Past Poets 2018

John Ashbery (1927-2017) was arguably one of the USA’s most important poets of the latter half of the twentieth century. Ashbery’s background was in the avant garde and he remained known for his often complex and opaque work. He won a plethora of awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for his collection Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.

H.H. ter Balkt (1938–2015) was a Dutch poet who won numerous awards for his work, including notably the most prestigious national literature prize in the Netherlands, the P.C. Hooftprijs, in 2003. His work emerges out of a multiplicity of forms and formats, incorporating photos and cuttings, captions and quotations. In later years, he also increasingly returned to his earlier works, revisiting, redrafting and rewriting them.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) has been lauded as one of the USA’s most highly influential and widely read poets of the twentieth century. The first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize, she was also poetry consultant to the Library of Congress and poet laureate of the State of Illinois. From the 1960s onwards much of her displays a political consciousness, with some poems reflecting the civil rights activism of the period. George E. Kent credited her with bridging “the gap between the academic poets of her generation in the 1940s and the young black militant writers of the 1960s.”

The American poet Jane Cooper (1924–2007) was the author of five collections and the recipient of numerous awards. Her work (first published in her award-winning debut, The Weather of Six Mornings, in 1969) explored the struggle of women to maintain meaningful artistic lives in the post-war years of the USA. She was a teacher and poet in residence at the Sarah Lawrence College from 1950 until her retirement in 1987. She later held the post of New York State Poet from 1995 to 1997.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984) was in his lifetime the bestselling modern Urdu poet in both India and Pakistan. Faiz is especially celebrated for his poems in traditional Urdu forms, and his expansion of the conventional thematic expectations to include political and social issues. He was arrested in 1951 and sentenced to death for a failed coup attempt, but was released after four years in prison. Faiz was appointed to the National Council of the Arts by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government, and his poems earned him the Lenin Peace Prize in 1963. When Bhutto was overthrown by Zia Ul-Haq, Faiz was forced into exile in Beirut, Lebanon.

Olive Fraser (1909 - 1977) was born in Aberdeen and her life was spent between the north of Scotland and the south of England. Due in part to her struggles with illness and poverty, her work remained mainly uncollected and unpublished until after her death. Yet her poetry was remarkably well-received, and she became the first woman to ever win Cambridge university’s Chancellor's Medal for English Verse. Collections of her work were published posthumously thanks to the tireless work of her friend, the academic Helena Shire.

W.S. Graham (1918-1986) was born in Greenock and spent most of his adult life in Cornwall, near the St Ives artists’ colony, where he scraped a living as a writer. His early work was closely associated with that of the neo-Romantic poets, including Dylan Thomas and George Barker. His poetry pays close attention to the structure and possibilities of language. He is perhaps best known for the collection The Nightfishing and his reputation has grown considerably in the past few years.