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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. But when they meet the mamasan ...
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 ...
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 JamesFenton 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 ...

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 ...

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 JamesFenton’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 ...
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. It takes us a definite step ...

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 ...
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’, JamesFenton 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 ...

Two Poems

Tom Paulin

6 September 1984
... out best in the bath, I reckon – a kind of maritime bored experiment, chorpy with farts and soap torpedoes. One dayclean, though, when a pouter-dove was crooling like a soft hoor, I thought how JamesFenton 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 ...

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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... Someth May and Molyda Szymusiak (this is her adopted name) are two Cambodians who lived through the Khmer Rouge years and eventually gained refuge in the West. Someth May’s close collaboration with JamesFenton 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 ...

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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... for a second, smokes in the air? Or fascination like her father’s? The division between the naive child who reacts and the self-conscious father who writes poems has never been so clear. It was JamesFenton 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 ...
13 September 2012
... with one aspect of official policy seemed very much a product of the high tide of late Victorian and Edwardian imperialism. I thought very little about him until around ten years ago, when my friend JamesFenton, 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 ...

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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... Naw ... copy me. It’s how the grown-ups drink. Propped in my shaky, single-handed grip, I tilted the bottle towards the sun until it detonated with light, my lips pursed like a trumpeter’s. JamesFenton 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 ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: 10,860 novels

23 August 2001
... poets and painters).’ And if those half dozen all know each other, it makes it much easier, especially if you take into account what Moss calls ‘their chums from other disciplines – Clive James, Craig Raine, JamesFenton, Christopher Hitchens, Redmond O’Hanlon’. Together, novelists and ‘chums’ are not unlike a coterie of window-cleaners crowded onto a single boatswain’s chair (or ...

At Tate Britain

Peter Campbell: Howard Hodgkin

6 July 2006
... from writers than from art critics. In a book of pieces published to accompany the exhibition at Tate Britain (until 17 September) there are writings, culled from various sources, by Julian Barnes, JamesFenton, Susan Sontag, William Boyd, Bruce Chatwin, Bruce Bernard and Colm Tóibín (Barnes has also made a loan to the exhibition). Some are affectionately biographical. Comparisons between Hodgkin ...

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