Alexander McCall Smith
What WH Auden can do for you
2013 by Princeton University Press 137 p. Part of Writers on Writers (I previously reviewed the Dirda On Conan Doyle. Now I must look up CK Williams On Whitman.)
This book is a a personal enthusiasm or appreciation for the English poet. This contains 12 short essays/chapters, not a critique of the poet, but more a way to link poetry to everyday life. AMS is no literary slouch and a prolific writer of popular mysteries. Any talk or lecture is worth driving 100 miles out of your way. I have even contemplated plane tickets home to Edinburgh to hear him. I love that his “worms” aren’t catchy songs hummed repeatedly but lines of poetry that appear in his everyday life. More often than not Auden. This is also an introduction to Auden, which will make you recognize how much of his work is actually already in your everyday life. “The Funeral Blues” recited in Four Weddings and a Funeral, the poem “September 1, 1939” which was faxed around the world after 9/11, quotes in any number of mysteries (see Poetic Justice by Amanda Cross and of course all the Sunday Philosophy Club books by AMS).
This book has a conversational writing style and feels like an intimate chat, not a lecture. I felt that this book was equally about AMS as we learn many of his thoughts and private details. It gives you a chance to explore Auden’s poetry; while it has only a few of his better known stanzas, lines of his poems, they may trigger your own memories or send you in search of his poetry. I expect more people will be reading poetry and Auden simply because AMS has written this book.
“There may be no book on the mothers of poets, or artists in general, but it might one day be written and would be, I think, an enlightening read.” AMS writes about the moment that Auden died and his emptiness of loss was exactly my feelings this summer with the death of Jean Redpath. “One has lost a friend one never really had a chance to have.” Years aren’t enough.
I loved learning that there is an Edinburgh fellowship set up by AMS in the name of Isabel Dalhousie, who often quotes Auden as she is a devotee of his work. Not surprisingly Edward Mendelsohn was the first speaker.

Recommend Reading
Selected works / collected poems of WA Auden (Ed. Edward Mendelsohn)
Early Auden (1981), Later Auden (1999) by Edward Mendelsohn, friend and current literary executor of Auden’s works.


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