‘”A Wedge from the North”: The Founding of Poetry Nation’, Dr Will Davies (Reading)

This talk will deploy materials from the Carcanet Press archive at John Rylands Library in order to consider the role played by Poetry Nation, then the first issues of PN Review, in re-energising the interaction between international modernism and a version of an English national poetry.

Specifically, the talk will focus upon the correspondence in the archive relating to two figures: Donald Davie and Charles Tomlinson. The letters speak much about the ambitions of the journals regarding the political and cultural landscape of Britain into which the editors wished to intervene. They are also significant for what they tell us about the potential ‘groupings’ of writers at that time – those who were seen to be possible contributors to the journals because of their attitudes and poetries, and those who were definitely excluded. From this process, a clear picture emerges about the distance between the Press, the journals and a ‘metropolitan’ poetry which was taken to be hostile to it.

The paper forms an initial stage of a larger project to ‘map’ the ways in which English poetry in the decades following the Second World War was being opened up to American and European influence at the same time as the ‘little Englandism’ of Larkin and Amis was being heralded in the mainstream media and in academic literary criticism. Davie and Tomlinson form the central ‘pivots’ of the project. But the role of Carcanet and of its associated journals inevitably forms the latter end of the history which is to be created – a history which has become particularly relevant again, and which might have much to say to recently emergent poets in this country.


Dr William Davies is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Reading. His research focuses on the intersections of war and literature in the twentieth century, particularly in the work of Samuel Beckett. Alongside forthcoming articles in Twentieth-Century Literature, Journal of War and Culture Studies and Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui, his monograph, Samuel Beckett and the Second World War is forthcoming with Bloomsbury in 2020 and he is the co-editor with Dr Helen Bailey of Beckett and Politics, forthcoming with Palgrave in 2019. He is also writing a series of essays examining the impact of the Second World War on post-1945 English poets. The first of these, ‘Donald Davie and Englishness’, is published in The Review of English Studies.

Thursday 28th Feb, 5-6pm in Edith Morley, G44. All welcome!


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