Late Modernism and The English Intelligencer by Alex Latter; Poems by J H Prynne - review by Matthew Sperling

Matthew Sperling

‘The Most Intelligent Entity on the Island’

Late Modernism and The English Intelligencer


Bloomsbury 276pp £64.99 order from our bookshop



Bloodaxe Books 688pp £25 order from our bookshop

A rich body of legend has gathered around the figure of J H Prynne. In Iain Sinclair’s novel Radon Daughters (1994) he becomes Simon Undark, ‘hermit and scribe, the conscience of England’, ‘famous for his goldfish tie’, ‘the most intelligent entity on the island’: ‘At England’s darkest hour, initiates muttered Undark’s name like a password.’ In Yellow Submarine (1968), the Beatles-inspired film, he becomes Jeremy Hillary Boob, PhD, the blue-faced, posh-voiced, cuddly cartoon polymath, ‘eminent physicist, polyglot classicist, prize-winning botanist…’ An essay by Emily Witt looks into the Cambridge cult of Prynne with an outsider’s mixed awe and scepticism: ‘They said that he spoke with a lisp. They said that he was an avid philologist, and had a giant file devoted to the word “dust,” and believed that it was imperative to learn Anglo-Saxon.’

Initiates make the highest claims for Prynne’s work. For Keston Sutherland, ‘Prynne’s poetry of the 1960s is as intellectually ambitious as Milton’s of the 1660s’, setting out a ‘prospectus for philosophic song’ that was ‘astronomically demanding’. So what were Prynne’s ambitions? In two slim books, Kitchen Poems (1968) and The

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

The Incomparible Monsignor

Kafka Drawings

Follow Literary Review on Twitter