Weird Writers Recommend Weird Cinema, a List by Alistair Rey

“Weird” cinema is a category in search of an essence. It is characteristically difficult to pin down and more-often-than-not transcends genres, blending elements of experimental film, horror, mystery, science fiction, and psychological thriller in equal measure. Films like Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Videodrome (1983), and Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) might all be considered classics of “weird” cinema, but their different approaches also speak to the diversity of the sub-genre. Given the protean quality of the designation “weird” cinema, below is a list of ten international films that unmistakably capture the essence of the eerie, the unsettling, and the strange.

Gozu (2003)

Japanese director Takashi Miike is known for both his Yakuza style gangster movies as well as surreal horror films like “Audition” (1999). Yet with Gozu, he reaches a new level of bizarre. When the San Francisco Chronicler media site advised viewers to “stay far, far away” from this film, I knew I had to see it and I was not disappointed. Following the unusual day of a Yakuza hitman who is ordered to kill his best friend, the film moves through a series of strange encounters with gender-bending assassins, animal spirits, and even a lactating woman as the protagonist Minami attempts to track down a missing body. With its mix of horror and comedy, Gozu plays with genre while seeming to break every taboo imaginable. It is not for the faint of heart, but it is for those who want a mind-bending gangster mystery that knows how to pack the punches.

Brand Upon the Brain (2006)

I will admit that I am a fan of Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin. His use of super-8 montages and avant-garde story telling give many of his films an old-time feel that is both aesthetically pleasing and refreshing in an age of HD cinema. Brand Upon the Brain is a silent film that tells the story of a troubled childhood passed in an ancestral home on a desolate island. If you thought your family was troubled, wait until you see what Maddin has on display! The film is filled with surrealist elements that Robert Ebert described as akin to a “collaboration between Edgar Allan Poe and Salvador Dalí.” He was not far off the mark. Those seeking a fascinating exploration of human imagination and absurdity will relish this film. Its technique and subject matter push the boundaries of filmic storytelling.

Inland Empire (2006)

While any David Lynch film could easily make this list, Inland Empire holds a special place in the weird film pantheon. Its meta-narrative plot featuring a movie within a movie mixed with its odd flashbacks to Polish prostitutes and dialogues between anthropomorphic rabbits makes it a challenging and cerebral piece of cinema. It features many common Lynchean tropes, but its development marked a departure for Lynch in many respects. The screen play was developed in the process of shooting and Lynch himself did much of the filming on digital video. In his usual fashion, Lynch manages to employ fragmented narrative, dream-like settings, and sudden twists to offer a compelling film detailing the splintering psyche of a Hollywood actress.

Possession (1981)

Shot in Cold War Berlin, this psychological horror film is an exposé of a crumbling marital relationship and a descent into Lovecraftian horror (yes, there is a tentacled monster featured in the film). Following a limited release in theaters in 1981, Possession acquired a mystique as one of the “video nasties” over the coming decade as it traded hands in VHS format. The story follows Mark, a Cold War spy, who is trying to find out why his wife, played by Isabelle Adjani, is acting so bizarrely upon his return home. What he discovers is unsettling to say the least. Over the years, academic film critics have become more appreciative of the film, noting director’s Andrzej Zuławski’s vivid eye for detail and metaphorical use of Cold War Berlin, a divided city in a crumbling society mirroring the relationship at the center of this disturbing movie.

The Oregonian (2011)

From the opening scene, The Oregonian conveys a feeling of disquiet that lingers throughout the film. When a young woman finds herself on the side of the road following a traumatic car accident, her world becomes a walk through a nightmarish landscape populated by odd characters and a monster that resembles a plush toy. The film premiered at Sun Dance in 2011 to mixed reviews, with its incoherent plot and puzzling vignettes turning off some critics. Be that as it may, film maker Calvin Reeder’s audio and visual effects are effective at creating a creepy atmosphere that plays with the imagination. Those inclined toward indie-bizarro-horror might also like Reeder’s follow up The Rambler (2013).

Begotten (1989)

An avant-garde, experimental film shot in the late 1980s, Begotten was initially intended as a performance piece rather than a film. It was inspired by the French dramatist Antoin Artaud and the philosophical musings of Friedrich Nietzsche, and this should tell you something about what you are in for. The critic Susan Sontag praised the film upon its release, and ever since it has held a cult status among serious film critics and fans alike. Aside from its mesmerizing visual aspects, what makes the film so interesting is the fact that it was largely distributed underground by fans through bootleg copies during the 1990s, defying the mainstream. The film is replete with allegorical and mythical themes, presenting a visual if not horrific exploration of the creation myth. Writer and director Edmund Elias Merhige is intentionally opaque, leaving viewers to draw their own conclusions on the film’s treatment of suffering, death, and rebirth. Even better is the fact that the movie is freely available on the internet here.

Persona (1966)

Director Ingmar Bergman is a heavyweight of modern cinema, and Persona certainly lives up to Bergman’s famed reputation as a master of the craft. The story follows a young nurse (Alma) who is summoned to the countryside to attend to a famous stage actress who has mysteriously stopped speaking. The film plays upon themes of duality and personal identity as Alma conveys her personal traumas and fears to her patient. Dialogue and atmosphere are mixed with cinematic beauty in this psychological portrayal of a woman coming undone. Bergman himself confessed that with Persona he felt he was “working in total freedom” and that the film “touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover.” Critics have agreed, and many have expressed their frustrating inability to summarize this “modernist horror movie.”

Yellow Brick Road (2010)

Readers might find it odd (maybe even irreverent) to follow up a Bergman masterpiece with this horror film directed by Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton. However, Yellow Brick Road is an often overlooked work that mixes the found-footage genre with Lovecraftian-style horror. When a team of young explorers sets out into the wilderness to uncover the fate of an entire town that mysteriously vanished, things get weird. Well-paced and haunting, Yellow Brick Road conveys a sense of eeriness that many fans of weird fiction will find intriguing. Its chronicling of a malicious yet hidden power that preys upon the sanity of individuals gives a modern twist to themes that any fan of H. P. Lovecraft can not help but find entertaining.

4 (2004)

When strangers accidentally meet in a Moscow bar and recount stories about their lives, it becomes difficult to determine what is fantasy and what is reality. This Russian film by director Ilya Khrzhanovsky is rich on atmosphere and dialogue. The screenplay was written by Vladimir Sorokin, a postmodernist Russian novelist and scriptwriter with a talent for playing with themes of truth and authenticity. What could be more fitting for a post-Soviet intellectual? 4 was dubbed one of the most decadent works of post-Soviet cinema when it was released, and its portrayal of Russian life in decline and disquisitions on Soviet-era politics certainly captures a specific ambience of post-Cold War Russian society. Yet it also presents a fascinatingly odd narrative in which rumors of cloning experiments conducted during the Stalinist era appear to acquire an aura of truth as the movie progresses. Its non-linear storytelling might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but 4 is a philosophically rich and psychologically heavy film with few competitors.

February (2015)

Also entitled “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” in North American markets, this film is arguably more “quiet horror” than “weird” cinema. Yet it is not without its merits and is a great film that defies the typical “girls in distress” motif so common to psychological horror thrillers these days. When two students at a girl’s boarding school find themselves locked-in over winter break, things take a turn for the worst as a dark presence appears to haunt the halls of the institution in which they are trapped. The film is well-constructed and meticulously directed, evoking a subtle feeling of impending dread throughout. No less striking is the sober cinematography that works perfectly with the pace and atmosphere of the movie. It would not be surprising if this movie appears on many lists of modern horror movies, but its moody feel and split plotlines also transcends the horror genre making for an enjoyable viewing experience that is both cold and unsettling.

Alistair Rey began his career in Romania writing political propaganda for post-authoritarian governments. He has since advertised himself as an author of “fiction and parafiction,” an archivist, a political satirist and a dealer in rare books and manuscripts. His work has appeared in the Berkeley Fiction Review, Juked magazine and Weird Book, among other publications. A complete list of works and stories is available at the Parenthetical Review website (

Weird Writers Recommend 80’s Albums

Brian Evenson: Stump, A Fierce Pancake (1988)

It’s hard not to like an album which takes its name from a line in Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. If you know any track from this album (the only full-length LP the band put out) it’s probably “Charlton Heston,” which repeats the line “When Charlton Heston put his vest on” just enough times. It’s a playful and deeply weird album as a whole, musically avant-garde, often shifting signatures, kind of like an Anglo-Irish Captain Beefheart. I picked it up by accident in the late 80s and have never been the same since.

Nicole Cushing: Peter Gabriel, So (1986) 

I’m going with Peter Gabriel’s 1986 offering So. The entire album makes for good listening, but I have a particular fondness for “In Your Eyes” (the song playing out of Lloyd Dobler’s boombox in Say Anything). In the months leading up to my wedding, I played that song over and over (much to the annoyance of my coworkers). Yes, despite my ghoulish pessimism, I can be a big ol’ softy sometimes.

Ben Fitts: Dinosaur Jr., You’re Living All Over Me (1987)

Dinosaur Jr.’s second album truly was their masterpiece. Merging quirky songwriting, scrappy punk energy, heavy metal riffing and featuring stellar musicianship throughout, You’re Living All Over Me stands alongside Pixie’s Doolittle and Sonic Youth’s Goo as one of the definitive, heavy-leaning indie rock albums of all time. The recordings are scratchy and the mix dense, but those facts only add the album’s charm and there is not a single track out of the nine in its initial 1987 release that is impossible to fall in love with.

Emma J. Gibbon: Prince, Purple Rain (1984)

To me, Purple Rain is the perfect album. It’s not just that there is not a bad song on there, every song is literally a great song. There’s something about the order of the songs too that is perfect. There is an instrumental section of “Computer Blue” that is just transcendent. Whenever I listen to that section (and I still listen to Purple Rain at least once a month), I always stop whatever I’m doing. I must have listened to this album thousands of times and I never tire of it. I bought it first on cassette when I was thirteen so it would have been about five years old then, and it was transformative for me. I grew up in working class mining village in northern England. It’s hard to describe how different and magical and dangerous Prince seemed to me.

Sam Richard: Killing Joke, Killing Joke (1980)

Killing Joke are one of those ‘your favorite band’s favorite band’ bands. And for good reason. Their debut album is a piece of brilliant UK post-punk that sounds both ahead of its time and classic in all the right ways. Cold synths, warm dub basslines, stark fuzzy guitar, and reverbed out raspy shout/sung vocals over the top of it all, like a madman yelling prophecies from a snowy mountain top. This album is a masterpiece from start to finish and manages to be both essential late 70s/early 80s post-punk and yet also entirely its own beast entirely.

Curtis M. Lawson: Samhain, Samhain III: November-Coming-Fire (1986) 

Samhain was Glenn Danzig’s musical project between The Misfits and Danzig. While Samhain has become overshadowed by The Misfits and Danzig, the band was a big deal at the time – a true punk rock supergroup taking members of The Misfits, Reagan Youth, and Rosemary’s Babies. Danzig’s songwriting matured during this period and the lyrical camp of The Misfits gave way to a darker, almost exploitation film atmosphere. The blend of punk, deathrock, proto-goth, and metal produced a truly unique sound.

Samhain III: November-Coming-Fire came out in 1986, and in many ways, it was the bridge between the waning popularity of punk rock and the rise of heavy metal. To this day it is one of the darkest and most visceral albums I can think of. The lyrics range from the romanticization of a deadly car accident to the celebration of pagan blood rituals. From the raw production and iconic cover art to the galloping drums and Danzig’s killer vocals, it is a near-perfect album.

Weird Writers Recommend Weird Visual Artists

Jonathan Raab: Trevor Henderson

Trevor specializes in taking real photographs and inserting painted monsters, creating found-footage-style pieces that are iconic and haunting. Visit Trevor Henderson on Instagram. 

Brian Asman: Dano Brown

You can find him on Instagram at @dano_brown. He makes really unique, groovy action figures. If you ever wanted a poseable Michael Douglas from Falling Down, he’s your man. Joe Exotic? Sure. Princess Bride? You betcha. Turd Ferguson, David S. Pumpkins, hell, if you’re looking for fucking Smoothie from the weird-ass NetFlix series Happy he’s got you covered. Visit 

Ellen Datlow: Edward Gorey

I know that Edward Gorey is now a household name, but when I my roommate and discovered his work in the university library where we both worked in 1970 we were flabbergasted. We couldn’t figure out if it was supposed to be a children’s book or what. I started collecting him then and there and have quite a library of his twisted titles. Visit the Edward Gorey House

Brian Evenson: Joel-Peter Witkin

Witkin is one of the most unsettling photographers I know, with his work focusing on death, dismemberment, and people who are outsiders because of their physical appearance. Strange and distorted and sometimes extreme, the images themselves are often manipulated. I think of Witkin as someone who strips away the polite surface of a culture to get at the darkness beneath. He also often does versions of classical tableaux, but in ways that make them monstrous or unsettling. He’s one of the weirdest and most challenging visual artists I know. Visit the Joel-Peter Witkin Studio on Instagram.

Ben Fitts: Jacek Yerka

Jacek Yerka’s paintings have had as significant an influence on my writing as just about any author. He paints physics-defying, logic-bending surrealist scenes that one can stare at for hours. Yerka’s work mostly focuses on cityscapes, but he’s not painting Chicago. His cities are built upon various impossible foundations, such as an airplane, the ocean, itself, a brontosaurus, and more. When I look at Yerka surrealist cityscape, I can’t help but wonder what life is like in that place, who lives there, and what stories lurk within his brushstrokes, and I bet that you probably won’t be able to either. Visit  

Sam Richard: Michael Bukowski

I love Michael Bukowski’s work so much that I keep hiring him for book covers. Three of the last four Weirdpunk Books releases have his art on the covers. It doesn’t hurt that he’s super fun to work with and a really good person. Not only has his art graced the covers of countless books and metal/punk album covers (he was even the Minister of Propaganda for the Philadelphia anarchist hardcore band R.A.M.B.O. once upon a time ago), but he is also prolific as an illustrator of monsters from a wide variety of sci-fi, horror, and weird fiction sources from Manly Wade Wellman and Margaret St. Clair to Orrin Grey and Anya Martin.

Bukowski’s eye for detail and commitment to his subjects really set him in a class of his own and I’d love to see him get more recognition as a master of weird visual arts. Lethe Press is publishing three books of his illustrations at some point this year, the first of which is currently up for pre-order, so I highly suggest you check that out. You can take a look at his art on the Illustro Obscurum Instagram.

Curtis M. Lawson: Sam Keith 

Sam Keith is probably best known for The Maxx (which is my favorite comic of all time), but he is also responsible for some of the strangest comic art to ever grace the pages of Marvel Comics Presents and was the original artist for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. His style is gorgeous, strange, and iconic. His imagination is wild and unchained. From his depictions of a feral Wolverine being sliced to ribbons by the villainous Cyber during his Marvel tenure to the intensely strange creatures and landscapes in the pages of The Maxx, Keith displays a consistently rich and weird style. Visit Sam Kieth’s blog. 

Emma J. Gibbon: Gregory Crewdson

Over the years, I have been very influenced by Gregory Crewdson’s work. I’ve never seen one in “real life” as it were, mainly in books and online, but his photographs really speak to me, and it is some of this atmosphere I try to evoke in my writing. He does huge cinematic vistas and fantastically lit scenes, but there is often something uncanny or off-kilter about them. They are beautiful and dark. I also like the “characters” he uses in his photographs. He puts in center stage people who we don’t expect to be in the limelight. Visit Gregory Crewdson’s page on Artnet. 

The Lucky Star by William T. Vollmann – Book Review

Review by Ben Arzate

Neva, often referred to as the people who know her as “the lesbian,” has a seemingly supernatural ability to make anyone around her love her on the condition that she loves them back. This results in her gathering an almost cult-like following at the Y Bar that she frequents. Her lovers include the alcoholic Richard, the bartender Francine, and a transwoman named Judy. Judy’s boyfriend, a retired policeman named J.D., grows jealous of her relationship with Neva and starts digging into Neva’s past to try to find a way to get back at her.

The lesbian was nearly always on time for our appointments. That made I easier for us to pretend that she was faithful to each of us alone.”

While Richard is the narrator of the book, the main characters are really Neva and Judy. The main theme of the book is “performing femininity.” In the case of the lesbian, Neva (technically not really a lesbian), does not need to “perform” as she’s a goddess-like being. The platonic ideal of femininity. Judy, a transwoman, is, in contrast, constantly in need of performing it to “pass.” This comes to the forefront with her love of both Neva and J.D. She seeks the perfect femininity of Neva but often finds herself pulled away from it by J.D., who often abuses and misgenders her. This is made even more obvious by the fact that characters are often referred to as their “roles” such as “the lesbian,” “the transwoman,” “the retired policeman,” etc.

While Vollmann is actually quite skilled at sketching out his characters, and this is a book more driven by character and theme than by plot, he’s not so good at bringing it together as a coherent whole. At least not in this book. An example of one of this book’s major failings is that the main plotline of J.D. exploring Neva’s past is rendered completely pointless as much of the beginning of the book explains it in great deal. The plotline is ultimately a shaggy dog story, which makes it even more annoying.

The novel is over 600 pages. This isn’t unusual for a Vollmann book, but here it isn’t warranted at all. The stories of these characters are ultimately straightforward and much of what Vollmann puts into it is just filler. To contrast it with another Vollmann book with a similar premise, The Royal Family actually earns it 800 page length with its wide cast of different characters, its odd non-fictional digressions, and some of the genuinely nasty imagery. Here, it feels like Vollmann is simply trying to wear the reader down with repetitions of the various characters’ devotions to Neva, J.D. learning things we already knew about her, and the dead sex scenes that I’m really not sure were supposed to be erotic, disturbing, or just meant to unerotic in the most banal way.

I can’t say this book is a complete failure. I found when Vollmann zoomed in on one character and focused on their individual stories I was far more engaged. Also, despite being rather worn down with this book by the end, I still felt a little sad watching the mostly tragic endings all of the characters unfold. It’s obvious he did something right.

Vollmann is known for being somewhat difficult with his editors and often refusing to make cuts, sometimes even taking lower royalties and advances to offset the risk of the size of his books. However, this is one that really would have benefited from a lot of cuts and rearrangement. There’s a pretty good 300-400 page book inside this 600 page one. As it stands, I really can’t recommend this book unless you’re a hardcore Vollmann fan. Otherwise, you’re better off picking up The Royal Family.

Weird Writers Recommend: The Cinnamon-Coloured Suit (C.P. Cavafy 1893-1933) by Rhys Hughes

The Cinnamon-Coloured Suit
(C.P. Cavafy 1863-1933)

by Rhys Hughes

The first time I heard of the poet Cavafy was in my initial aborted attempt to read Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, a set of books that can’t be appreciated or understood by readers with insufficient life experience. I lacked that experience back then.

Durrell mentions him frequently as an epitome of a particular type of excellence, though I was unsure what type exactly. I wasn’t ready for that quartet. It poured through my mind like wine through a sieve, a wasted cascade of observations and allusions.

Yet the name ‘Cavafy’ lodged firmly in my memory. Years later I saw a collection of his poetry in a peculiar second-hand bookshop near the village of Chagford in Devon. That bookshop was peculiar because it was one of a group of buildings in an out-of-the-way compound that sold used items of almost any kind. You could buy an old suit of armour there, a hooped skirt, a blunderbuss, a wrecked ship’s figurehead, a top hat with hinged lids and secret compartments.

The compound was always deserted. After you had chosen what you wanted, it was difficult to find anyone to give your money to. I flicked through the Cavafy book but didn’t buy it and regretted it later. The few words my eyes had chanced on played on my mind over the coming days, though I couldn’t say why. There was an aura of mystery about them. I must have picked up a poetry infection.

More years passed. I learned by chance that Cavafy never submitted his poems to publishers in order for them to be issued in book form. He preferred to print them privately on single sheets and distribute them to his friends. Like Pessoa, publication wasn’t his main objective. I found this approach refreshing, admirable, exemplary, a happy change from the more familiar world of desperately ambitious and forceful writers seeking maximum exposure for their output.

Beguiled by his modesty, I finally ordered his selected poems in an attractive modern edition. The modesty was a mirage of sorts, for it turns out that Cavafy was unabashed about his stature as a very fine poet. He merely pushed himself on the public to a lesser degree than most. Or to be more accurate, he regarded his audience as not-yet-born and himself as “a writer destined for future generations”. Yet this private grandiosity is expressed in a manner both wistful and mildly humorous. The charm of Cavafy’s assertions, even about his own importance, dissuade any sneer of disdain from the judicious reader.

I liked his poetry the moment I began reading it properly, beginning with early poems from the late 1890s and ending with poems written the year of his death. They are direct and modern in tone but infused with the ways of former times, wistful without being sad, dreamy without being escapist, simultaneously classical and romantic, softly lyrical in sentiment but manly in shape and sound. They immerse the reader in two different periods of culture, Alexandria at the dawn of the 20th Century and the entirety of the Ancient Greek world. Curiously, both epochs are contained within each other, warped but mutual subsets.

Frequently the contemporary reader of Cavafy is tugged backwards in time to the café society of a century and a quarter ago only to find that the café and its inhabitants frame a still earlier age, an age that provides the original image which has now been distorted by imperfect reflection. The encounters and ardours of the poet’s context are shadowy, perilous and fleeting variations on the antique themes.

Both environments appear exotic to us now, for we easily romanticise their distracting satisfactions while ignoring the tribulations. The pangs of the office worker in the unlighted alley at night are of the same substance and quality as those of the celebrated youth with the dissipated existence during the surge and struggles of dead empires. But the former risks his reputation, the latter only his life. What is always true naturally remains true, what is acceptable has changed.

The powerful impression of sensual loss in Cavafy is poignant but never dismal. His nostalgia is the rugged and resilient kind. He conjures up past encounters in order to reuse them, or at least expresses a wish to be able to do so. Underneath the sadness and yearning there are also hints of a fatalistic attitude that verges on the positive or motivational. Love has been lost, yes, but it can still be appreciated for what it was, and there may be other loves in the future, equal or even better. This caveat is never spoken aloud, but it exists in the measured thoughts anyway. The passion in Cavafy’s work is calm, genuinely strong, accepting, never controlling. It is an easy flowing eroticism that claims the moment but relaxes without any violence of self pity or rancour.

An early poem, ‘The City’, is perhaps my favourite poem by any poet. I prefer to regard it as a warning and a prompting rather than a prediction or imprecation. It is one of the few poems I’ve read that made me shiver on first reading. Aspirations are often or usually chained to doubts. This particular poem is so close to the aspirations and doubts of my own heart that it is exactly adjacent to them. It rests lightly on my heart like a hand, a hand that can be smooth or grip depending on faith. “I will go to a new land, I will try another sea.” The rubric of escape and betterment, of happiness elsewhere, is the equation that has controlled my entire life. In this poem the equation turns out to be erroneous, self defeating. “You will find no new land, you will find no other seas.” The unsatisfactory city is one we must inevitably take with us.

But again, there is no certainty in the process of this message. Rather than act as a restraint on movement and hope, the poems fills me with an urge to heed the admonition that one shouldn’t allow life to become sour in that way. The new land and the other seas might still be there provided we are already reconciled to ourselves.

I have read interior poets before, those who seem unduly to focus on isolation, abandonment, restriction and confinement, and they have been dour, gloomy and effective jailers of themselves. Cavafy is not at all like that. His simple rooms, furnished with only a bed, in crumbling houses in the less salubrious quarters of Alexandria still seem suffused with gentle light, a radiance that is no less emotional than solar or lunar. I share the despair of his narrators who are thwarted by societal prejudice, but there is no bitterness in them. They bide their time for the next opportunity and recapture the past in a future encounter.

The possibility of endless loop and replenishment is what gives to the poems of Cavafy the note of clandestine optimism that a loss in not quite the same as Loss, that the past exists in refracted and reflected form in the present and future, that what might have been can sincerely become what will be, although in a changed form with different protagonists. Nor is it beyond the bounds of plausibility that the new might be superior to what has gone before. ‘The Mirror in the Entrance Hall’ tells the tale of an old mirror that has witnessed many scenes and people during its existence. At last, very late in its life, it has the chance to reflect perfect beauty when a young tailor’s apprentice who is delivering a package to the household is made to wait alone in the hallway. This youth straightens his tie in the glass. The mirror is happy for the first time.

The objects of Cavafy’s desire are remarkable souls in mediocre jobs who, short of money but intoxicated with what little freedom they have, spend their spare hours carefully, fruitlessly or voraciously with as much abandon as can be gathered from their immediate environs. They may be primarily driven by the need to make money, but nothing tarnishes their allure, which is entirely dependent on the poet’s longing. Or else they may be too proud to accept menial employment and abide in poverty instead, wearing the same “faded cinnamon-coloured suit” every day, earning a few shillings playing cards or backgammon.

Cavafy was born in Alexandria but when he was nine years old his family moved to Britain, where he acquired a love of English literature. Later he also lived for a short time in Constantinople, but the majority of his allotted span was spent in one city in Egypt, his birthplace and his final resting place. E.M. Forster, who met him in 1916, said he only saw Cavafy “going either from his flat to the office or from his office to the flat,” but he also described the poet as “standing absolutely motionless at an angle to the universe.” He was too different to be unremarkable.

My personal discovery of Cavafy and his spell has reconciled me to the writer who lives a quiet and unadventurous life. For this is merely the surface of things. Not everyone can be an Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Kurban Said or Ernst Jünger, flying, riding or charging over oceans, mountains, battlefields. True enough, but the coffee shops and unfurnished rooms of Cavafy are mighty landscapes too, ripe with incident.