Alan Ross (1922–2001) was a contemporary at St John’s, Oxford, of Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis. When, years later, Amis grumpily laid down the topics about which ‘nobody wants any more poems’ (such as ‘paintings or novelists or art galleries or mythology or foreign cities’), you could suppose that one of the poets he had in mind was Alan Ross. Just look at some of Ross’s titles: ‘Antwerp: Musée des Beaux Arts’, ‘Iowa and Keith Vaughan’, ‘Hopper at Cape Cod’, ‘Coming Across Steinbeck’s Letters at Carmel’, ‘Reading Whitman at Take-off, New Orleans’, ‘Dickens at Bonchurch, 1849’, ‘Hamburg by Night’, ‘Tunis’, ‘Syracuse’, ‘Vicenza’, ‘Sarajevo’, ‘Returning to Calcutta’, ‘Navy Museum, Leningrad’… One can see old Kingsley reeling back, appalled.
In fact this would do Ross an injustice. As David Hughes comments, in his acute and affectionate introduction to this selection of poems, their subject matter is wide: ‘sport, society, fashion, art, girls, beaches, bars, travel’. And of course it isn’t just a question of subject matter but of manner,