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This article is taken from PN Review 233, Volume 43 Number 3, January - February 2017.

Fun & True Robert Selby
AS A RESEARCHER of one of his protégés, I encountered John Fuller’s considerable generosity first vicariously, then directly. I first met John in the autumn of 2012 to discuss the subject of my PhD thesis, his former student and late friend Mick Imlah. The information he kindly provided formed the backbone of my doctoral essay – as it does this piece, for John’s transformative effect on Imlah’s poetry career is doubtless emblematic of the impact he has had on many budding young writers going back half a century.

On Tuesday 9 December 1975, the nineteen-year-old Mick Imlah attended his Oxford entrance interview; on the panel was thirty-eight-year-old Magdalen fellow and tutor John Fuller, who found the Dulwich schoolboy shy but nonetheless exuding the dexterous intellect evident in his entrance papers. Imlah was duly awarded a Demyship to study English at Magdalen, and the following autumn, in his first year, John was his tutor for Victorians and Moderns. While re-reading the poetry of Robert Browning in order to teach it on this course, John had, he told me when we met, ‘suddenly myself seen all of Browning’s poetry as a kind of model for the sort of thing we should be doing now: no longer the rapt lyric, but something more fictive, more teasing’. John had outlined what he meant by this in a 1989 pamphlet of Chatto poets:

I’ve always believed that poetry is better when it is entertainment rather than rapt self-communion, and my metaphor for that entertainment is Palace of Varieties rather than ...

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