Ian Brinton: Three Letters from John James to JH Prynne

John James and J.H. Prynne

Three letters written from John James to J.H. Prynne referring to texts which had been exchanged between the two poets. The letters are held in the Cambridge University Library Poetry Archive.


Written from Ross Street in Cambridge and dated 29th December 1994:

Dear Jeremy

Many thanks for sending me a copy of Her Weasels Wild back in May. It was much appreciated. I had time merely to tarry lovingly over the fur in a stolen diversion from my not-feel-good & job-enslaved abjection. Later in the midst of a bold defiance I carried it with me on an all too short excursion into the oaken fastness of the deep Morvan but was so possessed by the pursuit of the sacred that this singular liturgy remained in case & unleafed. Soon enough I was back to the flickering terror of uncertain salary lighting & it’s only very recently I’ve broken off from that & opened up my preferential hermitage again & in the tranquillity of sanctified habit I’m reading & writing & reading & taking this potlatch down in gulps. Such gorgeously SF erotica: “her wings in speedy strip like a shadow in the sand / or in growth like natural reason, her heart so vast / as justly to make cause with the fiery fountain sealed / on track right across terra nullius overhead. I knew / that, she made me see the light level cracking along / her trebled skyline: I held my view. Blizzard loyal / transgenic pulsation she’ll take both up to a dish / off the bone dropping away to a strut canopy, eyes / blue on blue aptitude so sweet.”

Over & out




Written on 17th October 2014 from John James’s address in Coleridge Road, Cambridge:

Dear Jeremy

Many thanks for the copy of Al-Dente – a gorgeous, tarte Tatin avec crème épaisse – ‘You know it as to do / and have in prospect willed.’

Indeed, and is the spur to write, to wish to make a work of similar if not equal power.

Incidentally, the chance exchange of this with ‘The River’ looks like a coincidental crossing of recycled text.

Face Press does a most elegant job.

I’m currently at Coleridge Heights striving to catch up with neglected domestic chores in between trying to make a new piece.

I’ll look out for you next time I venture into the historic centre which I seldom do. I pretty much live the life of a recluse while I’m here.

What happened to the Cambridge School? Which reminds me, I was sorry to miss your talk at the Library in February – I was away. Is there a recording or transcript?





Written from Coleridge Road dated 17th August 2016.

Dear Jeremy

I was moved and thankful to receive your packet of 20 July with the enclosed copy of ‘John in the Blooded Phoenix’ from The White Stones; a double affirmation. I always knew of course. I vividly remember that moment and indeed others and the regard all of which we shared through decisive and formative days. I love The White Stones.

By way of heartfelt reciprocation I hope you will accept the enclosed copy of ‘Breakfast at Red Lodge’ from Cloud Breaking Sun which celebrates our enduring comradeship.

I’m only now able to send this following a leisurely haul northwards from Languedoc over three days and opening up the house and access to my books here at Coleridge yesterday.

Con amore





The two poems referred to in this last letter


John in the Blooded Phoenix
J.H. Prynne

Days are uncertain now and move by
flux gradients laid by the rare min-
erals, sodium in dreams of all the body
drawn into one transcendent muscle:
the dark shopfront at 3 a.m. But
we are close to the ancient summits
of a figure cast for the age, the gas-
fire we sit by, the sharp smell of burning
orange-peel. The axis of landform runs
through each muted interchange, the
tilt is a plausible deflexion of energy / now
we are not at the side of anything.
In the vision made by memories of metal
we walk freely as if by omen over an
open terrace, of land like chalky
sediment in soft water. It is the gas-fire
that does it, I despise nothing which
comes near a skyline as old as this.
We could pace in our own fluids, we speak
in celestial parlance, our chemistry is
reduced to transfusion. Who would for-
bid fair Cleopatra smiling / on his poor
soul, for her sweet sake still dying? If
he were he is, the condition of prompt
dilatancy is exactly this : the palest
single spark in all the Pleiades.


Breakfast at Red Lodge
John James

Stop on the Turnpike in the month of May
& after breakfast head up country. From here on, says J,
Grinning over a serious forkful of Red Lodge Special,
We’re in the Texas of East Anglia.
Is that so, says J, with mock sobriety.

The counter of the café painted cheerful red, the tea is hot & brown
& the heads of passing saints smile down
from the wall on these two pilgrims
laughing madly in the Hopper window
where space opens up into the blue beyond the red & white
stripe canopy.


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