Clive James' "Opal Sunset": A Master Poet At Work

In Britain, Clive James is known as a jack of many trades: TV presenter, critic, radio host, novelist. He's also been churning out poems for the past 50 years, but by his own admission, the title of "proper professional poet" has been late in coming—his small gems overshadowed, no doubt, by his successful work in television and journalism.

James's latest poetry collection, "Opal Sunset," will surely change that. Part anthology of his all-time best, part showcase of his new verse, the book displays the same formidable erudition and giddy love of pop culture that infuse James's prose: in his stanzas, Hamlet and Plato get equal play with Elle Macpherson. James's early works recall American poet Billy Collins in their sparkling humor, like the oft-quoted "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered" and the Wimbledon-inspired "Bring Me the Sweat of Gabriela Sabatini." The volume's latter half tilts at Auden in his morally urgent later years, with poems that lambaste suicide bombers and muse on World War II dead (among them James's father). As always, James is a master of lush detail, especially when describing his native Australia—there, wrasses mix with banyans and reefs to produce a sense of exquisite sensory nostalgia.