The Letters of Douglas Oliver and J. H. Prynne
Douglas Oliver (1937–2000) and J. H. Prynne (b. 1936) are two of the most original and ambitious poets of the contemporary era. Eschewing the conservativism of mainstream postwar British verse and embracing influences from America and Europe, each developed their craft through continuous correspondence and exchange as part of the febrile scene of poetical community and contestation that emerged in Cambridge in the 1960s. Their works over the following decades exhibit frequent shifts in form and style, from Prynne’s radical transformation and dispersal of the lyric tradition to Oliver’s adaptation of dream visions and medieval-inspired verse satires. Their letters are a record of both the high stakes and playful experiments that constitute the writing lives of two singular poets determined not just to engage with modern political and social life during decades of crisis and upheaval, but to contribute through the circulation and publication of poetry to what Oliver calls “a community of political ethic.” Over the course of more than thirty years of friendship and mutual appreciation, the motivations for, and consequences of, their poems are constantly worked through, tested out, evaluated, and contradicted, always with a view to what the poetry means for the other, for the poetical communities they inhabit, and for the life of poetry itself.
This volume collects for the first time the majority of Oliver and Prynne’s correspondence, allowing new insights into the literary, political, and historical contexts of their lives and writing. An introduction, notes, and appendices provide a scholarly apparatus to situate Oliver and Prynne among the poets and publishers with whom they worked and socialized, and to identify and expand upon their frequent references to an enormous range of source material and reading matter.