A. Alvarez dies at 90; poet elevated both Sylvia Plath and poker

A. Alvarez dies at 90; poet elevated both Sylvia Plath and poker

A. Alvarez, a British poet, critic, and essayist who played a pivotal role in bringing the poetry of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath to the public, and whose acclaimed book on the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas helped transform high-stakes professional poker from a cult to a televised sport, died Monday. He was 90.

His death, from viral pneumonia, was confirmed by The Guardian. Mr. Alvarez was poetry editor of The Observer, a sister newspaper, from 1955 to 1965. The paper did not say where he died. He had lived in the Hampstead section of North London.

At The Observer, Mr. Alvarez made it his mission to publish the work of younger poets such as Hughes and Plath, who were opening up new emotional territory in their verse. Both became close friends of his.

Mr. Alvarez’s enormously influential anthology “The New Poetry,” published in 1962, brought the poetry of Hughes, Thom Gunn, and Geoffrey Hill, and the American confessional poets John Berryman and Robert Lowell, to a wide audience in Britain. Plath and Anne Sexton were added to the 1966 edition.

The book was a standard text in schools and universities for decades. In his book “The Alvarez Generation: Thom Gunn, Geoffrey Hill, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and Peter Porter” (2015), William Wootten wrote, “Whether as a commentator, popularizer or provocateur, Alvarez not only helped create the taste by which these poets were enjoyed, his prose affected how they would regard their own and each other’s work.”

Mr. Alvarez drew on his own passion for poker to deliver a behind-the-scenes report for The New Yorker on the 1981 World Series of Poker at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas. He expanded the article into “The Biggest Game in Town,” published in 1983.

“I felt like I had walked into a Sam Peckinpah movie,” Mr. Alvarez wrote in his 1999 memoir, “Where Did It All Go Right?” recalling the poker pros he encountered: “cowboys in alligator boots, wildcatters wearing Stetsons and Dior ties, gnarled good old boys with eyes like ferrets, who farmed in West Texas.”

Alfred Alvarez was born on Aug. 5, 1929, in London. His father, Bertie, descended from Sephardic Jews who had made their way to London from Spain centuries earlier; he ran several family dress shops, without success.

“Insolvency was the element he swam in,” Mr. Alvarez wrote of his father in his memoir. His mother, Katie (Levy) Alvarez, was a homemaker.

Mr. Alvarez
began publishing his poems while at Oxford. Immediately after receiving his master’s degree in 1956 he became the poetry critic and poetry editor at The Observer, working under the future Proust translator Terence Kilmartin, who was keen to make contemporary poetry a feature of the newspaper.

“I think I was around at a really important period in English poetry, when Ted, Sylvia, these people were really making a real difference,” Mr. Alvarez told The Daily Telegraph in 2013. Besides the young poets included in his anthology, he also brought attention to the Eastern European poets Zbigniew Herbert and Miroslav Holub.

In 1956, he married Ursula Barr, the granddaughter of Frieda Lawrence, the wife of D.H. Lawrence, after a whirlwind courtship. The marriage ended in divorce.

His survivors include his wife, Anne Adams, whom he married in the 1960s; a son, Luke; and a daughter, Kate Alvarez Cogan. Another son, Adam, died before him, The Guardian said.

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