The Harry Ransom Center has acquired the archive of English poet James Fenton, whose body of work reflects on the political upheavals of our time, including the regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the suppression of political protest in China’s Tiananmen Square, and Northern Ireland’s fratricidal bloodletting.
His papers include notebooks and loose manuscript and typescript drafts spanning his career as a journalist, critic, and poet. Letters within the Fenton papers document his lifelong friendship with his Oxford tutor, John Fuller, and with leading writers of his generation, including Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Christopher Hitchens, Ian McEwan, Redmond O’Hanlon and Craig Raine, as well as with his partner, Darryl Pinckney.
Fenton received the Whitbread Prize for Poetry for “Out of Danger” in 1994, and that same year he was elected to Oxford’s prestigious Chair of Poetry. In 2007, Fenton was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.
James Fenton’s politically aware and morally rigorous poems are a powerful response to the continuing story of violent upheaval in our recent history. In his poems, James Fenton bears witness to the collective traumas of the twentieth century, and for generations to come his poems will be read and reread for the way they transform that experience into art.—STEPHEN ENNISS
Fenton’s papers join those of American and British poets such as Dylan Thomas, Marianne Moore, Robert Lowell, Louis MacNeice, Anne Sexton, James Tate, John Balaban, Billy Collins, and Frederick Seidel. Once cataloging is complete, the papers will be available for teaching and research use.
“I only hope that now or at some time in the future, someone will find a clue, a piece of a jigsaw or something that answers an unanticipated need and be glad to put this archive to good use,” Fenton said.
By James Fenton
This is the wind, the wind in a field of corn.
Great crowds are fleeing from a major disaster
Down the long valleys, the green swaying wadis,
Down through the beautiful catastrophe of wind.
Families, tribes, nations and their livestock
Have heard something, seen something. An expectation
Or a gigantic misunderstanding has swept over the hilltop
Bending the ear of the hedgerow with stories of fire and sword.
I saw a thousand years pass in two seconds.
Land was lost, languages rose and divided.
This lord went east and found safety.
His brother sought Africa and a dish of aloes.
Centuries, minutes later, one might ask
How the hilt of a sword wandered so far from the smithy.
And somewhere they will sing: ‘Like chaff we were borne
In the wind.’ This is the wind in a field of corn.