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

The Florio Society Adam Thorpe
When it was confirmed that I would take the Oxbridge exam, my English teacher, Andrew Davis, decided I should try for Magdalen College, Oxford. ‘The first-year tutor is a poet, John Fuller. Perfect for you. And he’s an Auden specialist as well as keen on the Augustans.’ I had secretly found Auden too knotty, and we had concentrated on Pope and Johnson for what felt like much of the year: what thrilled me was that Andrew had noticed I wrote poetry.

The thought of the Oxbridge interview terrified me. Published poets occupied some unimaginable higher realm where Keats presided with his blood-spotted shirt, the living and the dead indistinguishable from one another. Among others, Lowell, Plath and Hughes were my contemporary demi-gods, joined by Geoffrey Hill through my chance discovery of Mercian Hymns in the school library, a volume I can confidently say changed my life – or the part of it dedicated to writing.

Living in far-off Cameroon between terms, I had very little access to books beyond those in the school and in the shops in town, and these were pre-Internet days. John Fuller’s The Mountain in the Sea had only just been published, and I hadn’t seen it, although Epistles to Several Persons was on the Memorial Library’s shelves. I may have come across his poem ‘The Cook’s Lesson’ in an anthology, but its opening line made a deep impression: ‘When the king at last could not manage another erection…’ Such a deep impression, in fact, that it was echoing in my head when I entered the ...

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