Al Alvarez, champion of poetry and poker, dies at 90 (via Washington Post)

Full Title: “Al Alvarez, British critic and author who championed poetry and poker, dies at 90 (via Washington Post)”

Al Alvarez, a British poet, critic and best-selling author who championed the work of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, wrote a provocative study of suicide and explored his own risky pastimes in books about rock climbing and professional poker, died Sept. 23 in London. He was 90.

The cause was viral pneumonia, said his literary agency, Aitken Alexander Associates.

Mr. Alvarez, who sometimes wrote under the name A. Alvarez, cultivated a reputation as a swashbuckling adrenaline seeker as well as an accomplished poet, novelist and literary critic. Finding writing to be “a solitary, joyless occupation,” he sought escape through mountaineering, boxing, poker and aviation, then drew on his hobbies for articles in the New Yorker and several books of nonfiction.

Initially, he was known for his adventurous taste in poetry and his literary attacks on the “genteel” style that dominated British poetry in the years after World War II.

In books, translations and pieces for the Observer — where he served as poetry editor from 1956 to 1966 — Mr. Alvarez introduced readers to bold new writers such as the husband-and-wife duo of Plath and Hughes, American poets John Berryman and Robert Lowell, and Eastern European poets Zbigniew Herbert and Miroslav Holub.

His 1962 Penguin anthology “The New Poetry” was a landmark work that featured poetry with a “violent impending presence,” as he put it, shadowed by the Holocaust, the threat of nuclear war and personal trauma. Along with Robert Conquest’s collection “New Lines” (1956), it became “the most discussed poetry anthology of the postwar era,” according to literary critic William Wootten’s book “The Alvarez Generation.”

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