Dear Felix Dennis, we date back to "Oz" magazine. You're rich and I'm poor, but we both write poetry. You are a fraudby Michael Horovitz / March 17, 2005 / Leave a comment
A Glass Half Full by Felix Dennis (Hutchinson, £6.99) Lone Wolf by Felix Dennis (Hutchinson, £8.99)
As you know, we go back long—if divergent—ways. In the late 1960s and early 1970s you coedited Oz, the rebellious hippie magazine to which I contributed the occasional poem. While you were choreographing squads of miniskirted teenyboppers to flog Oz up and down the King’s Road, I was taking “Live New Departures” jazz poetry circuses round the country. We’ve enjoyed close friendships and love affairs with some of the same people. For the last three decades you’ve been a very successful magazine publisher, and over the last four years an increasingly strident and public versifier. Your personal fortune is estimated in the region of £500m, whereas I survive, by the skin of what’s left of my teeth, on precariously financed poetry gigs and a state pension of £92.32 per month.
I’ve been studying your published verse collections and the razzmatazz around their promotion. Many of your claims—about poetry in general and about me in particular—are plain wrong. For example, the blurb of Lone Wolf, your second volume, declares that its predecessor, A Glass Half Full, “startled the British poetry establishment two years ago—not least because it has become the bestselling book of original verse for years,” a boast repeated in your preface and PR for Lone Wolf: “No one,” you declare, “sells 10,000 copies of verse in Britain.” But Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters alone has sold over 1m copies worldwide since its publication in 1998—and 530,000 of them in Britain. Heaney, Pam Ayres, Christopher Matthew, Carol Ann Duffy and plenty of others also consistently sell in the tens of thousands or more. As for startling the poetry establishment: if this were indeed what your debut volume had done, why would you have complained in a cover story in the Independent on Sunday’s “ABC” magazine that you “haven’t had a single review, apart from one” by me (hardly a pillar of the poetry establishment)? You went on in that feature to misquote me, much as you do in the preface to Lone Wolf, as having said, “This man is a philistine and until he stops rhyming he is going to stay a philistine.” If you check the Wall Street Journal of 3rd May 2004, you’ll discover that what I said was: “Felix has this maddeningly reactionary and philistine concern about rhyming,” a…