He left the college in 1957 to read Philosophy and English Literature at the University of Bristol and later undertook postgraduate studies in American Literature at the University of Keele. James is an important figure of the post-war British avant-garde. A poet, he came to prominence in the 1970s and has been associated with the Cambridge School of poetry, though, importantly, not with the British Poetry Revival.
However, the relationship to the Cambridge School would do more to annex James from the mainstream of British poetry than to truly characterise his output, and it would do James a disservice to limit his appreciation by coralling him too firmly within the avant-garde.
He is a genuinely popular poet of considerable power and stands outside of, or rather traverses, British camps and schools of the 1970s and 1980s. His complexity and occasional gnomic later work is never beyond the bounds of a general reader and his excesses are a necessary feature derived from the social basis of much of the work, surveying Thatcher"s Britain and the sense of decay and international relegation that many saw through the late 1970s and 1980s, as society collapsed and new social structures came to the fore.
Despite this political context, James" work delights in the physical world and the gastronomic and aesthetic pleasures of life. His verse is filled with sensual delight.
James is an accessible and exceptional lyricist whose work stretches from political polemic, contemporary painting and the visual arts, philosophical investigation, homage and jeu d"esprit to pieces on place, nature, food, love, memory and loss.
James" work is littered with anecdote, humour and delightful garrulousness, to the extent that he makes an ideal companion in the world of United Kingdom poetry.