The words left out

In the epigraph to The Essential June Jordantaken from her treatise Poetry for the People: A revolutionary blueprint (1995), Jordan, who died in 2003, describes poetry as “a political action undertaken for the … exorcism, and the lyrical invention, that telling the truth makes possible”. The subsequent selection of poems demonstrates her commitment to exposing … Read more

The wives and mothers left behind

In February 1913 the news reached Britain that Captain Robert Falcon Scott and four other men (Edward Wilson, Lawrence Oates, Henry “Birdie” Bowers and Edgar Evans) had died on the return journey from the South Pole the previous March. At the time the Royal Geographical Society was about to hold a meeting in which its … Read more

Books left ajar

Halfway through Vox (1992), Nicholson Baker’s great novel about phone sex, the male caller asks the female caller to tell him what she was thinking about the last time she had an orgasm. “Do you mean the image that made me come, or do you mean the image that I had in my head when … Read more

I went, but never left

Melvyn Bragg’s first novel, For Want of a Nail (1965), tells the story of a boy, born to a working-class family in Cumbria, who gains a scholarship to Oxford. There followed a trilogy – The Hired Man, A Place in England, Kingdom Come (1969-80) – that focused on three generations of a Cumbrian family remarkably … Read more

No left turn

Long-range commentary on Russian history often amounts to an endless rerun of the nineteenth-century debate between Slavophiles and Westernizers. Either Russia is defined by its Muscovite destiny as an autocratic empire nation with its own distinctively collectivist forms of social organization or it is on a long road to convergence with more or less liberal … Read more