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Bruisers and Dreamers

James Fenton, 27 July 1989

... The leading lights of Bulacan – The bruisers and the dreamers – Are politicians to a man. Their names go on the streamers. But if their chief’s an also-ran The dreamers and the bruisers Mingle beneath the ceiling-fan With schemers and Yakuzas. To work and live as best they can The bruisers and the dreamers Take forged assignments in Japan By cruisers and by steamers ...

The Milkfish Gatherers

James Fenton, 19 May 1988

... To G.L. The sea sounds insincere Giving and taking with one hand. It stopped a river here last month Filling its mouth with sand. They drag the shallows for the milkfish fry – Two eyes on a glass noodle, nothing more. Roused by his vigilant young wife The drowsy stevedore Comes running barefoot past the swamp To meet a load of wood. The yellow peaked cap, the patched pink shorts Seem to be all his worldly goods ...

Five Poems

James Fenton, 10 November 1988

... Beauty, Danger and Dismay Beauty, danger and dismay Met me on the public way. Whichever I chose, I chose dismay. The Mistake With the mistake your life goes in reverse. Now you can see exactly what you did Wrong yesterday and wrong the day before And each mistake leads back to something worse And every nuance of your hypocrisy Towards yourself and every excuse Stands solidly on the perspective lines And there is perfect visibility ...

A Martian School of two or more

James Fenton, 6 December 1979

A Martian sends a postcard home 
by Craig Raine.
Oxford, 46 pp., £2.95
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Arcadia 
by Christopher Reid.
Oxford, 50 pp., £2.75
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Love-Life 
by Hugo Williams.
Whizzard Press/Deutsch, 40 pp., £2.95
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A Faust Book 
by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 70 pp., £3.25, September 1979, 0 19 211895 1
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Time 
by Yehuda Amichai.
Oxford, 88 pp., £3.50
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... Craig Raine’s second collection follows swiftly upon his first, The Onion, Memory (1978). It is as if the poet had been waiting impatiently over us, while we picked ourselves up off the canvas, before delivering the second blow. A Martian sends a postcard home is a slimmer volume than its predecessor, but it will do more than simply consolidate a reputation already made ...

Manila Manifesto

James Fenton, 18 May 1989

... Manila Manifesto What you need for poetry is a body and a voice. It doesn’t have to be a great body or a great voice. But it ought ideally to be your body, and it ought to be your voice. *** The parent helps the child discover what may be done with its lips and its limbs. This is the first poetry. *** A sort of night then falls – a melancholy mercy – after which the initiation is mysteriously forgotten ...

Fenton makes a hit

Blake Morrison, 10 January 1983

In Memory of War: Poems 1968-1982 
by James Fenton.
Salamander, 96 pp., £6.95, June 1982, 0 907540 17 1
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... No one can have been more surprised than James Fenton that In Memory of War turned out to be one of the most acclaimed books of 1982. A year ago, used to being told by reviewers that he was a ‘difficult’, even ‘esoteric’ poet, it looked as if he had decided that small publishers and little magazines were the most appropriate place for his work ...

Neil Corcoran confronts the new recklessness

Neil Corcoran, 28 September 1989

Manila Envelope 
by James Fenton.
28 Kayumanggi St, West Triangle Homes, Quezon City, Phillipines, 48 pp., £12, May 1989, 971 86 4701 5
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New Selected Poems 
by Richard Murphy.
Faber, 190 pp., £10.99, May 1989, 0 571 15482 4
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The Mirror Wall 
by Richard Murphy.
Bloodaxe, 61 pp., £10.95, May 1989, 9781852240929
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Selected Poems 
by Eavan Boland.
Carcanet, 96 pp., £5.95, May 1989, 0 85635 741 3
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The Accumulation of Small Acts of Kindness 
by Selima Hill.
Chatto, 47 pp., £5.95, May 1989, 0 7011 3455 0
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... For a writer who several years ago published a ‘Manifesto Against Manifestoes’, James Fenton has published his fair share of manifestoes, including a disguised one for a ‘Martian school’ to which he did not belong. The latest, ‘Manila Manifesto’, comes as part of a package with his new book Manila Envelope ...

Not What Anybody Says

Michael Wood: James Fenton, 13 September 2012

Yellow Tulips: Poems 1968-2011 
by James Fenton.
Faber, 164 pp., £14.99, May 2012, 978 0 571 27382 9
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... One of the great attractions of James Fenton’s verse is the way it manages so often to be both plain and cryptic at once. It urges us to think about what we can’t quite know, and it favours certain strategies for doing this. ‘It is not the houses,’ Fenton writes in ‘A German Requiem ...

Best Things

Alan Hollinghurst, 20 August 1981

Viewpoints: Poets in Conversation with John Haffenden 
Faber, 189 pp., £7.50, June 1981, 0 571 11689 2Show More
A Free Translation 
by Craig Raine.
Salamander, 29 pp., £4.50, June 1981, 0 907540 02 3
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A German Requiem 
by James Fenton.
Salamander, 9 pp., £1.50, January 1981, 0 907540 00 7
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Caviare at the Funeral 
by Louis Simpson.
Oxford, 89 pp., £4.50, April 1981, 0 19 211943 5
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... child who reacts and the self-conscious father who writes poems has never been so clear. It was James Fenton who first defined the ‘Martian School’, and his brother Tom has printed, very beautifully, these Salamander books. But Fenton’s career and preoccupations have been very different from Raine’s, and his ...

Two Poems

Tom Paulin, 6 September 1984

... torpedoes. One dayclean, though, when a pouter-dove was crooling like a soft hoor, I thought how James Fenton read Shakespeare in Saigon – got the complete works in dime paperbacks on the black market. Bit by bit he’d foreground ‘the subterfugue text within the text itself’, and turn wiser – aye, much wiser – than us boneheads here. ‘It ...

Ever so comfy

James Wood, 24 March 1994

Collected Poems 1953-1993 
by John Updike.
Hamish Hamilton, 387 pp., £20, October 1993, 0 241 00167 6
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Dante’s Drum-Kit 
by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 145 pp., £6.99, November 1993, 0 571 17055 2
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Old Men and Comets 
by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 64 pp., £6.99, November 1994, 0 19 283176 3
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Plato’s Ladder 
by Stephen Romer.
Oxford, 79 pp., £6.99, November 1992, 0 19 282986 6
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The Country at My Shoulder 
by Moniza Alvi.
Oxford, 56 pp., £6.99, September 1993, 0 19 283125 9
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British Subjects 
by Fred D’Aguiar.
Bloodaxe, 64 pp., £5.95, July 1993, 1 85224 248 5
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Night Photograph 
by Lavinia Greenlaw.
Faber, 54 pp., £5.99, October 1993, 0 571 16894 9
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Nil Nil 
by Don Paterson.
Faber, 53 pp., £5.99, April 1993, 0 571 16808 6
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Out of Danger 
by James Fenton.
Penguin, 103 pp., £7.50, December 1993, 0 14 058719 5
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... the bottle towards the sun until it detonated with light, my lips pursed like a trumpeter’s. James Fenton is certainly the best poet in this group. Unlike most of the others, he uses the line – uses it to seal, to repeat, to extend, to sunder. He understands that the line should be under some kind of pressure. The recent nonsense verse – most of ...

Hell on Earth

Stephen Haggard, 8 January 1987

Cambodian Witness: The Autobiography of Someth May 
edited by James Fenton.
Faber, 287 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 571 14609 0
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The stones cry out: A Cambodian Childhood 
by Molyda Szymusiak, translated by Linda Coverdale.
Cape, 245 pp., £11.95, January 1987, 0 224 02410 8
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... Rouge years and eventually gained refuge in the West. Someth May’s close collaboration with James Fenton on his book was the subject of a recent BBC documentary: credit for the vivid and readable style of Cambodian Witness must go to Fenton, whose name appears on the book as its editor. Molyda Szymusiak wrote her ...

Gotterdämmerung

Christopher Hitchens, 12 January 1995

... for more than twenty years and last January wrote a loopy letter to this journal, blaming James Fenton and myself for once queering his pitch at the New Statesman. ‘Effete onanist’ was one of the things he said about me. About himself he wrote with even more feeling: ‘In those days, I had no revolutionary ideology to sustain me, nothing but ...

A Prehistory of Extraordinary Rendition

Patrick Cockburn, 13 September 2012

... Edwardian imperialism. I thought very little about him until around ten years ago, when my friend James Fenton, the poet, said that on a trip to South Korea he had been approached by a Korean professor who asked him if it was true that ‘ck’ in the name ‘Cockburn’ was not pronounced. When James asked him why he ...

Downfalls

Karl Miller, 5 February 1987

Another Day of Life 
by Ryszard Kapuściński.
Picador, 136 pp., £8.95, February 1987, 0 330 29844 5
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... New Left Review Benedict Anderson made sharp criticisms of the work of the journalist and poet James Fenton in which a comparison with that of Kapuściński was noted: you were left with the sense of two talented crisis-fancying literary tourists. Kapuściński exercises a personal charm which must have helped him to establish friendly relations with ...

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