Andrew Waterman

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Working on the Railways CAREER

Illustration: railway goods porter, Leicester 1968 (written-up in my ‘Railway Poems’)

More than an inkling of my life is in my poems. Here are career details.

I was born in 1940 in London, and except for two spells of wartime evacuation to Northamptonshire grew up in suburban London, in Woodford and Croydon.


In 1951 the 11-plus exam took me from primary school to the Trinity School of John Whitgift, Croydon, where most pupils were fee-payers, and which required attendance on Saturdays and membership of its Cadet Corps. Aside from such annoyances, I enjoyed fooling around, and cross-country running and middle-distance track athletics. I read voraciously, sometimes even books on the syllabus. Early in the second year of my sixth-form course, resistant to feeling on a conveyor-belt to Oxbridge, I summarily left school.

Life studies

From 1957 to 1963 I worked as a junior library-assistant in Woolwich, a kitchen porter in Jersey in the Channel Islands, a bank clerk in London’s City Road, in two London bookshops, and in two jobs as an accounts clerk. Throughout, I read literature avidly, and wrote successive drafts of novels, some lengthy, all abandoned as I felt I had outgrown what I was trying to do. Also during these years I wrote my earliest poems.

University education

In 1963, having obtained A-levels through solitary study, I began reading English at Leicester University, graduating with first-class honours in 1966. This had not resolved the question of a ‘career’. I was, as during the previous summers of my undergraduate years, working as a porter in the railway goods yard in Leicester when as the result of a chance meeting between George (G.S.) Fraser of the Leicester English staff and a Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, I was invited for interview to that College, and offered a Martin Senior Scholarship to read for a higher degree.

From 1966 to 1968 I enjoyed Oxford, while continuing to work each summer in the Leicester railway goodsyard. I was researching for a D.Phil thesis on the writings of the poet Edward Thomas. In August 1967 I first visited Ireland. Later that year I for the first time sent verse to a magazine, and it was taken for publication. My Oxford funding extended until 1969; but in Spring 1968 I applied for, and after interview was offered, a post, from 1 September, on the English staff of the just-founded New University of Ulster. Shortly after taking up this position, by now getting more poems accepted by magazines, and wishing to concentrate on this, I disenrolled myself from my Oxford D.Phil..

University teaching

From 1968 until 1997 I was a member of the English staff at the University of Ulster (as its name became after, in the 1980s, its merger with the former Ulster Polytechnic). I taught mainly, though not exclusively, nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, and from the 1980s ran the M.A. in Modern Literature. In 1979 I was promoted to Senior Lecturer in English. From 1980 I was for four years External Examiner in English at the University of Surrey.

In 1968-69 I was located at the Magee College campus in Derry, as in that city the thirty years of Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’ began, with demonstrations, conflict, destruction and in August 1969 gunfire and the British army on the streets. That October I was moved to the main campus at Coleraine. During three decades in Ireland I was often (sometimes on study leaves) back in England, mostly in London and Manchester, and from 1984 regularly in Lincoln visiting my son, also holidaying with him elsewhere.

In 1997, when government cutbacks throughout the UK constrained universities to devise schemes for shedding staff in terms advantageous to the individuals, I took the opportunity for early retirement from my university career. Writing, like reading, need have no retirement age.

Present situation

In 1998 I moved from Ireland to Norfolk, first to Cromer on the north coast, then in 2000 into the city of Norwich, where I now live.

Since 1998 I have learnt Italian and been reading that language’s glorious literature. I frequently visit Italy, and in particular since 2001 have annually spent much time in Sicily, including renting an apartment for several weeks each year in Lipari in the Aeolian Islands.

I am a member of the Italian Cultural Institute, and of East Anglian Writers.

Literary awards and honours

My first collection of poems, Living Room (1974) was a Poetry Book Society Choice (the judges at the time being Philip Larkin and Dannie Abse).

Out For the Elements (1981) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

Selected Poems (1986) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

‘Out for the Elements’, the long title-poem of the collection to which it gives its name, won the £1000 prize in the Observer/Arvon Poetry Competition in 1981 (the judges were Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney).

In 1997 I was shortlisted for one of the £15,000 Paul Hamlyn Foundation Awards to Artists (the only year these have been for poets).

I am a recipient of the Cholmondeley Award to Poets.

Greek comedy theatre masks, Lipari BOOKS AND OTHER PUBLICATIONS

This illustration shows 4th-century BC Greek comedy theatre masks from Lipari in the Aeolian Islands.

Here I list my collections of poetry, a reviewer’s comment after each title, an anthology I edited, a few of the more significant anthologies including my poetry, and some general information about my pubished prose.

As well as their book publication, my poems have appeared in a huge range of magazines, within and beyond the UK, and been broadcast on radio and television.

Collections of Poetry

The Captain’s Swallow (Carcanet, 2007)

Andrew Waterman’s latest volume is set among the coves and furrowed headlands of Sicily’s spectacular Aeolian archipelago. But Waterman eschews picture-postcard prettiness for a volatile, elemental beauty… Fishing boats and patron saints form just one aspect of a picture that also includes provincial elections, Juventus matches, mopeds and mobiles – and the poetry is the richer and more convincing for it. Nevertheless, there is a timelessness to the islanders’ lives that derives from the way their experiences are shaped by their unique environment. There is a continuity here that seduces both poet and reader. The Guardian.

Collected Poems 1959-1999 (Carcanet, 2000)

‘The “story” that emerges through these poems is moving and inspiring and the craftsmanship in its telling is superb. Even as it explores the darkest themes of the arbitrariness of human existence and the innate violence of the human species, brims wth a vitality and an in-spite-of-itself optimism born of a keen eye and ear for what is beautiful. Thirty years in Northern Ireland observing and sometimes embroiled in conflict is I imagine symptomatic rather than generative of Waterman’s commitment to understanding suffering… His diversely ranging tones which swoop between moments of elevation and conversational idiom are actually a hallmark that makes for exciting contrast. Some recent poems probe difficult questions of a religious/spiritual nature’ Marita Over, Ambit.

The End of the Pier Show (Carcanet, 1995)

‘Waterman’s generous, amused sense of disproportion, while not flinching from the pathos of events, directs the reader to iconic compensations or causes for celebration. The considerable force of these poems derives from the recurring tension between a Keatsian desire to freeze the perfect moment in ecstatic lyricism and Hardyesque fidelity to everyday bathos.’ Tim Dooley, Times Literary Supplement.

In the Planetarium Carcanet, 1990)

‘His sequence about fatherhood and separation continually rings true; in “Access Again” he catches visits to see his child with painful accuracy.’ Alan Brownjohn, Sunday Times.

Selected Poems (Carcanet, 1986, Poetry Book Society Recommendation)

‘Waterman takes an even greater delight than Larkin in things…His evocations of London and Ulster life are vivid and invigorating. His imagination teems with the kind of detail one expects from a novelist; to find it coupled to such metrical dexterity is rare indeed… If anybody could write a contemporary “Don Juan”, it appears that Andrew Waterman could. Like Byron, he is a great entertainer. For sheer witty perceptiveness, I recommend “The Interviews”… But also like Byron Waterman is essentially a serious poet.’ John Greening, Poetry Review.

Out for the Elements (Carcanet, 1981, Poetry Book Society Recommendation)

‘”Out for the Elements” is a rare thing: a long poem which is highly readable, as well as thoroughly contemporary in its techniques and mode of intelligence. It also goes with sensitivity to the heart of several problems that beset modern Britain… If someone in a century or so would like to know what it was like to live in Britain in the 1980s, he could do worse than turn to “Out for the Elements”.’ Grevel Lindop, Times Literary Supplement.

‘It strikes me as one of the central poems of our time.’ Neil Powell, ‘Waterman and the Elements’, Helix (Australia).

Over the Wall (Carcanet, 1980)

‘His third and best collection to date… One of the most skilful and moving of the poems, “Pictures from Donegal”, underlines both his love of Irish landscape and his deep concern for people. Waterman is an incisive observer of others, and his use of dialogue is always accomplished and convincing.’ Dennis O’Driscoll, Hibernia.

From the Other Country (Carcanet, 1977)

To find room among the drab facts of the matter for a delicate lyricism is a fine refutation of those who “…find / bestial or brutal our banalities, / and do not see the detail beneath stark outlines” (“From the Other Country”),. It makes Waterman’s book a splendid and brave piece of work.’ Christopher Hope, London Magazine.

Living Room (Marvell Press, 1974, Poetry Book Society Choice)

‘The strength comes from Waterman’s skill in dramatising the collision of human poterntial and waste… Such variety, held together by consistent   seriousness, is rare at the best of times.’ John Mole, Phoenix.

Anthology edited

The Poetry of Chess
(Anvil Press, 1981)

‘Most persistent of all is the analogy between concepts of chess praxis and the characteristic traps and agonies of life itself, especially in its moral, erotic and dialectical aspects: the fork, the pin, the skewer, the opposition, the stalemate, the poisoned pawn, the discovered check, the Zugzwang. (Zugzwang is a position in which whoever is to move has a grave disadvantage. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)… Andrew Waterman has chosen his material sensibly, and contributes a very creditable introductory essay.’ Martin Amis, Observer.

Some salient poetry anthologies including my work

Modern Poets Five,
ed. Jim Hunter (Faber, 1981) This the fifth in Faber’s series of anthologies each featuring five or six post-1900 British or American poets, showcases a substantial sample of my work, along with that of C.H. Sisson, Craig Raine, Robert Wells, Tom Paulin and Andrew Motion.)

Some Contermporary Poets of Britain and Ireland, ed. Michael Schmidt (Carcanet, 1983)

Post-War British Poets, ed. Dannie Abse (Hutchinson 1989)

The Wearing of the Black, ed. Padraic Fiacc (Blacstaff Press, 1974)

Poems in Focus, ed. Christopher Martin (Oxford University Press, 1985)

London Magazine 1961-1985, a selection from 25 years of the magazine, ed. Alan Ross (Chatto & Windus, 1986)

Elected Friends: poems for and about Edward Thomas, ed. Anne Harvey (Enitharmon Press, 1991)

A Rage for Order: poetry of the Northern Ireland Troubles, ed. Frank Ormsby (Blackstaff Press, 1992)

Earth Songs: an anthology of contemporary eco-poetry, ed. Peter Abbs (Green Books/Resurgence, 2002)

Published Prose

I have published much prose, mostly literary-critical but also a few purely personal pieces, in the form of book reviews, many longer articles for magazines and periodicals, and chapters contributed to books.

Among many other journals, I have written prose for Critical Quarterly, The Iowa Review (USA), London Magazine, PN Review, Poetry Review, the Spectator, The Thomas Hardy Journal, Times Literary Supplement, Visible Language (USA).

Books I have contributed chapters to include On the Novel, ed. B.S. Benedikz (Dent, 1971), British Poetry Since 1970, ed. Peter Jones and Michael Schmidt (Carcanet, 1980), Living Out of London, ed. Alan Ross (London Magazine Editions, 1984), Seamus Heaney, ed. Elmer Andrews (Macmillan, 1992).

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