Sir John Betjeman remains the most popular English poet of today. He has been termed a ‘national teddy bear’, and some commentary has addressed his work in rather such terms. However, it is evident that most of his key themes – the spirit of place (or ‘place-myth’), mundane lives (‘petit récits’) or historical continuity (the ‘presence of the past’) – have specific relevance to postmodern and, especially, environmental concerns. Dennis Brown’s book assesses Betjeman’s contribution in the light of this, emphasising its ironic self-reflexivity, its rendering of Englishness and a ‘soft’ masculinity, and its ecumenical Christian tolerance. The popularity of Betjeman’s lyrics, and his verse-autobiography Summoned by Bells, is considered as indicative of Britain’s post-imperial self-revaluation. It is shown how the poet’s technique offers an accessible alternative to more complex neo-modernist poetics. Overall, the book stresses Betjeman’s contemporaneity, and his relevance to an era of ‘contingency, irony, and solidarity’.
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