Al Alvarez

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Al Alvarez in 2006

Alfred Alvarez (5 August 192923 September 2019) was an English poet, literary critic and writer of non-fiction on many subjects. His 1962 anthology The New Poetry featured contemporary American poetry, as well as British poets of The Movement and The Group.


  • His face was blue, on his fingers
    Flecks of green. 'This is my father',
    I thought.
    • Poem Mourning and Melancholia
  • Poetry is certainly about pitting yourself against the unknown. The thing about a poem is that you’ve got to get it right. And you’ve got to get it all right. If there’s one word wrong, then the whole thing won’t work. It can be a 500 line or 5 line poem, it doesn’t matter. You get stuck on that word that isn’t right. You know the poem isn’t going to be finished until it all clicks into place. It is a kind of weird concoction.

The Savage God (1971)[edit]

Quotations are cited from the 1972 Random House edition, except where indicated.
  • In [The New Poetry] I had attacked the British poets' nervous preference for gentility above all else, and their avoidance of the uncomfortable, destructive truths both of the inner life and of the present time.
    • p. 25
  • [On the British winter of 1962–1963] The snow began just after Christmas and would not let up. By New Year the whole country had ground to a halt. The trains froze on the tracks, the abandoned trucks froze on the roads. The power stations, overloaded by million upon pathetic million of hopeless electric fires, broke down continually; not that the fires mattered, since the electricians were mostly out on strike. Water pipes froze solid; for a bath you had to scheme and cajole those rare friends with centrally heated houses, who became rarer and less friendly as the weeks dragged on. Doing the dishes became a major operation. The gastric rumble of water in outdated plumbing was sweeter than the sound of mandolins. Weight for weight, plumbers were as expensive as smoked salmon and harder to find. The gas failed and Sunday roasts were raw. The lights failed and candles, of course, were unobtainable. Nerves failed and marriages crumbled. Finally, the heart failed. It seemed the cold would never end. Nag, nag, nag.
    • p. 48 (2013 Bloomsbury edition)
  • Despite the hundreds of attempts, police terror and the concentration camps have proved to be more or less impossible subjects for the artist; since what happened in them was beyond the imagination, it was therefore also beyond art and all those human values on which art is traditionally based.
    • p. 251
  • Mass democracy, mass morality and the mass media thrive independently of the individual, who joins them only at the cost of at least a partial perversion of his instincts and insights. He pays for his social ease with what used to be called his soul – his discriminations, his uniqueness, his psychic energy, his self.
    • p. 254
  • The real resistance now is to an art which forces its audience to recognize and accept imaginatively, in their nerve ends, not the facts of life but the facts of death and violence: absurd, random, gratuitous, unjustified, and inescapably part of the society we have created.
    • p. 262

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