet auf!' A fretful dunghill cock
          Flinted the noisy beacon through the shires.
A martin's nest clogged the cathedral clock,
          But it was morning: birds could not be liars.
A key cleft rusty age in lock and lock,
          Men shivered by a hundred kitchen fires.

(The 'martin' is Martin Luther; the theme is the Reformation; the allusiveness typically Burgessian.)

Perhaps one should even say: first and ...


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