Nefertiti in the Flak Tower
Clive James’ power as a poet has increased year by year, and there has been no stronger evidence for this than Nefertiti in the Flak Tower. Here, his polymathic learning and technical virtuosity are worn more lightly than ever; the effect is merely to produce a deep sense of trust into which the reader gratefully sinks, knowing they are in the presence of a master. The most obvious token of that mastery is the book’s breathtaking range of theme: there are moving elegies, a meditation on the later Yeats, a Hollywood Iliad, odes to rare orchids, wartime typewriters and sharks – as well as a poem on the fate of Queen Nefertiti in Nazi Germany. But despite the dizzying variety, James’ poetic intention becomes increasingly clear: what marks this collection out is his intensified concentration on the individual poem as self-contained universe. Poetry is a practice he compares (in ‘Numismatics’) to striking new coin; and Nefertiti in the Flak Tower is a treasure-chest of one-off marvels, with each poem a twin-sided, perfect human balance of the unashamedly joyous and the deadly serious, ‘whose play of light pays tribute to the dark’.