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This interview is taken from PN Review 40, Volume 11 Number 2, November - December 1984.

in conversation with James Fenton Grevel Lindop
References in the text are to James Fenton's The Memory of War and Children in Exile (Penguin, 1983).


Grevel Lindop - Your work has often been linked with your admiration for Auden. How important has his influence been?


James Fenton - I think the question of influence is misunderstood. People say and think - and probably rightly - that one is less a poet the more one owes to a previous writer. People haven't always felt that. And I didn't feel that at the time I started writing. I was perfectly happy to imitate Auden at times and to follow what seemed to me a possible programme he had set for poets, a possible area of interest they might include in their poetry, a possible way of writing a line- those long lines which, when I started writing, very few people used, so they always identified this as a late Audenesque line. It seemed to me that Auden had invented a certain kind of discursive poem which could range over a huge number of topics or areas of intellectual interest. Nobody had taken up this possibility he had offered. So it's not a question of being unable to get Auden out of your blood-stream. Not like the effect of reading Dylan Thomas! It is a question of going to school with a master and beginning that way. I think that is quite a reasonable, genuine approach. Of course critics are able to say: ...


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