Shortlisted for the 2017 Ledbury Forte Poetry Prize For Second Collections
Sometime during the twentieth century, the self-mythology of the literary critic fused with that of the cowboy: lone outriders practising a defunct trade. In Holy Toldedo! John Clegg tracks the critic’s silhouette over the dangerous, sun-drenched landscapes of New Mexico, California, Nashville, Utah, Oxford, Cambridge, and London. Here is Donald Davie listening to gospel radio in a Nashville taxi, and here is F. R. Leavis standing on a chair, ‘unscrewing instead the world from round the lightbulb’. Vistas of bristlecone and citrus groves, pocked with fruit flies and rain birds, fuse with the glib-core of Oxbridge England, the university science labs where ‘all three entrances felt like the back way’. Holy Toledo! is a history of English literary criticism in the twentieth century, a bestiary of the American Southwest, an unreliable guide to the desert. Generous, humorous, happily askew, Clegg’s first Carcanet collection signals the flourishing of an ‘emerging’ poet as a major voice.