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5.0 out of 5 stars ...your fear is like a long-case clock / In the last whirring second before the hour..., 17 May 2011
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Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Memory of War and Children in Exile: Poems 1968 - 1983 (King Penguin S.) (Paperback)
James Fenton surely is the most talented poet of his generation; this year he is in receipt of the Queens Medal for Poetry. He is a trustee of the National Gallery and was once kidnapped by the IRA; he's still in receipt of royalties from helping to write the libretto of Les Miserables. His work is accessible and is based on rhythm, rhyme, with simple subjects like love, death and war. That's all true, but he is technically complex and makes a virtue of virtuosity. There is often a sharp contrast between the jaunty rhythms and rhymes and what is being said on the page. This is the final stanza from a poem called Letter to John Fuller (who was his tutor at Oxford).

Death is the envy of the hicks,
The last crap shot, the final fix,
It is the burning of the ricks.
Lovelier than sex, it
Beckons us home across the Styx
And we must exit.

Fenton worked as a Foreign Correspondent in Cambodia and was in on many of the defining moments of the Vietnam War. It might be said that this was the spur to a personal oeuvre of poetic flowering - to be ironic about it (which I hope he wouldn't mind). For Fenton at his own ironic height one need look no further than the aforementioned Letter to John Fuller, which scathingly dumps on the, at the time, newly discovered need for a kind of active urgency in poetry, led by the influential Al Alvarez. It has to be said this has some petulance, but feet of clay are par for the course in poetry. In any case, he must be forgiven everything for the most marvellous poem A Staffordshire Murderer. This is the punk rock of poetry. This long, beautiful and seductive poem is gorgeous in every regard. Probably not as important a poem as A German Requiem, or as moving a poem as Children in Exile, it has something more than either of them - a kind of essence of the glamour of evil.
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The Memory of War and Children in Exile: Poems 1968 - 1983 (King Penguin S.)
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