Past Poets 2019

Eluned Phillips (1914 – 2009) was a remarkable Welsh poet and writer who found more respect and praise by the literary world after her passing than she did during her lifetime, in which she published two large books of poetry and a memoir alongside smaller poetry submissions and awards. Eluned is still the only woman to have won the bardic crown at the National Eisteddfod of Wales twice (at Bala in 1967 and at Llangefni in 1983), which she was awarded both times despite accusations that she was not the real poet of some of her work. This suspicion was not new to Eluned, whose very first published poem (at the age of seven) was met with the same disbelief that she could be the author. Her spirit and sense of adventure did not falter against this misogyny, however, and instead took her around the world as she wrote poetry, plays, and radio dramas throughout her career. She spent much of the 1930s in the same bohemian scene as Dylan Thomas, Edith Piaf and Augustus John. An impressive woman, she wrote in her own memoir, The Reluctant Redhead, that, ‘perhaps after I’ve gone, someone will tell the truth about me.’

Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894) was an English poet considered to one of finest of the Victorian period. She is the author of several books of poetry alongside sonnets, songs, and short play pieces. Rossetti began writing poetry in 1842, imitating some of her favourite poets and exploring thoughts on loss, death, and growth through the romantic lens. Her most famous collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems, received widespread critical praise and helped to establish her as the foremost female poet of her time. Christina’s poetry often used her lyrical and almost whimsical form to explore the role of women and offer a social commentary on how ‘fallen people’ are perceived, and their social presence. Her mastery of prosody, as well her willingness to explore subject matter often otherwise ignored, has helped maintain her critical and popular success long after her passing.

Edna St Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950) was an award-winning American poet and playwright, known equally for her feminist activity and for her poetry. Only the third woman to do so, she won the Pulitzer for Poetry in 1923 for her poem ‘The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver.’ Along with her numerous poetry collections, Edna was a prolific verse drama writer; most famously she was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera House to write The King’s Henchman, which was later described by critics to be the most artistically constructed American opera to be staged. Her impact on American literature was such that fellow poet Thomas Hardy said in an interview that, ‘America had two great attractions: the skyscraper and the poetry of Edna St Vincent Millay.’ Her style, prominence and the socially relevant and emotionally vulnerable subject matter of her writing has ensured her place as an impressive and widely read writer.

James Tate (1943 – 2015) was a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning poet and prose writer. Often praised for both his naturalist grace and surrealistic style James started receiving mention and notice while still a student of the Yale Young Poets Writers Workshop. During his long career of writing he published seventeen poetry collections and thirteen prose works, creating a large amount of work through a Guggenheim fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts literature fellowship. While his voice as a writer often shifted between a variety of subjects, it is his comic and often absurd handling of his subjects that captivated critics and other poets. Many of his characters searched through the worlds they were created in, both prose and poetry, looking to place their identity within that text. His approach to both forms kept the attention of readers throughout his career, and beyond it.

A.C. Jacobs (1937 – 1994) was born in Scotland to Jewish parents who raised him to know and honour Jewish traditions, and he learned fluent Hebrew. This background fed directly into his most known work as a poet and translator; living in Jerusalem for several year he spent much of the time translating ancient and contemporary Hebrew poems into English. Publishing only one full collection, The Proper Blessing, and several individual poems, Jacobs may not have been a prolific writer, but he was always respected. Often writing about the intricacies and reality of his heritage, he was described by critics as having a clean, clear eye in his writing, supported beautifully by the structured and rhythmic style of his poetry.

Alastair Reid (1926 – 2014) was a Scottish poet, writer and scholar known as well for his translations of the texts of Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda as he was for his own work. Having served in the Royal Navy during wartime, Alastair went on to travel and live in several countries, picking up languages and poems as he went. During this nomadic phase, he worked for the New Yorker alongside his work translating poetry and prose. He published a catalogue of forty books during his lifetime, ranging across genres of poetry, prose, and translated material. The common critique was praise for his integrity – using simplistic styles, natural images, and a timeless setting allowed his writing to maintain a following throughout his career. His work has been published in several editions and widely translated.