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Success Stories

by Anthony Thwaite


ISBN 1 900564 58 0
Enitharmon Press, 2003
65pp, paperback
Retail price 7.95

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

Enitharmon Press calls itself "one of Britsin’s leading literary publishers", but cannot claim to be a household name. Neither can Anthony Thwaite, the author of this volume.

Enitharmon was founded in 1967 and named after a character from William Blake. Among its authors, the Press boasts such names as Alan Brownjohn, Kathleen Raine and Dannie Abse. What justifies our reviewing the output of such a publisher is its independence and its commitment to a genre where there are no big profits to be made. Despite enjoying a resurgence in recent years, poetry is regarded by the majority of people, even the majority of readers, as something apart, something to which they do not aspire. The children who are taught to write simple poems at school do not connect this activity in their minds with the appreciation of poetry, particularly modern poetry. For every book of poetry bought in the UK, there are probably a hundred or even a thousand novels (I don’t have any statistics at my fingertips). You might, if you are very very fortunate, make a fortune out of writing blockbuster novels; you will never make a fortune out of writing poetry. Even to make a living out of it, you would need to diversify, performing on stage or becoming so controversial that you are called upon to comment on almost everything.

To come to Anthony Thwaite. Mr Thwaite is known, in the highbrow literary circles in which he moves, as a "distinguished" poet; but he does not make a living at it. He has no pretensions; he is not controversial. He is a charming man, whom I have met and whose poetry I wanted to read and review, even though he did not ask me to. That might be a lesson to bear in mind for those who seek ho have their work reviewed in newspapers and magazines. Regrettably, literature is just as subject to the "who you know" principle as any other field of achievement (Tregolwyn Book Reviews being, of course, an exception – you can get absolutely anything reviewed here.)

This makes it a double pleasure to be able to say, sincerely, that I like Anthony Thwaite’s poems very much. He is much travelled, and the results of his experiences come to the surface readily. Though successful, he has no more confidence in himself than most of us who write. Witness the collection’s key poem, The Art of Poetry: Two Lessons, in which the man’s essential modesty rubs shoulders with his undoubted poetic gift. I loved the poems about archaeology, a science about which the young are often enthusiastic but the old are philosophical.

There is great humour, too, not the humour of a satirist but that of a mature man who is able to laugh at his own human failings and look back on his past follies with fondness. So that In 1936, for example, serious though the subject matter may be, is more of a personal statement than a bleak denunciation. And although he is about twenty years my senior, we are close enough in age for me to appreciate the maturity of his approach. On initial reading, I found Personally Speaking, in which he makes fun of his own short-sightedness (having mistaken the headline, "Anthrax Threat", for his own name), amusing but not particularly believable until, shortly afterwards, leafing through the book, I came across the word, "fart". Can’t be right, I thought, and sure enough it turned out to be "art" preceded by a bracket.

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