In Britain, Clive James is known as a Union Jack of all 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 designation of "proper professional poet" has been late in coming.
This oversight will surely be corrected by James's latest poetry collection, "Opal Sunset." Part anthology of his best, part showcase for his new verse, the book displays the same formidable erudition and giddy love of pop culture that infuses James's prose: in his stanzas, Hamlet and Plato get equal play with Elle Macpherson. His early works are reminiscent of his transatlantic counterpart, the former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins—particularly James's oft-quoted "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered" ("The book of my enemy has been remaindered/And I am pleased/In vast quantities it has been remaindered/Like a vanload of counterfeit that has been seized") 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 mourn the World War II dead (James's father among them). With wry cultural allusions and his breezy style, James is the ultimate poet for people who hate modern poetry.