Near the start of American Smoke, Iain Sinclair cites a maxim from the subject of one of his chapters, the poet Ed Dorn. In Dorn’s view, all poetry derives from either the Iliad or the Odyssey: it’s either about staying put and ruminating on one’s home patch, or it’s about going out into strange territory and drifting. The bulk of Sinclair’s work has been in the former Homeric tradition. Over the past four decades, he has established himself as our most witty, obsessive and searchingly perceptive walker of London’s streets and waste grounds, rarely straying far beyond the confines of the M25.
Now, though, he has struck out on an odyssey – more exactly, a series of mini-odysseys. The main thrust of American Smoke is simple enough: it describes visits he made to North America to track down the writers who were his heroes when he was a youth – most of