John Whitworth is one of those fattish, baldish, backward-looking, provincial poets in which England is so rich (perhaps too rich). His ninth collection, Being the Bad Guy, led Les Murray to describe Whitworth as ‘a wise and rueful virtuoso’. Too right, Les. His tenth collection, Girlie Gangs, was published by Enitharmon in 2012. You might also consider Writing Poetry published by A & C Black which is one of those how-to books. He is married and has two beautiful daughters and two fine cats. They all live (a good deal of the time anyway) in Canterbury.
Girlie Gangs contains poems published in Britain, Australia and The United States. Many of them have won prizes, including £5,000 from the Literary Review in 2011. Others can be found on the Internet read by the famous mystery man. ‘Intelligent and erudite but above all fun, John Whitworth’s verse takes no prisoners. Through ballades and pantoums, anagrams and acrostics, sonnets, classical elegies and rhyming haiku, he will show you what poems can do.’ At least that’s what his publisher says.
The book is widely available but if you want a signed copy send £9.99 to John Whitworth at his home address, 20 Lovell Road Rough Common Canterbury Kent CT2 9DG.
Girlie Gangs, (Enitharmon Press 2012, £9.99, ISBN 978-1-9075870-5-4)
(Intelligent and erudite but above all fun... he will show you what poems can do.) Loaded with irony and wit, Whitworth writes poems that have none of the drawbacks or intimidation of ‘high poetry’, but the formal sophistication and historical knowledge to continue its traditions.
Being the Bad Guy (Peterloo 2007 £7.95).
One of Les Murray’s TLS Books of the Year for 2007. He said John Whitworth is ‘Kent’s rococo rhymer and hyperbolist’ and you can’t say fairer than that, can you? Harry Chambers says ‘the brio and outrageously brilliant rhyming are up there with Ogden Nash’, but then he would, wouldn’t he? Fourteen of the poems won prizes in competitions, which must mean something, don’t you think?
Tennis and Sex and Death (Peterloo 1989 £5.95)
This is John Whitworth’s fourth collection and his first from Harry Chambers. Peter Reading in The Sunday Times calls it ‘witty, urbane, entertaining and infallibly precise’. John Lucas at New Statesman is ‘doubled up with helpless laughter'. You can’t say fairer than that, can you?
Landscape With Small Humans (Peterloo 1993 £6.95)
This autobiographical sequence evokes a fifties’ childhood, first in semi-rural Bakerlooland and then in an Edinburgh fiercely hostile to English incomers. Adam Thorpe in The Observer called it ‘a kind of Songs of Innocence and Experience filtered through a world of Fairy Soap, Ex-Lax and the King’s death’. It is the author’s personal favourite. Faber, thinking it was out of print, wanted to publish it in 2007. But it isn’t, and they can’t.
From The Sonnet History of Modern Poetry (Peterloo 1999 £7.95).
This is the definitive text of John Whitworth’s long-running series in Poetry Review published when Peter Forbes’ brilliant editorship had made that journal the most popular and widely-read poetry magazine in Britain. The ‘witty and acerbic’ verses and the splendid illustrations by Gerald Mangan make this ‘an essential handbook for all serious poets’.
The Whitworth Gun (Peterloo 2002 £9.99) (last few copies!).
The great Les Murray wrote ‘The poems are as smart and full of fun as a pair of glazed tap shoes. Whitworth is a wise and rueful virtuoso.’ Vernon Scannell in The Daily Telegraph agreed. On the other hand The Guardian critic hated it.
Writing Poetry (A & C Black 2001 £9.99).
Does modern poetry have to be difficult? Can it rhyme? Do I need a degree in English Literature to write it and is it OK to be funny? John Whitworth answers these and a thousand other questions in this popular and much-praised how-to handbook now in its second (revised) edition.
The Complete Poetical Works of Phoebe Flood (Hodder 1997 £3.50).
This popular and much recommended prize-winning volume of poems for children with illustrations by Lauren Child is still available from 20 Lovell Road Rough Common Canterbury CT2 9DG post free.
Making Love to Marilyn Monroe (Faber 2006 £9.99).
This is the paperback edition of what was The Faber Book of Blue Verse, an anthology published in 1990 to rather underwhelming critical acclaim. Two printings did however sell out within three months and it sneaked onto some best-seller lists, which just shows you how much critics know, doesn’t it? You can still get the hardback from John Whitworth for £14.99 (He has three left.).
Lovely Day for a Wedding (Secker and Warburg 1985 £2.00).
The last of three books of John Whitworth’s poems published by Secker and Warburg before the mass cull that followed Anthony Thwaite’s departure to Andre Deutsch. Gavin Ewart and Peter Porter both liked it which makes it a snip at the price from 20 Lovell Road, Rough Common, Canterbury, Kent CT2 9DG, post free.
latest: Girlie Gangs, Enitharmon
all poems featured on this site remains with the