John James

Photo credit: author’s archive

John James was born in 1939 in Cardiff. He attended Bristol University, studying philosophy and English literature, and continued to postgraduate work at the University of Keele. After living and teaching in Cambridge for many years, he was recently made head of communication studies at Anglia Polytechnic University.

James is the author of twenty-one collections of poetry; most notably Collected Poems (Salt, 2002) which gathers the majority of James’ work into one collection. He was a founder of the poetry journal The Resuscitator in Bristol in 1963 and became the Arts Council Creative Writing Fellow, at the University of Sussex between 1978 and 79.

With a steady output of published material since the 1960’s, James has honed his poetic craft to a degree of fineness that sets a distinct benchmark among British poets. With a style that hovers easily between the lyrical and romantic, before veering effortlessly into the experimental, James’ poetry is exciting, thought-provoking and sincere.

In a review of James’ Collected Poems by Charles Bainbridge for The Guardian, he discusses James’ writing style and the suggested influences within his work, he states:

‘There is also the presence of the Romantic poets running throughout his career, especially in the poems that celebrate the Welsh landscape. We see this in the early “Exultation”, an adaptation of the 12th-century Welsh poet Hywel ap Owain Gwynedd, and in the brilliant ” . . . or as we wheel / down over Crickley” with its wonderful opening lines. At his best James can sustain the kind of lyric flight that places him firmly in the tradition of the Coleridge of the “Conversation Poems” and the Wordsworth of the Two-Part Prelude.

– ‘Review: Collected Poems by John James’, The Guardian.

His Avant Grade style brought him to prominence in the 1970’s, but his style is not exclusive to the experimental and his more recent work surveyed the social upheaval of Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980’s. His oeuvre extends to the physical and sensual experiences of life and is often charged with emotion and a deftness of touch, which exhilarates and illuminates the subject matter. Over several books and numerous chapbooks and pamphlets, James’ command of the English language and delicacy of touch explores all the aspects of the human appetite, from sweeping depths of emotion, savage humour and aesthetic appreciations of the gastronomic and the artistic.

Within our anthology, Atlantic Drift, we feature a diverse selection of James’ work, in addition to his recent ‘ATheory of Poetry’, which outlines James’ personal poetics:

‘& in this act of obliteration

performed in a fusion of

calculation cynicism and fervour

the poem will suddenly realise itself’

– ‘A Theory of Poetry’, Atlantic Drift.


Read more of Charles Bainbridge’s review of James’ Collected Poems here:

To purchase a copy of Atlantic Drift (currently on special offer) visit Arc Publications’ website: