John Tatum

John Tatum – Towards an Unknown Fiction: Collected Poems 1948 – 1999 (2020)


There’s a paradox in 70 years of John Tatum’s poetry, not least in this hugely overdue Collected. A troubled modernism disturbs a heart of pastoral, like painters Tatum admires: John and Paul Nash; the 1940’s neo-Romantics.

Tatum, a distinguished painter and jazz trumpeter, is above all a poet of the unsettling humour of ‘Bishop Berkeley’, through to the quietly devastating ‘The Library’ – its long cartwheeling scope compressed with melancholy has claims to be his masterpiece…

Under the guise of walking into cul-de-sacs Tatum faces oblivion in a blank driveway. Towards an Unknown Fiction is troublingly fine, ritually obsessive, even charming. But always unique. At his best, Tatum startles into unforgettable poetry.




Born in Edinburgh 1933 of English and mixed European parentage, John Tatum has written poetry and stories over the past seventy years. He also paints watercolours, and plays the trumpet.


Tatum’s inspirations include trees and the English countryside; quiet, traditional pubs, Morris dancing and village cricket, alongside his fondness for baroque music and modern jazz. His published stories are mostly science fiction or comedies of English life. Poetic influences are mainly Thomas Hardy, Edward Thomas, Philip Larkin and other poets of the ‘English line’. However, he says his desert island book would probably be by P.G. Wodehouse.


In addition to three volumes of poetry, Tatum’s poems have been published in a wide variety of journals and small press magazines – his important Outposts poems from 1960 are reproduced in this collection, for instance; plus, his programme, Poems to Sundry Notes of Jazz, was broadcast on BBC Radio 3. ‘My only other claim to fame,’ says Tatum, ‘is that my grandmother came from the same village as Gunter Grass!’


Towards an Unknown Fiction is published in conjunction with Tatum’s An Explosion of Skittles – New (Collected) Poems 2000 – 2019, available now from Waterloo Press (2020).



ISBN: 978-1-906742-32-4 Category: Tag:

Praise and Poems

‘These poems are the real thing – enjoyable, vivid and important – ought to be famous and delighted in by everyone.’

George Painter, (biographer of Proust)

‘I knew John Tatum on the fringes of The Group. He wrote well then and it’s very good to know he’s still writing so well now.’

Peter Porter, 2009




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