Waterman, Andrew (John)

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WATERMAN, Andrew (John)

Nationality: British. Born: London, 28 May 1940. Education: Trinity School, Croydon, 1951–57; University of Leicester, 1963–66,B.A. (honors) in English 1966; Worcester College, Oxford, 1966–68. Family: Married Angela Marilyn Hannah Eagle in 1982 (second marriage; dissolved 1985); one son. Career: Lecturer, 1968–78, and since 1978 senior lecturer in English, University of Ulster, Coleraine. Awards: Cholmondeley award, 1977; Arvon Foundation prize, 1981. Address: 15 Hazelbank Road, Coleraine, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland.



Last Fruit. Hitchin, Hertfordshire, Mandeville Press, 1974.

Living Room. London, Marvell Press, 1974.

From the Other Country. Manchester, Carcanet, 1977.

Over the Wall. Manchester, Carcanet, 1980.

Out for the Elements. Manchester, Carcanet, 1981.

Selected Poems. Manchester, Carcanet, 1986.

In the Planetarium. Manchester, Carcanet, 1990.

The End of the Pier Show. Manchester, Carcanet, 1995.


Editor, The Poetry of Chess. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1981.


Critical Studies: "Mature Students: Peter Scupham and Andrew Waterman," in British Poetry since 1970 edited by Peter Jones and Michael Schmidt, Manchester, Carcanet, and New York, Persea, 1980, and "Waterman and the Elements," in Helix 17 (Ivanhoe, Australia), 1984, both by Neil Powell.

Andrew Waterman comments:

Some of one's poems are personal and autobiographical; others range into themes or times remote from one's immediate life and circumstances. From my own point of view, however, all I write feels finally of a piece, however disparate the superficial materials. England, where I grew up and which I frequently revisit, and Ireland, where I have lived and worked since 1968, both supply my poetry with settings and subject material. I find a poem begins with a sort of fermenting in one's mind of some detail or occasion, perhaps in itself trivial, anything from a view across a field or supermarket to a scrap of conversation or personal incident or encounter, until a pressure evolves so that one feels nagged to get out pencil and paper and start jotting, crossing out, trying again; and only the labor of working itself discovers what, if anything, is there that can be won into poetry. One tries to intuit the right rhythm and shape, pick up imaginative glints as one works. The process is comparable not to working from a blueprint but to starting with material like a sculptor with a mass of stone and a sense of a harmonious finished statue that might, with luck, be conjured from this material. At the start one is not sure of the exact form of the finished work—only that it is possible. At the end the rubble one has chipped away litters one's draft sheets, and the poem is "finished," a contraption of words that floats free of one, with luck embodying a pattern of feelings and perceptions that will speak to and please other people, an imaginative world that imaginations can inhabit.

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Andrew Waterman's poetry has a sharp awareness of the typical and the commonplace, particularly when he is quoting and inventing the direct speech of others. In his own voice the same colloquial language often holds people at a distance, reducing them to types: "an old dear yammering," "Annes, Pams, Joyces." Such long perspectives have their use, for they enable him to take in big sweeps of history and social change, and the wider the view the more convincing he becomes. When dealing with particular issues, such as the peasant fixities being swept away by the television and computer society, Waterman strikes familiar attitudes reminiscent of Leavis in a tone like Larkin's. But when more ambitious, he can be powerfully discursive and subtly symbolical at the same time, as in "Playing through Old Games of Chess" in Over the Wall, where one hundred years of change are counterpointed against chess games and history is shown as the product of a complex logic of interlocking choices. In From the Other Country, his first book-length collection, the articulate stops just short of the prolix, and he is prepared to tolerate the occasional flaccid phrase (an airplane, for example, is a "hushed cylinder of steel") for the sake of broad and bold effects.

Outspoken in both his criticism and his liking of "stunted" Northern Ireland, Waterman claims the privileges of both insider and outsider, "among, not of, all this." He can have it both ways, not just in allegiance to place and culture but also to class, occupation, and friends. In many poems about the tangled wastes of love, selfishness, and cross-purposes, he writes of emotion indulged but also mistrusted ("fatuities of poignancy"), or he combines the wistful with the ruthless ("growth is a process perpetually / of abandonment, amputation"). He evokes a well-dramatized instability here, several feeling and thinking sensibilities inhabiting the same self, generated by a language that veers abruptly between the racy and the poetically heightened. He is closer to American confessional verse than many of his British contemporaries are willing to go, and his personal poems include some of his greatest successes as well as failures.

The inanimate world in Waterman has a life of its own ("furniture settling ton by ton into fitted carpets"). Lines suggesting the autonomy of nature are often used to show up the human world, for the charm of the nonhuman is that it promises meaning but seldom grants it, unlike his acquaintances "touting problems, all queueing for further transfusions." Poems in Over the Wall thrive energetically on unashamed rage at the nuisance value of friends whose "dingy mouths keep working" and who "terribly foul / your bed" or of more predictable targets like the "write-off in residence" and the "Hairy Scrotum School" of poets. But Waterman is now a master of form, wittily controlling stanzas that, though elaborate, have naturalness of rhythm and freedom of movement.

The title poem of Out for the Elements marks Waterman's full poetic maturity. In a stanza form based loosely on the sonnet, he sustains for fifteen hundred lines an intelligent, discursive meditation in a manner that stands comparison with Auden's "Letter to Lord Byron." In this spacious and immensely readable poem there is for the first time room for his various subjects—social observation, Northern Ireland, autobiography—happily to coexist, held together by a mellower and more flexible tone than before. Without posturing he can keep "faith with the bruised common heart."

—R.J.C. Watt