You may be wondering who I am and what this website is all about. Well, here goes!
I was born in Liverpool and educated at Oxford, where I read English. During my time as a student I started writing poetry seriously and worked with Michael Schmidt, a fellow-undergraduate, with whom for a time I co-edited Carcanet – which was then a magazine and not a publishing house.
When Carcanet began publishing pamphlets, my first booklet of poems, Against the Sea, was among the earliest things they published. I have had a long and happy relationship with Carcanet Press and its magazine, PN Review, ever since.
After two years of postgraduate research at Wadham and Wolfson Colleges, Oxford, I moved to Manchester (where I still live) to lecture at the University, ending (30 years later) as Professor of Romantic and Early Victorian Studies. In 1977 I met and fell in love with my muse and future wife, Amanda, and the same year I published my first full-length collection of poems, Fools’ Paradise. That book has been followed by five other books of poems: Tourists (1987), A Prismatic Toy (1991), Selected Poems (2000) and – published by WAVE Books in Australia – the first four sections of my long poem-in-progress on the life of the Buddha, Touching the Earth. My new major collection, Playing With Fire, was published by Carcanet Press in 2006.
In the late 1970s I became interested in Thomas De Quincey, ‘the English Opium-Eater’, essayist and friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge. I wrote a biography of him, published in 1981 as The Opium-Eater: A Life of Thomas De Quincey. Later I edited his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Other Writings for the Oxford World’s Classics series in 1985, and later still I piloted The Works of Thomas De Quincey, a 21-volume complete edition of his writings, produced by a team of eleven editors under my co-ordination and published in 2000-03.
Alongside this work I published in 1993 A Literary Guide to the Lake District, a systematic and – I hope – entertaining guide to the area’s literary connections from the earliest times to the present day. It won the ‘Lakeland Book of the Year’ award in 1994. A new updated edition appeared in 2005 from Sigma Press.
I’ve written frequently for the Times Literary Supplement over the past twenty years, and have reviewed poetry, biography, Romantic editions, fiction, exhibitions and – most often – theatre. I have, in fact, written for the TLS on everything from wallpaper to the Marx Brothers (though as Groucho might have pointed out, nowadays I generally use a keyboard). Currently I also write essays and reviews for a range of magazines including The London Magazine, Stand, PN Review, Poetry London and Temenos Academy Review.
In 1983 I met the poet and scholar Kathleen Raine (1908-2003), who started publishing my poetry and other work in her review Temenos. When the journal was revived for its second series as Temenos Academy Review I acted as deputy editor, and when Kathleen Raine relinquished the journal in 2000 I became editor, a post which I held until 2003. During the same period I acted as Academic Director of The Temenos Academy, an educational charity founded by Kathleen Raine to offer ‘teaching in philosophy and the arts in the light of the spiritual traditions of east and west’.
I believe that for the practice of poetry or any other art, or even for living a reasonably sane life, it is vital to have contact with the ‘deep imagination’ – the place where our individual insight and creativity connects with universal archetypes and spiritual dimensions. My work for Temenos hopes to foster this. In 1997 I edited The White Goddess by Robert Graves to make this important and inspiring book accessible in an accurate text to readers and poets. For more than twenty years I have practised (and at times taught) meditation under the auspices of the Samatha Trust. I see all these activities, together with my creative work, as tending in the same general direction. The ‘Links’ on this website will supply more information if you need it.
In 2001 I left the University of Manchester to write full time. Since then I have produced an updated second edition of A Literary Guide to the Lake District(Sigma 2005); and a further book of poems, Playing With Fire (Carcanet 2006). The collection gathers together poems I’ve written over the past decade or so and also has a particular focus on sexuality and the erotic, an area I felt I wanted to explore in more detail. (For some background to this, you might like to read my essay ‘Strippers’which I hope to put in as a separate page on this website soon.)
I’m a keen salsa dancer, and my travel book, Travels on the Dance Floor, describes my journey in 2007 around Latin America and the Caribbean in pursuit of the best salsa music and dance – a journey on which I met the most amazing variety of people, and had a string of adventures, good and bad. The book was chosen as Radio 4’s Book of the Week in August 2008 and shortlisted as Authors’ Club Best Travel Book in 2009.
I’m now working on a new collection of poems, provisionally entitled ‘Luna Park’. My other major project is a new biography, Charles Williams: The Last Magician (contracted to Oxford University Press). Williams was, I believe, a great poet, writing on Arhurian themes, but he has been largely forgotten. He was also an occultist, a Christian theologian, a dramatist and author of seven extraordinary novels which still have a ‘cult’ following. I want to revive interest in him and his work. The biography is a very big undertaking – he was a complex and protean man who left a mountain of written material behind him – but I am working at it as fast as I reasonably can and hope to have a draft by the end of 2010 or thereabouts.
As well as having a busy writing and research programme I give frequent poetry readings, lectures, talks and so on in the UK and elsewhere. I am always happy to contribute to conferences or other events and I have plenty of experience in appearing on radio, TV and video. If you would like to discuss a project, please email me. I’m especially happy to talk about poetry, Romanticism, landscape and environment, sexuality, spirituality or any combination of these.
I hope you’ll enjoy this website and that you’ll explore some of the links it offers.