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This review is taken from PN Review 145, Volume 28 Number 5, May - June 2002.

FURY OF ZEUS ROBERT FRASER, The Chameleon Poet: A Life of George Barker (Cape) £25.00

I keep looking at the photograph of George Barker on the cover of this biography. If I didn't know he was a poet, I'd say he was a circus showman: an elephant trainer perhaps, or the man who can juggle with a dozen white dinner plates. The clothes are rumpled, but meticulously chosen; the stripes on the suit contrast with the bold check of the shirt and the diagonal lines on the loosely-knotted tie. A white triangle of handkerchief peers out from the breast pocket. The cloth cap is worn at a jaunty/rakish angle and the expression on the face is also jaunty/rakish, with a crooked half smile, bedroom eyes and an odd combination of belligerence and boyish charm. The body is lean and the hands are surprisingly big; they hang as limp as puppets at his side.

I remember being told about Barker when I was a child. He and my father used to go boozing together and, as I now learn, they also shared an addiction to amphetamines, which made for a chaotic combination with the booze. My father liked him, loved him even, and admired him enormously. He admired his poetry, especially the True Confession and he used to recite the one about Big Mumma 'Sitting as huge as Asia, seismic with laughter'. But I think what he admired above all else was Barker's anarchy and savagery; the fact that he managed to live his life without any physical boundaries: no job to be ...


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