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A Book of Chinese Whispers: Selected Prose [Paperback]

Ken Smith

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Book Description

1 April 1987
Ken Smith (1938-2003) was a major voice in world poetry, his work and example inspiring a whole generation of younger British poets. He collected his early prose writings in "A Book of Chinese Whispers" (1987), and his poetry from four decades in two volumes, "The Poet Reclining: Selected Poems 1962-1980" (Bloodaxe Books, 1982) and "Shed: Poems 1980-2001" (Bloodaxe Books, 2002). His later work was included in the posthumous "You Again" (Bloodaxe Books, 2004). If you like his poems, you'll love his prose: extraordinary fictions, fables, ill-tempered jokes and (wait for it!) existential romances. Smith writes in the radical European/American (and most unEnglish) traditon of Borges, Brautigan, Burroughs and Buster Keaton. As in the game of Chinese Whispers messages are passed, repeated, misheard, misremembered, deliberately tampered with, fiddled in the interest of politics, commerce and the pursuit of power. Even the language is suspect. So are our perceptions. The book is illustrated with mysterious pictures of sub-reality.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 149 pages
  • Publisher: Bloodaxe Books Ltd; First Edition edition (1 April 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0906427932
  • ISBN-13: 978-0906427934
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 13.7 x 1.3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,228,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Ken Smith was a great poet… His last retrospective collection, "Shed", confirmed the immense power of his poetry. --Jon Glover, Guardian

Ken Smith brought an original and memorable voice to poetry in Britain. He spent his writing life not so much swimming against the tide as ignoring the stream's existence... He was one of those by whom the language lives. --Sean O'Brien, Independent

His poems are squeezed out from under the unrelenting pressures of history, politics and the natural elements… some of his poems read like translations from war-ravaged Eastern Europe. --Charles Boyle, London Magazine

About the Author

Ken Smith (1938-2003) was a major voice in world poetry, a writer whose work shifted territory with time, from land to city, from Yorkshire, America and London to war-ravaged Eastern Europe. He was called the godfather of the new poetry because his politically edgy, cuttingly colloquial, muscular poetry influenced a whole generation of younger British poets, from Simon Armitage to Carol Ann Duffy. Ken Smith was born in Rudston, East Yorkshire, the son of an itinerant farm labourer. He worked in Britain and America as a teacher, freelance writer, barman, magazine editor, potato picker, BBC reader and creative writing fellow, and was writer-in-residence at Wormwood Scrubs prison in 1985-87. He received America s highly prestigious Lannan Literary Award for Poetry in 1997, and a Cholmondeley Award in 1998. Ken Smith was the first poet to be published by Bloodaxe, with his pamphlet "Tristan Crazy" in 1978. Smith s first book, "The Pity", was published by Jonathan Cape in 1967, and his second, "Work, distances/poems", by Swallow Press, Chicago, in 1972. His early books span a transition from his preoccupation with land and myth (when he lived in Yorkshire, Devon and America) to his later engagement with urban Britain and the politics of radical disaffection (when he lived in East London). "The Poet Reclining: Selected Poems 1962-1980" (Bloodaxe, 1982; reissued 1989) covers the first half of his writing career. In 1986 Ken Smith s collection "Terra" was shortlisted for the Whitbread Award. In 1987 Bloodaxe published his collected prose, "A Book of Chinese Whispers". Four of his collections were Poetry Book Society Recommendations. His last separate collection, "Wild Root" (1998), a Poetry Book Society Choice, was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. All these collections are included in his second Bloodaxe compilation, "Shed: Poems 1980-2001" (2002), the sequel to The Poet Reclining. In 1989 Harrap published "Inside Time", Ken Smith s book about imprisonment, about Wormwood Scrubs and the men he met there. This was published in paperback by Mandarin in 1990. Ken Smith was working in Berlin when the Wall came down, writing a book about East and West Berlin: this turned into "Berlin: Coming in from the Cold" (Hamish Hamilton, 1990; Penguin paperback, 1991. He edited "Klaonica: poems for Bosnia" (Bloodaxe Books, 1993) with Judi Benson, and with Matthew Sweeney co-edited "Beyond Bedlam" (Anvil Press Poetry, 1997), a book of poems by mentally ill people. He died in 2003 from a hospital infection caught while being treated for Legionnaires Disease, which he had contracted months earlier in Cuba. His last poems are published in "You Again: last poems & other words" (Bloodaxe Books, 2004) along with other uncollected work, tributes from other poets, photographs, a biographical portrait and interviews covering the whole range of his life and work.

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