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The Chameleon Poet: A Life of George Barker Kindle Edition

5 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Length: 592 pages Word Wise: Enabled

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Amazon Review

George Barker, the subject of The Chameleon Poet, was a gifted, rambunctious, mercurial, vivacious, guilt-stricken British poet who managed to father a whole rugby team of kids (yep, 15!) in between penning some of the most tender lyrics in modern British letters. The Chameleon Poet: A Life of George Barker tells the tale of his uproarious life. The key to Barker’s self-tormenting soul was, as Fraser carefully and plausibly delineates, his conflicted origin and upbringing.

The poet was born a Catholic, in 1913, in parochially Protestant suburban Essex. George Barker’s mother, subject of some of the son’s most effusively moved and moving work, was Irish, yet Barker was named for his father: "the person in the world whose features most closely resembled his own, but with whose straight-backed Englishness he was so reluctant to identify." Not surprisingly, as soon as he could the bright-eyed, sharp-tongued, already married Barker made good his escape from Loughton; he went south to Grub Street, thence to remotest Dorset. But of course England’s tight little isle was never enough to contain such a generously proportioned spirit. In short order the poet moved further afield still, to Civil War Spain, Depression-era Manhattan, the west of Ireland, literary Bohemia and Francis Bacon’s 1950s Soho. En route he had innumerable affairs, fathered all those kids, met and impressed Yeats, Eliot, Dylan Thomas--oh yes, and wrote a bit, too.

Barker might have had a great old life; he was not an indisputably great poet. Although his finest lyrics are very fine indeed, too much of the other stuff seems like filler, the exhaust of a poetic Porsche left idling. But in terms of biography that is largely irrelevant. In the way that second-rate books often make the best films, Robert Fraser has taken a second division poet’s untamed existence and turned it into a sharp, dry, clever, witty, comprehensive and absorbing portrait of an entire milieu. --Sean Thomas

Book Description

'Robert Fraser has brought back to life a poet who behaved outrageously, suffered a great deal and caused many others to suffer, but whose best, tortured, teasing poems should be remembered. It may be the life of the 'chamelion poet'. It is also, very oddly, a heroic one.' Anthony Thwaite, Times Literary Supplement

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1947 KB
  • Print Length: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital; New Ed edition (30 Sept. 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00LO1TAQ4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #750,609 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Format: Hardcover
Why is it that some biographies read like novels and keep you turning the pages all night? It doesn't seem to depend on the fame of the subject. Some biographies of the famous just plod on with fact after fact. This one has the tightness of structure and the elements of conflict we associate with fiction. Some of the narrative tension comes from the very fact that nobody nowadays has heard of George Barker (except maybe that he was the lover Elizabeth Smart wrote about in "By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.") Yet he was once hailed by such people as Yeats and TS Eliot as the rising young genius of English poetry. He took his role as a poet very seriously. He did not believe that a poet should have a day job. He also fathered fifteen children by five women. This caused problems. Keeping track of the problems keeps this wonderful book going. As he juggled mistresses and wives and offspring and as he wangled and manipulated to get money he drank and drugged (mostly amphetamines) through the literary life of the thirties and forties. Doing this involved a kind of seductive charm and street smarts (no pun intended). Was he really such a great poet that all this delinquency was justified? Fraser carefully analyses the rise and collapse of his poetic reputation but somehow manages never to go off track into literary theory. You don't have to have read a line of George Barker to enjoy this. Everything hangs together in a superbly organized story that never loses pace.
As you read you sense another story in the background, the story of the changing relationship between biographer and subject.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x92ae65ac) out of 5 stars 2 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92aeafb4) out of 5 stars Grand Central Station lover 30 Oct. 2002
By D. P. Birkett - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Probably the aspect of George Barker that will ring a bell with North American readers is that he is the demon lover described by Elizabeth Smart in "By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept." After that torrid love affair, bathed in Elizabeth Smart's guilt at taking him from his wife, it's a surprise to find what happened. I won't give that away.
George Barker was once considered (by such people as Yeats and TS Eliot) to be a major poet of the twentieth century. Then his reputation took a mysterious nose-dive. In spite of that he continued to insist that a real poet should not deign to take a regular job and he never did. He also fathered fifteen children.
It all makes a great story, even if you've never read a line of George Barker (these days very few people have) and it's wonderfully told by a great story-teller.
HASH(0x92aeb2b8) out of 5 stars A very detailed biography of an almost unknown poet -- yet fascinating nevertheless 19 Aug. 2014
By D. Kovacs - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As the other reviewer mentioned, I came upon George Barker through his lover, the Canadian writer Elizabeth Smart. Both of them have currently gone out of fashion as writers, which is precisely one of the best reasons to read them. I have read about many poets, but Barker's life stands alone due to the complexity of his spiritual upbringing and outlook as well as the complications of his love affairs and his many children. The author is particularly detailed when discussing Barker's idiosyncratic (and lapsed) Catholicism and its impact on the evolution of his poetry. I appreciated this, as well as the thorough coverage of Barker's relationships with women. One can only conclude, as the poet himself told the biographer before his death, that he got through life based on his enviable charm (and his evident talent as a writer). The biographer himself is definitely under the poet's spell -- not necessarily a bad thing, because it helps the reader to understand why those who loved Barker almost always forgave him so much and felt that, no matter how difficult he could be, he was more than worthwhile. The essays on the poet by his wife, Elspeth Barker, in her book Dog Days, as well as his daughter Raffaella Barker's autobiographical first novel (Come And Tell Me Some Lies) are also very much worth reading to complete a consistent portrait of a poet who remains mysterious, frustrating, and definitely worth rescuing from obscurity.
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