Felix Dennis (b. 1947) is the colourful publishing entrepreneur whose company, Dennis Publishing, owns many successful titles including flagship publication The Week
. A regular fixture in the Sunday Times
rich list Dennis has come a long way since the poverty of his childhood in a south London suburb. He first gained notoriety as one of the editors of the 60s satirical magazine, Oz
, and as such was prosecuted for obscenity in an infamous trial in 1971 (he was subsequently acquitted at the High Court of Appeal). His business interests and flamboyant party lifestyle left little room for poetry, though he'd always read and enjoyed it since a boy. However a spell of serious illness in 1999 found him taking stock and poetry suddenly flooded into his life. Since his first poem scribbled on a post-it note in hospital he's written over a thousand and published six best-selling collections. As in so many aspects of his life, his involvement in the poetry world has been unconventional: volumes of contemporary poetry are supposed to be slim - his often run to over two hundred pages. Collections of modern poetry, especially first collections, do not sell over ten thousand copies - his have and are being reprinted. First time poets don't go on national reading tours - Dennis has and even appeared with members of the Royal Shakespeare Company on the stage of the Swan Theatre in Stratford.
This selection of Dennis's work displays the qualities that have made him so popular, from the waspish satire on office politics, 'Downsizing', to the more sombre musings on mortality in 'On News of a Friend's Sudden Death' or the villanelle 'White Vase' which chillingly imagines the double suicide of Hitler and Eva Braun. Elsewhere contemplation of mortality arouses a determination to revel in today, particularly in poems from his 2008 collection Homeless in My Heart
which is his most revealing work to date. Dennis is also cheerfully irreverent about his own past, laughing at the youthful convictions of himself and his "clappy-happy" friends in 'The Summer of Love': "We were very certain, we were very sure/ We were very righteous, (and we were very poor)."
Dennis's voice (described by one critic as a cross between Carl Sandburg and Winston Churchill) is the perfect vehicle for his work, reciting with roistering energy one minute, with sinister resonance the next - this is a larynx that's been lived in. In the tradition of Adrian Mitchell and Charles Causley, Dennis is proud to be popular. His verse, with its "impish delight in all forms of human desire," (Folio) and celebration of traditional metre and rhyme has connected with a receptive readership, who have found in Dennis "a twenty first century Kipling" (Tom Wolfe).
Felix Dennis's books and CDs are available from www.felixdennis.com