Photo: ‘Cobb Storm’ by Peter Wiles
John Fowles (1926–2005) is widely regarded as one of the most innovative and important English novelists of the second half of the twentieth century. Yet Fowles wrote poetry before he embarked on the fiction he would become known for and he remained a prolific poet throughout his life. Selected Poems contains the best of Fowles’s poetry, much of it previously unpublished, revealing the remarkable depth and range of this side of his talent.
His first published novel, The Collector (1963), was a major critical as well as commercial success, and achieved bestseller status. The 1965 film version directed by William Wyler also proved to be very popular. In 1964 he brought out his first non-fiction book, The Aristos, a personal philosophical manifesto. This was followed by his magnum opus, The Magus, a highly original novel set in Greece on which he had been working for many years. In 1965 he moved to Lyme Regis on the south-west coast, a town that featured in his next novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), a postmodernist take on Victorian fiction that also became a bestseller. The 1981 film version, with a screenplay by Harold Pinter, directed by Karel Reisz and starring Meryl Streep, was a triumphant success. Subsequent works of fiction are The Ebony Tower (1974), Daniel Martin (1977), Mantissa (1982) and A Maggot (1985). He also published a number of non-fiction books, but his only book of poetry, simply called Poems, came out in the USA (but not in the UK) in 1973.
This selection of his poetic work includes two major sequences dating from the early part of his career, both of which draw on his time living in Greece and his interest in Greek mythology. The other poems included, largely unpublished and roughly in chronological order, are very varied in content, form and technique, and culminate in a sequence written in hospital towards the end of his life. Fowles was always interested in verse translation and adaptation, and the book concludes with a small sample of this side of his literary achievement.