Said William Plomer to his barber: “A little more off the back, please.”1 “That’s right, sir,” came the reply. “It wouldn’t do to have you looking like a poet.” Apocryphal? Possibly. Yet such drollery has the ring of prophecy. In a letter to John Lehmann in 1931, Plomer confessed, waggishly, that he had “never pretended to be a poet,” not even to himself. Ted Walker (who did look like a poet) observed that Plomer’s demeanor suggested not so much a writer as a magnanimous doctor. Walker was late to the party. As Plomer recalled it: “I have actually been congratulated [by a stranger] on my successful treatment of a difficult case of hydrocele” (the accumulation of serous fluid in...


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