In this hilarious and irreverent new collection, Robert Conquest, now in his 95th year, lets us in on the musings of Old Fred, a man reflecting on the battle of the sexes, and wholly impervious to notions of political correctness. The poems give witty expression to a mind at once resigned and optimistic, baffled and amused, stoical and exuberant.
“Conquest's formidable reputation as a historian... should not distract from his parallel achievement as a poet, critic and cultural arbiter who had his first poems published in 1937... Here Conquest restricts himself to straightforward four-line stanzas with regular rhymes and jaunty metres, a deceptively simple form that gives immediate pleasure and is naggingly memorable... This is... a very entertaining and sprightly collection."
David Collard, TLS
“All Conquest’s strengths are evident here – wit, love of life, ferocious technique, and the infinite taking of pains.”
“I find I rather take to Old Fred, with his stoicism and resignation, yet mild faith in the good.”
“The Old Fred poems deserve to become classics.”
Fred’s been to marriages before
(Though mostly to his own).
He stifles, if perhaps no more
Than other chaps, a groan
At tedium, cramp, a shirt too tight…
But shudders as he spies
The awful air of triumph bright
In all the female eyes.
And his discomfort grows profound
As if he had to view
A lot of lionesses round
A poor sod of a gnu. (‘Fred at a wedding’)
Robert Conquest was born in Malvern in 1917. A former Oxford communist, he wrote poetry that was praised by Philip Larkin. His previous collection is Penultimata (Waywiser, 2009).