Selected Poems

James Fenton

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

208 Pages



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Selected Poems is the first full selection of Fenton's poems to be published, and represents the whole range of his work from light-verse to political and from love poems to opera libretti, from the passionate political poems that launched him into fame to the intimate illuminations of love—and loss of love—that characterize his later work. Fenton's poetry has always been marked by formal daring, wit, and an abiding empathy for the victims of war and political oppression. This book is the most definitive collection from "the most talented poet of his generation" (The Observer [London]).


Praise for Selected Poems

"Fenton remains an extraordinary poet with something original to disclose. The publication of his Selected Poems gives American readers an excuse to lay encomiums aside and discover Fenton for themselves."—Stephen Metcalf, The New York Times Book Review

"Fenton, a former war correspondent in Southeast Asia, is one of the few poets around who has proved to have the nerve and the ability to ride the elusive edge in poetry between personal emotions and a public consciousness about war and its consequences . . . When it comes to a bitterly ironic self-awareness of passion and its losses, there's no one like him . . . There is a tough-minded unsettledness that cuts across the decades of Fenton's work, a hard-edged, sometimes brittle clarity that, in turn, unsettles the reader. His candor makes it appealing."—Allan M. Jalon, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

"Fenton's poetry is rhythmically powerful, full of skillfully deployed repetitions of sound and word, and very largely concerned with the experiences of common people. This is fully true of his earlier poems on war and its aftermath—'A German Requiem,' on how war's enormities can make unspeakable, if not unrealizable, any attempted atonement; 'Children in Exile,' on the displaced memories of the youngest Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees; and the many poems on the killing fields of Cambodia—and of the songlike protests in the middle of this selection, whose immediate subjects range world history from semilegendary Persia to Tiananmen; in their bitterness and intensity as well as their steady tramp, these suggest Brecht, and a strong anti-Christian current courses through them. All of this is highly accomplished verse made greater by the resonant simplicity of Fenton's diction . . . [T]he concluding new poems concerned with a dissolved affair or marriage plumb individual psychology more deeply than anything before them. Throughout, Fenton's prosodic skill is consummate."—Ray Olson, Booklist

"Proving there are still plenty of poetic miles left in rhythm and rhyme, as well as in Larkinesque cynicism, this career-spanning collection offers an introduction to the work of a leading British poet and former professor of poetry at Oxford. Love and menace are the principal muses for Fenton's dark wit. Whether describing how an ex is safe because she's no longer loved ('What belongs to the wind and rain/ Is out of danger from the storm') or narrating war's awful arithmetic ('One man shall wake from terror to his bed/ Five men shall be dead'), the control behind these lines is often terrifying. Many of the most powerful poems memorialize the lingering effects of war. Fenton has a knack for capturing awful thoughts and moments, which one wants to forget but can't: 'he forgot to say to me/ How an honest man should die.' There's also a punch to the love poems; in one singsong piece, a husband commands his wife to be happy, or he'll leave. Also included is the libretto for The Love Bomb, in which a woman leaves her lover for a cult, then tries to recruit him. It's hard to argue with formal, deeply biting lyricism done so well."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • James Fenton

  • James Fenton was born in Lincoln, England, in 1949. His volumes of poetry include Terminal Moraine, The Memory of War, Children in Exile, and Out of Danger. He was Oxford Professor of Poetry from 1994 to 1999.

  • James Fenton © Dominique Nabokov
    James Fenton