To James Fenton

By John Fuller b. 1937 John Fuller
The poet’s duties: no need to stress   
The subject’s dullness, nonetheless   
Here’s an incestuous address
      In Robert Burns’ style
To one whom all the Muses bless   
      At Great Turnstile.

I’ve no excuses for this theme.
Prescription is less popular than dream   
And little rhymes, God knows, can seem   
      Much too laconic,
Bollinger’s visionary gleam
      Turned gin-and-tonic.

But ssch! you know and understand
The way these verses have been planned:   
Gritty like little bits of sand
      Not shining quartz;
No pulsing from a higher gland
      Just random thoughts.

Let’s start by thinking of objectives.   
Poets hate to have directives:
They’re on their own, not on collectives,   
      Share and share about,
And what inspires their best invectives   
      Is what they care about.

You, James, collapsed upon our sofa   
As though being driven by a chauffeur,   
Won’t fail to tell us what you go for:
      Managerial boobs
And answers that you won’t take no for   
      From Fine Tubes.

Reporters never throw in towels.
Their prose is written from the bowels.   
Ottava rima about owls
      Printed by Sycamore
Is worlds away from Enoch Powell’s
      Plans for the blackamoor.

But are you James Cameron or Flecker?
Are you a maker or a trekker?
What is the nature of your Mecca,
      Your verum pulchrum?
I’m glad, of course, that you’re with Secker
      And not with Fulcrum.

Poet and traveller have quarrelled
And now you canter where you carolled.
We’re waiting still for your Childe Harold,
      Though quests in Poland
Find you fixated and apparelled
      More like Childe Roland.

It is impressive, I agree,
Although I know it’s not for me.   
I take the windfalls from the tree,   
      I’m much too lazy,
The prisons that I want to see   
      By Piranesi.

You say that Oxford has no marrow,   
Sucked dry by Trevor-Roper, Sparrow,
And others of reaction’s farrow
      In their fat cloister,
Though if my eye is just as narrow   
      It may be moister.

We never see our feelings through,   
And weeping only makes us blue.   
It may be beautiful and true
      But it’s not action,
And nothing the bourgeoisie can do   
      Gives satisfaction.

How can we alter our behaviour?   
Should we deny our gravy’s gravier?   
Leave Cleopatra for Octavia?
      My life is inner,
And someone I don’t think a saviour   
      Is B. F. Skinner.

Avoid that fashionable flock:
To be refitted in their dock
Your common-sense must take a knock   
      As it took a course on
The reflexes of frogs, and Locke,
      And P. F. Strawson.

Much of the Left we can ignore   
(Sheer anarchy I don’t adore).   
The trendy educate the poor
      In greed and fear,
While Labour’s entered on the war   
      Of Jenkins’ ear.

No. Righteous more than He who Hath,   
More reasonable than New Math,
Momier than the Mome Rath
      In their outgrabing,
Glossing the Variorum Plath
      From Krafft-Ebing,

Apostles of determinism
Whose hero’s Mao or Virgil Grissom
Won’t interest your mind one rissom:   
      You’re too empirical.
What about Neo-Imagism?
      Impossibly lyrical.

Such knowing brevity needs patience:   
As unfastidious Croatians
Upon quite intimate occasions
      Shun body-talc,
So leave your interpersonal relations   
      To Colin Falck.

For poetry to have some merit he   
Requires it to display sincerity,
Each pronoun to convince posterity
      With deep emotion
And an invigorating verity
      Like hair-lotion.

Well, that’s unfair. I’m glad he lives.   
Just think of the alternatives!
Those whose verse resembles sieves   
      Or a diagram,
And foul-mouthed transatlantic spivs   
      Wooing Trigram.

For they are all still with us, James,
Fiddling among the flames,
Brandishing the brittle fames
      They soon arrive at.
It’s better not to mention names:
      They’ll wince in private.

Orating offspring of Urania
(No fault of yours that they’re not brainier)   
Have an immodest dogged mania
      For autobiography
Disguised in concrete or the zanier
      Forms of typography.

The wide-eyed audience they’re rooking   
Would secretly prefer a booking
From a quartet like the backward-looking   
      Rank Ailanthus
They’d jump to hear what’s really cooking   
      With the Black Panthers.

Whatever props the poet uses,
Whether he accepts, accuses
Or gives up, he must know his Muse is   
      A sensible girl.
Even some antics of Ted Hughes’s
      Make her hair curl.

And so you need a form to play   
About in but which will convey   
Something of what you want to say
      Without evasion,
Adjusting like the Vicar of Bray
      To each occasion.

The size you haven’t found as yet.   
What Nabokov calls the ‘triolet’
Is much too trim a maisonette
      To dawdle in,
Unlike your shabby Cloisters set   
      In Magdalen,

Which made your poetry much dandier,   
Much like ottava rima, handier.
You needed in its chilly grandeur   
      To turn the fire on
For times when you felt even randier   
      Than Lord Byron.

Still, you found sonnets quite inspiring   
Although some rhymes like ancient wiring
Showed the circuits could prove tiring   
      (Though not unduly,
And no one could be more admiring   
      Than Yours Truly).

So carry on: your talents hum.
No one will ever find you dumb
While you avoid the slightly rum
      Like the White Goddess
Or Black Mountain (and don’t become   
      Roger Woddis).

I’ll send a sub to the IS
(Please let me know the right address)   
I shan’t turn up, but I confess
      I’m not a traitor.
I just don’t want to think the less   
      Of Teresa Hayter.

Some day I’ll join you in the street
Where suffering and truth must meet:   
It isn’t easy not to feel effete
      This side of anguish,
When those who can’t choose what to eat   
      Don’t speak our language.

Meanwhile we have to try to bring   
Some order to that circus ring
Where people think and feel and sing,   
      For at its centre
There’s no escape from anything,   
      And we must enter.

John Fuller, “To James Fenton” from Collected Poems, published by Chatto & Windus. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited, http://www.randomhouse.co.uk.

Source: Collected Poems (Chatto & Windus, 1996)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet John Fuller b. 1937

POET’S REGION England

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Social Commentaries, Popular Culture, Poetry & Poets, Humor & Satire

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 John  Fuller

Biography

A prolific poet, novelist, children’s writer, critic, and editor, John Fuller has written or edited nearly 50 books, including more than a dozen collections of poetry. Fuller was born in Kent, England, and his father was the poet Roy Fuller. John Fuller was mentored by W.H. Auden and also influenced by Eliot, Graves, and Stevens. His poetry displays a virtuosic ease within the constraints of formal, metered verse; it is a poetry . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Social Commentaries, Popular Culture, Poetry & Poets, Humor & Satire

POET’S REGION England

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.