(b.1933) has written poetry, novels, short stories and verse translations
for over fifty years now. He believes that poetry and commentary
belong together and that the two together form an essence, a potential
to influence, which changes over time as new rules in the game of
reading and interpretation come into play. Central to his themes is the
universal human interest in the nature of things. He is on the side of
those who hold that, deep down, the world cannot, in principle, be
understood. Science, religion and art must concern themselves with
appearance. Nature, his word for all there is, the seen and the unseen,
must be entirely physical: there is no disembodied mind in it. His
vision is two-fold: unconsoling yet celebratory; nihilistic and
affirmative at once; in love with energy and the dance of ideas, grim in
the face of life’s accidents and cruelty.
He deals in many styles, from simple
minimalism to an intricate, evocative neo-baroque, producing an oeuvre
which he calls a plum pudding of high and low flavours, of ersatz and
bona fide erudition. In his poetry he mythologises a great deal, and even his
real-life characters, mainly marginalised detritus invented for his
‘infernal fictions’, are on the brink of legendary. The poems in The
Nature of Things display such obtrusive corporeality as suburban
snow seen as a ‘white poultice sewn / with crow’s-foot stitch onto the
lawn’ and a car driver ‘watching the lights ahead nose down, and on /
dim stalks grow out of the coiled pitch beneath / of road gouged round
the Devil’s Bowl’. This occurs alongside the capricious surreality of
his antibourgeois Dragonfly, which ‘zooms in like an ancient biplane
laden with bombs to accrete like stately vol-au-vents in the leprous
drawing rooms, in the concentrations of death’, and of the sexy pulp
poetry of Wych Hazel, who arrives to copulate some sense into Planet
Terror where, after a biological Armageddon, ‘the nubile daughters lie
groaning on their backs as their milky skins give vent to the soft
plosives of Rocky Mountain Fever’. The poetry is ablaze with arcana
both odd and revealing, reflections of a mind that first came to life
amid piles of comics in dusty bookshops and continues to see the world
filtered through smudged maps and contradictory texts.
His notes to his poems (in the Kindle
ebook) are a
revealing adjunct to them. He says, ‘I was voicing an idea which I’d
read somewhere, that perhaps the only end which the laws of the universe
implied was self-extinction. The arrow of entropy ... is towards
increasing disorder; and life, far from providing local pools or order
that momentarily runs counter to the ultimate journey into night,
actually assists the disintegrative “purpose” by helping to use up
energy faster. Complexity self-destructs.’
Some of his novels are
near-parodies of popular niche genres: Heliodora (historical
fiction), Khufu’s Curse (a horror story), Murder at Monk
Wimborne (a murder mystery), whereas others are more ‘mainstream’:
Rake’s Crater, House Wrecker, That Father Lost. His
three collections of short stories (Nude Descending a Staircase,
Long Con Monopoly and Foreign Bodies) are strong on
character and strangeness, occasionally veering into the surreal. He is fascinated by the predatory,
and by the determination of people to make their
He has also written textbooks on
computing and computer programming, and in a bottom drawer has a book on
Blake’s prophetic works and another, over a 100 pages long, on how to
follow the proof of Euler’s most famous equation, 1 + eip
He was born in Portsmouth,
England, in 1933, son of a bricklayer, soldier and riveter; had one brother, William Brian (Bill), 1934– 1995, who was a
an artist and thinker by inclination and a naval engineer working on submarine stabilisers by trade. In their teens Bill developed a love of
literature and Alan caught it from him.
their mother were evacuated in World War Two to Bishop's Waltham,
a village in Hampshire, where their father, William senior, a survivor from Dunkirk,
was also billeted. The two boys enjoyed this first taste of
the countryside, but their mother did not enjoy the two
successive lodgings they found. They returned to Portsmouth before the blitz was over and air-raid shelters
replaced village war games.
those early days the
family lived in more than half a dozen houses and rooms and the boys
attended nearly as many schools before finishing their secondary education at
the age of sixteen in the Portsmouth Technical School, where they both
received good final examination results in what was then called the
From sixteen to nineteen Alan worked as a cartographer at
the Ordnance Survey in Southampton. His early hobbies included reading, mathematics, country
rambles, cross-country running, rowing, ballroom dancing and girls.
From nineteen to twenty-one he did National Service in the Royal Engineers as a
clerical private (‘sapper’), took an interest in Buddhism and
Esperanto, taught himself Latin, started to write poetry, and began a
lifelong correspondence with a pen friend, Jim Donalson, in Florida, who
in 1972 had two copies of Alan’s poetry bound in hard covers, an act
of dedication to the friendship.
In the 1950s he was also introduced to Thomas Harri (T.H.) Jones, the Welsh poet
then living and working in Portsmouth, who was his first poetic mentor.
They spent many evenings drinking in Harri’s local and reading poetry to
each other. An account of the life and work of T.H.Jones can be
found in T.H.Jones, Poet of Exile (UWP) by Don Dale-Jones
and Bernard Jones.
After National Service he attended the Portsmouth
Technical College for one year, acquiring A-levels in Latin, French and English.
friendship with an old school chum, David Orton, flourished too, until
Dave disappeared to Canada to become, eventually, an academic sociologist
and 'deep ecologist'. They were in their young days rowing and dance-hall
For three year, taking him to the age of twenty-five, Alan
Marshfield was a student
at King’s College, London, where he acquired a degree in
English Language and Literature. For
holiday jobs he worked in a pea storage facility, in an ice-cream factory, and as a
demonstrator of yo-yos at the seaside in Southsea. He
edited the college literary magazine (Lucifer) for two years,
made the acquaintance of fellow writers B.S.Johnson and Maureen Duffy,
and met his first wife, Rochelle Gelman.
He married Rochelle on leaving college. The marriage
lasted eighteen months, during which time they lived first in
Wilton, near Salisbury, and then in Raynes Park, S.W. London.
He started his career as a secondary school teacher.
He lived with a French assistante, Aline Eschénasy
for about a year in Radlett, Herts.
Then he took a flat in Kensington, taught at Holland Park
School, and made the acquaintance of Martin Bell, the poet, who
introduced him to The Group, which was then chaired by Edward
Lucie-Smith in Chelsea.
He was beginning to get his work published in literary magazines (see
acknowledgments) and in the 1970s published three slim volumes.
Important to him at one time or another among his
poetic friends have been Fleur Adcock, Martin Bell, Alan Brownjohn, Peter Jay
(editor of The Anvil Press), B.S.Johnson, T.H.Jones, George
MacBeth, Farida Majid, Peter Porter, Peter Redgrove and Ian Robinson
(Editor of Oasis Books).
To many teachers, but paramountly to ‘Gus’
Gates, who taught him to love mathematics and the countryside, and his
French teacher Mr Sinnet, he is
His most cherished friend was the witty and clever
historian Lewis Winstock, author of Songs and Music of the Redcoats.
In 1961 he met his second
wife, Lise Otava, from Finland. They married in 1962. Here is a list of poems
which would not have been written
All Dead But
children of the new forest
For Lady Moon
Grandmother and Child
La Belle Lectrice
The Birth of Venus
The Cliff House
The Pain of Helena Nagel
He and Lise have two children, Undine (born 1964
in Crawley), and Crispin (born 1967 in Edgware.
In 2000 Undine went to New Zealand with her partner Michael Wrenn
and their then two-year-old son Max. Undine, now in Sydney,
Australia, has worked largely in Arts PR. After six years in Germany designing for Volkswagen, Crispin is
now working as a car
designer for Bentley at Crewe, where he designed the Queen’s
Golden Jubilee Bentley. He was married for a time to a Czech girl, Katerina Svitorkova,
from whom he is now divorced. His present partner is Amanda Easton, nee
Parker, with whom he has a daughter, Annabelle, born in 2010.
When Alan Marshfield was first married to Lise, they lived
for a short time in Notting Hill, then for three years in Crawley, then
for longer in Burnt Oak, Edgware, and since 1977 in
the Copthall region of Mill Hill, NW London.
All this time, until 1997, he taught English, first in grammar
schools, then in comprehensives. He
became Head of English, then Head of Computing, and was for over twenty
years a Senior (Management) Teacher.
most of his last twenty years as a teacher, before retiring at the age
of 64, he wrote novels and a few educational works,
the latter published by Glentop and Blackie, the former now appearing as
For his published verse see
Abraxas Press. On retiring from work he
privately published his complete poems (with notes
and essays) privately in twenty-three 56-page booklets, with four books
of indexes. These were
given to friends and libraries. He then produced a single volume
of collected poems entitled The Nature of Things. For a quick idea of what
he thinks his writing and this site are about, see about