James Fenton Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

James Fenton is almost as well known as a journalist as he is as a poet. He began work in 1970 as a freelance writer, and in 1971, he joined the British weekly journal New Statesman. He went to Vietnam and Cambodia in 1973, and his account of the turmoil was published in poetry as The Memory of War and in prose as All the Wrong Places: Adrift in the Politics of Asia (1988). In 1983, he published You Were Marvelous, an account of his life as a journalist in Germany and as a theatrical critic in London. He continued to contribute to the press, discussing literary subjects and sometimes political matters. His collection of essays, The Snap Revolution, appeared in 1986, and The Strength of Poetry, his lectures while professor of poetry at Oxford University from 1995 to 1999, were published in 2001. From September, 2006, to May, 2008, he wrote a series of essays, “Things That Have Interested Me,” for The Guardian.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

James Fenton’s greatest contribution to the world of letters may lie in the fact that he has shown that art and the real world of politics are not separate from each other, and that the artist can be an important public commentator on the world. In 1968, Fenton’s first year at Oxford, he won the Newdigate Prize, the most important literary award available to undergraduates. His first collection, Terminal Moraine, won a Gregory Award. He became a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1983. In 1984, he won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. In 1994, he became the Oxford Professor of Poetry. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and, in 2007, was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. Known as a leading poet in Great Britain, he also contributes regularly to The New York Review of Books and other magazines and journals.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Grant, Damian. “The Voice of History in British Poetry, 1970-1984.” Etudes-Anglaise 38, no. 2 (April-June, 1985): 158-179. A commentary on Fenton’s historical poems and the various kinds thereof in the context of similar themes in other British poetry of the period.

Hulse, Michael. “The Poetry of James Fenton.” Antigonish Review 58 (Summer, 1984): 93-102. A general commentary on Fenton’s poetry up to the early 1980’s.

Kerr, Douglas. “James Fenton and Indochina.” Contemporary Literature 35 (Fall, 1994): 476-491. A discussion of the nature of Fenton’s experience in the Far East and the poetry and prose arising from that experience.

Metcalf, Stephen. “Informal Menace.” Review of Selected Poems. The New York Times Book Review, February 11, 2007, p. 9. Metcalf provides a brief but helpful review of Fenton’s 2006 Selected Poems.

Parker, Ian. “Auden’s Heir.” The New Yorker, July 25, 1994, 62-68. Fenton has been able to make use of certain elements in Auden’s work; a discussion of how he does it with success without being accused of imitation by critics.

Robinson, Alan. “James Fenton’s Narratives: Some Reflections on Postmodernism.” Critical Quarterly 29 (Spring, 1987): 81-93. Fenton’s poems often have a strong narrative shape; Robinson examines that aspect of his work in the light of contemporary critical definitions.

Stark, Ellen-Kreger. “An American’s Confession: On Reading James Fenton’s Out of Danger.” Critical Quarterly 36 (Summer, 1994): 106-110. A discussion of Fenton’s use of the narrator and the nature of the confessional aspect in some of the poems in Out of Danger.