‘In Praise of Alan Ross’p.1

In 1965, when I was twenty, I bought a book of poetry called ‘North from Sicily”:

Poems in Italy (1961-64), by Alan Ross.  I was attracted to the book by its rustic- looking cover ; and had never heard of the author before, although I later discovered that he had become the editor of  London Magazine  in 1961.

In the Acknowledgements page, I saw that some of these poems had appeared in  Encounter, The  New Statesman, Spectator, Twentieth Century and  London Magazine.The poems had a punchy, fresh thoroughly contemporary feel. I had never read anything quite like them before : they felt risky and  risque.  I was a naive, under-travelled girl –  usual for those times – and these poems delivered Mediterranean warmth and sensuality into my life.

The closest I had come to  experiencing the flavours, colour and vibrancy of this world  before was by reading  Elizabeth David’s  French Country Cooking from  cover to cover!

I’d also spent a week in the Costa del Sol, courtesy of Freddie Laker airlines. But Italy sounded gloriously louche and exotic in these lines from Beach Routines:

         ‘From rocks they dive like advertisements/ Or gods, and surfacing, shake oiled heads

The colour of olives, and the sea like grapes’.

Now, when I read these poems, from the perspective of having visited and even worked, briefly, in parts of Italy, I understand and savour these poems better.  As, in these lines from Symptoms of Withdrawal :

Passegiata, and hot Romans hurrying to pasta,/ Piazza di Spagna littered with tourists’.

The mundane mixed in with beauty and romance.





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