Graham Fawcett

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photo: Birgitta Johansson

writer, teacher, translator and broadcaster


telephone: 020 7405 3997




                                        Graham Fawcett at The Poetry School

During seventeen very happy and fulfilling years (1998-2015) as a tutor for the Poetry School, Graham provided a link between Poetry School groups of poets and readers on the one hand and, on the other, the significant books of the poetry canon worldwide in English and translation and from antiquity to the present.

He wrote and taught poetry courses of between 10 and 30 weeks designed to encourage the reading of poetry past and present from around the world.

                                                                           Heaney to Homer and Back (30 weeks)


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Heaney, Lorca, Rilke, Cavafy, Dickinson, Baudelaire, Pushkin, Leopardi, Milton,  Shakespeare (poems), Dante, The Nibelungenlied, Early Chinese Lyric Poetry, Vergil, The Kalevala,

Homer, Horace, Ovid, Beowulf, La Chanson de Roland, Chaucer, Camoes, Whitman, Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Pound, Akhmatova, MacDiarmid, Neruda, Walcott    

                                                                                                                          (Images: Seamus Heaney, Homer, Derek Walcott)


                                                                  Hughes to Gilgamesh and Back (30 weeks)


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Hughes, Plath, Seferis, Tsvetaeva, Frost, Rimbaud, Goethe, Basho, Donne, Petrarch, Rumi, The Battle of Maldon poet, Catullus, Pindar, The Epic of Gilgamesh poet,  Sappho, Lucretius, Kalidasa, The El Cid poet, The Romance of the Rose poets, The Gawain poet, Ariosto, Spenser, Hölderlin, Barrett Browning, Apollinaire, Mandelstam, Bishop, Paz, Rich    

                                                                                          (Images: Ted Hughes, The Epic of Gilgamesh Tablet V, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Adrienne Rich)


                                                                                         World Poets (30 weeks)


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                                        Adunis, Ariosto, Bishop, Donne, Dylan Thomas, Frost, Holderlin, Hughes, Lucretius, Plath, Rimbaud, Sappho, Seferis, Tagore, The Gawain Poet

                                                                                                                                                                      (Images: Adunis, Bishop, Plath, Seferis)


                                                                                                 More World Poets (30 weeks)


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Octavio Paz (Mexico), Vénus Khoury-Ghata (Lebanon), Ivan Lalíc (Serbia), The Battle of Maldon Poet (England), Kalidasa (India), Mahmoud Darwish (Palestine), Wislawa Szymborska (Poland),

Li Po (China), Osip Mandelstam (Russia), Nina Cassian (Rumania), Catullus (Ancient Rome),  Goethe (Germany), Fernando Pessoa (Portugal), African poets writing in Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (England)

                                                                                                                                                                  (Images: Khoury-Ghata, Lalic, Szymborska, Pessoa)


                                                                                                         Inheritances (30 weeks)


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Wordsworth, Japanese Women Poets 650 -1283AD, Herbert and the Metaphysicals, Hopkins, Petrarch and Montale – what happened to Italian poetry after Dante,  H.D. and Marianne Moore, Holub & the mid-20th century Czech phenomenon, The Romance of the Rose, William Langland – what allegory did, Auden, Walcott and Poetry of the Caribbean

                                                                                                                                                            (Images: Wordsworth, Moore, Holub, Auden)



We often know which poets of the past and present we feel indebted to and return to again and again, but what is that feeling of indebtedness all about? What does their poetry, and in particular their voice, do for us as writers or as readers of poetry, what has it given us, where did they ‘get’ it from ? Seamus Heaney has said that “craft is what you learn from other poets”, while Elizabeth Bishop was drawn to “the purity of language, which manages to express a very deep emotion without straining” in the poetry of George Herbert. In the 1930s everybody wanted to sound like Auden but how did Auden come by that sound ? And since Hopkins seems to sound like nobody else, does that mean he started his voice from scratch ?


This 30-week course, Inheritances, which is designed to develop and deepen the process of reading and discussion created by Heaney to Homer and Back and 2-week unit courses like World Poets, explores the work of ten poets, poet-groups or traditions, from Britain and beyond, for three weeks each, tracing where possible the progress of poets’ voices before, during and after their writing lives. It is intended that the course will help writers and readers of poetry alike to extend their sense of voice.



                                                                             Poets in The Front Line (30 weeks)

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Andrée Chedid, Bei Dao, Tony Harrison, Guillaume Apollinaire, Agostinho Neto, Nazim Hikmet, Gabriela Mistral, Odysseus Elytis, Nelly Sachs, Octavio Paz, Yehuda Amichai, Edith Södergran,

                                                                                     Salvatore Quasimodo, Jean-Joseph Rabéarivelo, Antonio Machado


                                                                                  (Images: Andree Chedid, Nelly Sachs, Nazim Hikmet, Antonio Machado)


                                                                                The Poet’s Journey (20 weeks)

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            Auden, Barrett Browning, Basho, Bishop, Blake, Coleridge, Darwish, H.D., Lalic, Mandelstam, Neruda, Pushkin, Rich, Ritsos, Tsvetaeva, Wordsworth, Wyatt

                                                                                                                                   (Images: Basho, Darwish, H.D., Tsvetaeva)


                            Philosophies of Love - Mahabharata, Troubadours of Provence, Dante’s Purgatory (30 weeks)

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      (Images: Ladies in conversation, detail from a folio from a manuscript of the Mahabharata, 1516; Arnaut Daniel, troubadour; Luca Signorelli, Dante and Virgil enter Purgatory)


                                                                                            Translating The Poem (10 weeks) web page in progress



                                                                                                 Reading The Greeks (10 weeks)

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Hesiod, Homer, Alcaeus, Sappho, Anacreon, Simonides, Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Menander, and poets of the Hellenistic World (Callimachus, Apollonius Rhodius, Asclepiades of Samos, Leonidas of Tarentum)


                                                                                                                             (Images: Sappho (it was said), Euripides, Aristophanes, Apollonius Rhodius)


Reading The Romans (10 weeks) web page in progress



Reading Shakespeare’s Poetry (10 weeks) web page in progress



                                                                                                  Reading The 19th Century (10 weeks)

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Enter Tennyson, Wordsworth and Coleridge start walking, Up Hill and Down Dale with Coleridge, Odes and Visions - Keats and Shelley, Tennyson the Victorian, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, Were They Really Victorians? - the double enigma of Hopkins and Hardy

                                                                                                                                                    (Images: Tennyson, Coleridge, Christina Rossetti, Hardy)


                                                                       Reading English Poetry - the first 900 years (10 weeks)


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Caedmon, Bede, Beowulf, Cynewulf, The Vercelli Book (including Dream of the Rood), King Alfred, Genesis B, Judith, The Exeter Book (including The Seafarer), The Battle of Maldon poet,

Bestiaries (Physiologus) The Panther, The Whale, The Partridge, The Owl and the Nightingale, Piers Plowman, The Gawain poet (Patience, Pearl, Cleanness, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), Old English Poetry and the 20th century,

Web page in progress

                                                                                                 Reading The French (10 weeks)

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The path to Victor Hugo - De Béranger, Desbordes-Valmore, de Lamartine, de Vigny, Hugo; De Nerval, with de Musset, Gautier, de Lisle; Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Verlaine, Corbière, Rimbaud, Laforgue, Apollinaire, and 20th Century Anthology Night (Saint-John Perse, Jouve, Eluard, Michaux, Prévert, Herlin, Jaccottet, Mansour,  Bancquart, Supervielle, Desnos, Char, Ponge, Frenaud, and Bonnefoy

                                                                                                                                                      (Images: Hugo, Verlaine, Apollinaire, Mansour)


                                                                                From The Song To the Symphony (20 weeks)

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                                                                                                                            (Images: Hector Berlioz, Dmitri Shostakovich, Jan Sibelius, Gerald Finzi

Web page in progress

                                                                                                       Dante’s Divine Comedy



                                                                                                      Reading The East (20 weeks)



Web page in progress

Opening the Curtain (10 weeks)

Beyond the Bosphorus (10 weeks)


In the first-ever issue, in 1966, of Modern Poetry in Translation – a fascinatingly flimsy small newspaper which would prove to be of unimaginable significance and historic promise for poetry and which you can hold in your hands in the British Library any time soon if you want to – its editors, Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort, wrote: “while we had material coming from many other areas of the world, it was that which came from Eastern Europe which was somehow the most insistent”. They then filled eight of MPT1’s ten newspaper pages with poems from “this region . . . at the centre of cataclysm”.


Leaf through the newspaper pages of MPT 1 – the newspaper format alone lacing the poetry’s bite as reportage from the front – and, after the lead coverage for Yehuda Amichai, sure enough you find yourself staring at more than two pages each of poems from Zbiginiew Herbert and Miroslav Holub, a column of Ivan Lalic, two columns of Czeslaw Milosz, nearly two pages of Vasko Popa, a page and a half of Andrej Voznesensky, all of it coming across to us like the variously hidden, encrypted or hand-held close-quarter camera work it was, by these poets from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Russia who were holding the door open, letting us see.


Hughes' and Weissbort's momentous editorial decision virtually changed overnight the eastward consciousness of British poets and readers by giving that East a voice in print and public which, first, it had never had before and which then  demanded our attention the more forcibly with the launch of Poetry International and the shock of the Prague Spring in 1968.


The exhilarating impact of those initiatives here in Britain will be re-created at the start of Reading The East, a brand new and fully illustrated 20-week 2-term reading course which will set out to chart, in poetry and time, the answers to four key questions of our time. What has East meant, and what does it mean now, for us? Where is it ? How has poetry in translation enabled us to encounter it ? And is ‘the Orient’ something different ?


Reading The East's Term 1 – Opening The Curtain – looked at the poetry of Eastern Europe, and Term 2 – Beyond The Bosphorus - introduced the idea of East in poems written by poets in the more distant Near and Middle East through the countries of the Levant and South-west Asia between the Mediterranean and Iran.


So why Reading The East, at the start of 2010 ?


World events were making it harder than ever to hold the East at arms’ length, overlook or underrate it. More properly aware of it than ever as a vast and multiple place, as small as a region or as big as a hemisphere, we began to realise that the East was neither merely the exotic curiosity we in the West once took it for, nor a blanket synonym for war, barbarism, danger and deprivation, all four of which the West too has always had in an abundance of its own.


In the last fifty years, from the Hungarian Uprising and the Prague Spring to the fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11, the wars in Iraq and the invasion of Gaza, suddenly, in new ways as well as old, the worlds once behind the Curtain and beyond the Bosphorus demanded that we explore our assumptions about the East and pay unprecedented attention to some of its perspectives on us.


Increasingly the East seems to be demonstrating Eliot’s thought that perhaps ‘time future’ is ‘contained in time past’, our indivisibly shared single future, our divided past - a past in poetry whose span across millennia has been opened up to us only in that same half-century since 1956 to any lasting effect. 2009 has been the 150th anniversary of one of the greatest tunnellings into a foreign text, Edward Fitzgerald’s ushering of his readers into the Persian-speaking world through his translation of The Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam, and a salutary reminder of how poetry and translation can illuminate both the East and Western attitudes to it in ways that the most (and least) sophisticated news media can, and would, never aspire to.


Less than a hundred years ago, Arthur Waley and Ezra Pound brought three thousand years of life and thought in China into English. Rabindranath Tagore won a Nobel prize for writing poems set in a country, Bengal, which we still largely know only as the name of a sub-species of tiger. And Bloodaxe’s late 2008 anthology of Indian poetry describes itself as the first anthology to represent the major Indian poets of the last half-century.


For us in the West, the East is, at the same time, the Middle East. One of the gatekeepers to the East as we see it, and born in what was then the Western reaches of the Ottoman Empire and is now Thessaloniki, is a man whose imprisonment by his country for crimes of opinion helped produce one of the 20th century’s greatest poets in any language and one of the clearest voices of the oppressed, Nazim Hikmet. Poems of the Israeli Yehuda Amichai and the Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish (who died in August 2008) bestride the line of blood between their nations which both were alive to see drawn in 1948. Over the years of turmoil in Iraq we have been able to read Saadi Youssef and Zakaria Mohammed.


Will the poetries of Islam and Hinduism, the old and new war-zones, the theatres of military and social and ideological oppression, and the rising economic super-powers be the next build-up of work demanding to be translated and read by us if the global village is to get beyond a stalemate of cultural incomprehension, untrusting stand-off, and ignorance expressed as fear and recoil ? And will we be able to understand those poetries in English if we have not also traced their poetic forms and voices back to their roots in song, prayer, belief, thought, and systems of value ?


Reading The East devoted Term 1 to poetries from what was then behind the Iron Curtain, and in so doing re-live something like the full impact of  that rush of poetic testimony from the world behind the Curtain in Eastern Europe starting in the mid-1960s. The newly created periodical Modern Poetry in Translation with Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort at the helm, and Al Alvarez’s editorship of Penguin Modern European Poets, brought us startling shipments of hitherto largely or wholly untranslated poems and unreported lives of the finest poets from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Rumania, East Germany and Russia. 


So, in parallel with world events of recent years and others as they happen, this twenty-week reading course charted the poetic revelations both old and new which have come to us from Eastern Europe, are still coming from the Near and Middle Easts, and still have the potential to broaden and deepen our reading and writing of poetry.


“The Berlin Wall had been an Iron Curtain” was how the BBC’s Brian Hanrahan put it as, on 9th November 2009 he re-lived the moment twenty years ago in 1989 when the Wall came down and, a year later, the Soviet Union had collapsed.


Of course, it had never been a real iron curtain, because real curtains don’t descend except in the theatre and then only for safety reasons, and in that speech in Fulton, Missouri on 5th March 1946 Churchill had clearly said that “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent”. As a boy listening to the news on the Home Service, though, I remember trying to imagine, each time it was mentioned, which was often, how big the rings that held the iron curtain on its rail would have had to be.


But then, from news reports alone, how close could any of us in the West have come to understanding the nature of daily life on the other side of that non-existent curtain which so partitioned Europe by its very absence ? How else could we know the secrets of Eastern Europeans’ hearts and lives if not through what emerged along the extraordinary conduit of smuggled manuscripts and samizdat literature ?


And so we came to know that the poems, novels and plays of those times and countries contained ‘live’ evidence we may not, before, have read or known how to read or even, given the ‘unacceptable’ face of Communism here, cared to read, because the East had been an alien place that moved us, first and foremost, to step back thankfully from the idea of it, rather than head for the eye of its storm on the ready-made need-to-know armchair spy-planes of that poetry in new translations.


You might have been left wondering, after the 9th November 2009 celebrations in Berlin, exactly where the one thousand plastic-foam dominoes will be put now so that we may read the legends on them. So too - and as we become more aware of another wall of incomprehension, the same one that was built of our own fear and loathing of the Other many centuries ago along the Mediterranean and beyond the Bosphorus – we readers, who feel that, for whatever reason (including the pre-natal imperative), we did not do justice to the poetry of the Eastern bloc in those years, can perhaps now rise on the air-currents of commemoration and really delve into the poetic testimony of individual lives for the greater understanding they may always have been offering of what it meant to be born, to live, and to write, in the East behind the curtain.




Graham also devised and led on-location days, including

 Web page in progress

Blake in Sussex

Hardy in Dorset

Hopkins in Oxford

Clare at Helpston

Milton in London and Buckinghamshire

Hughes and Plath in London

Eliot in London

the Brownings in London

Mallarmé in London

Yeats and Pound in London

Yeats and Pound in Sussex

Keats in London

Keats in the Isle of Wight

Coleridge in Highgate

Coleridge and Wordsworth in Somerset

Benjamin Britten’s Poets (Aldeburgh)

Crabbe, Fitzgerald, and Tennyson in Woodbridge (Suffolk)

Robert Frost and Edward Thomas in Ledbury.


A commission for one-day overviews of the poetry of different countries led to a series including:


Reading The Nordics

Reading The Japanese

Reading The Russians, and

Reading The South Americans


Graham also took poetry writing seminars at his house in Holborn for fifteen years.


Poetry School Poetry and Autobiography downloadable course

                             by Graham Fawcett

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