Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Touch and Go

I was thrilled to be sent the lovely diary which Faber has produced on its 80th birthday, designed in the style of those early Faber books. Inside, each double-page spread is beautifully adorned with a picture of the cover of the first edition of a classic Faber, or some other archival material, and the one for the second week of April particularly struck me. It's a photo or scan of a 1957 letter, typed in red ink and sent by a reader to poetry editor 'Mr Eliot'. The reader is unsure of his/her own opinion of the book on which he/she is reporting, since it's 'won the First Publication Award in a contest sponsored by the New York Poetry Centre and judged by Auden, Spender and Marianne Moore' but the poet is a 'young Englishman whose poems have been chiefly published in America' (one senses a prejudice here) and 'the quality seems to me very uneven.' On balance, the reader feels that while it might be 'worth while asking Spender informally for some more information about the Award' and about the judges' assessment of the poet's work, 'I don't feel we'd want to take him on yet.'

But at least the reader is honest about his/her lack of confidence in his/her own doubts. And fortunately, as a result, the American-born TS Eliot has no hesitation in scribbling across the bottom, 'I'm inclined to think we ought to take this man now. Let's discuss him. TSE.'

The poet and book in question? Ted Hughes and his first collection, The Hawk in the Rain.

Such an interesting insight into how the fate of writers can sometimes hang in the balance...

(I would scan the page for you, but I'm not sure about the copyright.)
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