On Friday November 29th the poet James Harpur visited his old school (he was in 2 North from 1970-75) to read and discuss his poetry with two sets of AS students, who are studying his National Poetry Competition first prize –winning sonnet sequence, ‘The Frame of Furnace Light” for coursework. Joining one of the seminars was Cranleigh’s other notable published poet, the Williams librarian and English master, James Brookes. The photograph shows the younger James (also a pupil in the same boarding House, twenty years later) giving to the older James a signed copy of his volume ‘Sins of the Leopard’, short-listed for the international competition, the Dylan Thomas Prize. James Brookes told the AS pupils that “it was reading James Harpur’s first volume of poems, ‘A Vision of Comets’ in PJL’s English lessons, in this same classroom, that made me want to write my own poetry.”
James Harpur added, “I always enjoy my visits to Cranleigh, as it partly feels like coming home, and on recent visits it has been an especial pleasure to meet so talented a young poet: to be short-listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize was a really prestigious tribute to the qualities of his work.”
James Harpur now lives in Ireland and regularly broadcasts on radio there; he combined his Cranleigh visit with one to Radley College, at the invitation of Dr Andrew Cunningham, who met James in the 1990s when he taught at Cranleigh. James Harpur also read the pupils some poems-in-progress, written in his unique variation on Shakespearean sonnet form, jocularly known as ‘harpics’. These sonnets were about his time at Cranleigh and the pupils were surprised to learn that as recently as the seventies boarders still slept in dormitories of up to 40 boys. For myself, it was an unusual experience to hear former colleagues referred to by name in poetry.