James Kirkup Essay - Critical Essays

Kirkup, James

Kirkup, James 1927–

English poet, playwright, novelist, and translator. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Dependably and often remarkably brilliant, James Kirkup is a professional poet in every sense the term has ever had. He is the only poet I know of who can interest you in the difficulties of sitting down at the writing table each morning to dream up a new poem. With Kirkup's work, however, I don't feel that facility is the problem, as it is with many writers. He is, instead, one of those poets to whom writing is a continuous process, natural, simply a part of living. He cannot summon the tragic, but is unfailingly direct and graceful. He can find an acceptable meaning for each of his subjects, and can write about anything, apparently at a moment's notice. He is really a beautiful poet, by which I mean that he keeps everything harmonious and in proportion….

One is bothered as much as delighted by the cleverness of the poems, and by seeing many promising themes dissolve into conventionally pretty descriptions. You feel, not really the painful search to know and to grasp something, but that, for the bright and the witty, everything is already known. These poems don't develop well, either; they stand still and elaborate….

James Dickey, "James Kirkup" (1961), in his Babel to Byzantium (reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; © 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968 by James Dickey), Farrar, Straus, 1968, pp 131-32.