James Fenton’s poems are published by his brother Tom, who runs The Salamander Press in Edinburgh. They should be bought in this form because the craft of poetry is visual as well as aural and intellectual. The Salamander Press give time and trouble to the look and feel of the thing; this has, happily, spilt over into a convenient Penguin which gathers fifteen years work together with immense effect.
In recent years the Irish have run off, as they do from time to time, with English poetry. Philip Larkin and Geoffrey Hill published fine work in the past decade but they are older. Fenton, who is thirty-four, is not only ‘the most talented poet of his generation’, as Peter Porter has called him, but joins Seamus Heaney and Derek Mahon at the head of the pack. Poets are notoriously competitive and if I were Heaney or Mahon I’d be quaking.
These logistics of reputation are more significant than they appear. They take us further than the literary stock exchange or Rialto. A really good book of poems has a radioactive life beyond poetry: ‘there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle’ as Marianne More said. Poetry is literature