Recent publications

51FslfJUswL._SX598_BO1,204,203,200_“Modified Bliss”: libraries in modern poetry

essay by Robyn Marsack

In 2019 I had the pleasure of participating in a conference about ‘Libraries in Literature’, organised by Alice and Robert Crawford in St Andrews. They persuaded OUP to take a collection of essays under the same title: here it is in its elegant cover, published in September 2022.

The keynote of the modern library poem is freedom: to enter the building, to choose what to read – the books themselves are often seen as transformative, especially for women and working-class readers. My essay focuses on poems about readers and what they are looking for or how they behave; who is allowed in and who is kept out; and, of course, the librarians who make the decisions. The poets quoted are mainly British and American, ranging from Randall Jarrell to Rita Dove, Tom Leonard to Jackie Kay, not forgetting those famous poet-librarians Philip Larkin and Jorge Luis Borges. A poem written about the Scottish Poetry Library closes the essay: that was certainly a transformative place for me, as I hope for many other readers:

it shone like the story of you and me

it shone all night

– Alasdair Paterson

Oxford University Press £30


SO IT GOES: travels in the Aran Isles…

Nicolas Bouvier
translated by Robyn Marsack

Translated for the first time into English, this collection of shorter travel writings by Nicolas Bouvier covers journeys undertaken in the 1970-90s. In the Aran Isles in mid-winter he glories in the extremities of the wind outside while inside, feverish, he is enchanted by local tales which hum like a kettle on the fire. In the Lowlands of Scotland and in Islay he explores a Scotland that shimmers between the present, the past and the uncanny. In Xian, he pays homage to the civilised brilliance and understatement of his guide, while in Korea he experiences the unchanging beauty of the Buddhist temple at Haeinsa and is marked forever by his climb of volcanic Halla-San. And the roots of his interminable curiosity and amusement are traced back to his childhood reading.

‘Nicolas Bouvier was a writer of rare grace and subtlety.  Every essay here shimmers with imaginative insight and wry humour. He has long been known to cognoscenti.  Now, perhaps, his stature will be more widely recognised: one of the most brilliant, penetrating and individual travel writers of his time.’ – Colin Thubron

Eland Books £14.99 hardback



Edmund Blunden
edited by Robyn Marsack

To mark the centenary of the First World War, a Selected Poems of Edmund Blunden brings back into print the work of a major war poet and author of the classic memoir Undertones of War.

Edmund Blunden joined the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1915, and served in France and Flanders. This selection of his poems includes a substantial sampler of his war verse (the last poem he wrote was on revisiting the battlefields of the Somme). And yet, it is not easy to draw a line between the poems on war and those on other subjects, so deeply did his wartime experience suffuse and haunt his writing. Memories of what was ‘shrieking, dumb, defiled’ constantly test a vision of ‘faith, life, virtue in the sun’. Here is a poet of range and depth deserving of rediscovery.

Carcanet Classics £16.99


FALL IN, GHOSTS: Selected War Prose

Edmund Blunden
edited by Robyn Marsack

Edmund Blunden (1896–1974) moved among the ghosts of the Great War every day of his long life, having survived the battles of Ypres and the Somme. His classic prose memoir, Undertones of War, and his early edition of Wilfred Owen’s poems were just two examples of the ways in which he sought to convey his war experience, and to keep faith with his comrades in arms. His poetry is suffused by this experience, and he was haunted by it throughout his writing life, as the men with whom he had served gradually joined the ranks of the departed.

This selection of Blunden’s prose about the First World War includes the complete text of De bello germanico, his first, lively sketch of the war as he lived it in 1916. Deeply informed by his reading of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature, and equally by his knowledge of the countryside, Blunden’s vivid prose summons up for us what was human and natural in that most unnatural of environments, the battlefields of the Western Front.

Carcanet Press £14.95



Nicolas Bouvier
translated by Robyn Marsack

On an unnamed island that can only be Ceylon, the traveller checks into his 117th rented room, abandoned by his lover, almost broke and feverish. A book on Indian insects deepens his morbid fascination with the crawling inhabitants of this room; a pretty world of killers, barely distinguishable from the insect like habitues of the local café, the charlatans and fake exorcists, the indolent landowners, merchants and priests. In this exhausted state, he grows antennae that are ‘tensed between the real and the occult.’

The distinction between fact and fiction is blurred, but in this world of the imagination truths are sometimes crystal clear. A long- dead, levitating priest and the beautiful but deadly scorpion-fish, symbol of Bouvier’s ambivalent relationship with the Island, are but two of the spectres which eventually lose their hold on the author, releasing him back to life.

‘A dark-sparkling little masterpiece. I defy the reader to dislodge this book from his memory and dreams.’  – George Steiner

Eland Books 12.99

The-Way-of-the-World-Cover THE WAY OF THE WORLD

Nicolas Bouvier
translated by Robyn Marsack

A cult classic, The Way of the World is one of the most beguiling travel books ever written. Reborn from the ashes of a Pakistani rubbish heap, it tells of a friendship between a writer and an artist, forged on an impecunious, life-enhancing journey from Serbia to Afghanistan in the 1950s. On one level it is a candid description of a road journey, on another a meditation on travel as a journey towards the self, all written by a sage with a golden pen and a wide, infectious smile. It is published here for the first time in English with the Vernet drawings which are such a dynamic part of its whole.

‘a genuine masterpiece, an exhilarating, innocent, perceptive and wholly enjoyable young man’s travel book, and a discovery of the Asian road that by rights ought to occupy the same shelf as great classics of the genre such as Robert Byron’s The Road to Oxiana…William Dalrymple, Financial Times

Eland Books £12.99