Gavin Ewart James Fenton - Essay

James Fenton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Gavin Ewart] is a man who achieved a precocious fame in the '30s, and then went "silent." For the last decade or so he has been immensely productive in a way which very much goes against the contemporary grain. Here he is with his anthology, a pamphlet (The First Eleven), and a collection (Or Where a Young Penguin Lies Screaming). The anthology is good—far more varied and unusual than the Arts Council effort. The pamphlet is really nicely produced. The collection is excellent.

A particularly attractive quality of Mr. Ewart is his inventiveness, his genuine experimentalism. Much of the time he is out to amuse—with crackpot inventions like the "Semantic Limerick According to Doctor Johnson's Dictionary (Edition of 1765)."… (pp. 66-7)

At other times he can write at the opposite extreme, as in "The Gentle Sex", a cold and convincing exploration of the brutality of Ulster life. There are faults—in almost every poem there are faults, such as rich rhymes or whole lines which seem to have been put in for the sake of the form—but I have to say that I like Mr. Ewart's faults as much as his virtues. There is no sense that the stuff is being churned out. Rather, there is a hyperactive talent that must write. An enviable gift. (p. 67)

James Fenton, in Encounter (© 1978 by Encounter Ltd.), April, 1978.