Why should a poet feel the need to be original? What is the relationship between genius and apprenticeship? James Fenton examines some of the most intriguing questions behind the making of the art - issues of creativity and the 'earning' of success, of judgement, tutorage, rivalry, and ambition. He goes on to consider the juvenilia of Wilfred Owen, the 'scarred' lines of Philip Larkin, the inheritance of imperialism, and issues of 'constituency' in Seamus Heaney. He looks too at Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, and their contrasting 'feminisms', at D. H. Lawrence, 'welcoming the dark'. The climax of the book is his superb and extensive discussion of Auden.