Jim Burns, Paris, Painters, Poets (Penniless Press Publications, 2017)
Jonathan Ellis (ed.), Letter Writing Among Poets (Edinburgh University Press, 2016)
Reading Jim Burns – poet, essayist, reviewer and former editor –one is in excellent company. He is enthusiastic, affable and entertaining. Paris, Painters, Poets is the latest –the eighth –collection of reviews and essays that celebrate often little-known artists, writers and radicals. It is little wonder that his knowledge of the neglected has been described as encyclopaedic and his work as ‘an entertaining homage to bohemia’ (‘Times Literary Supplement’).
Paris, Painters, Poets deals thematically with a number of issues, as the title implies: Paris (in history and art), Jewish and British painters, American and English poets, little magazines and American pulp fiction, the Comintern and American labour history, Jazz and McCarthy’s Hollywood exiles. Behind them is Burns’ habitual sympathy for left wing causes, his wariness of authority and a lifelong fascination with outsiders. While observing that ‘The English just don’t have a taste for bohemianism, flamboyancy, and versatility’, he nevertheless follows the trail because, as he writes of the Soho art crowd, for instance, ‘it will be a pity if [the secondary figures] are overlooked or dismissed as of no interest’.
There are many richly informative pieces here, including an essay-review of immigrant artists in Shocking Paris; a fascinating article on a biography of Lola Ridge, the adventurous, radical poet; a history of the bloody strike of North Carolina mill workers (1929); a study of the detective figure; and ‘Invisible Jewish Budapest’.
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