Hugh Haughton

Hugh Haughton’s Derek Mahon and Modern Irish Poetry will be published next year. He is working with Valerie Eliot on the letters of T.S. Eliot.

Poem: ‘From an Abandoned Villanelle’

Hugh Haughton, 21 September 2006

In our just deserts it’s hard to do a well, Assay the soil, dig, drill, and lay it down; That’s why the villain loves the villanelle.

The enamoured self is soft and needs a shell Though mentors and tormentors seem to frown; Because it’s hard, you want to do it well.

Sportsmen and travellers are inclined to tell The scores and challenges that didn’t get them down; Not...

‘Transition began and of course it meant a great deal to everybody,’ Gertrude Stein wrote in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, her story of ‘how two americans happened to be at the heart of an art movement of which the outside world at the time knew nothing’. The two Americans she had in mind, as so often, were Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. One reason the transatlantic review transition (founded soon after the demise of the Transatlantic Review itself) meant a great deal to Stein, was that its first issue included ‘An Elucidation’, her ‘first effort to explain herself’ (as she explained). Stein soon changed her mind (though not her priorities), prematurely using the Autobiography to announce the magazine’s demise: ‘In the last numbers of transition nothing of hers appeared. transition died.’‘

Writing the Night

Hugh Haughton, 25 January 1996

In the Thirties and early Forties the English poet David Gascoyne was much enamoured of the Continental, Late Romantic image of writing and of the writer as a visionary misfit. By the end of the Thirties, his place in the great Euro-Visionary Song Contest was almost secured. He confessed his ambition in his Journals in 1938:


Hugh Haughton, 5 December 1985

In a letter of May 1919 Hardy told his friend Sir George Douglas he hadn’t been doing much, ‘mainly destroying old papers’. ‘How they raise ghosts,’ he added. He was still at it in September when he complained of the ‘dismal work’ of destroying papers that were of ‘absolutely no use for any purpose God or man’s’. Such remarks must sound particularly dismal to Hardy’s modern editors and biographers. They could certainly find a use for his papers. Hardy’s marvellous late harvest of lyric poetry is riddled with ghosts like those he mentions here, and many, like ‘The Photograph’ with its vivid account of a woman’s portrait burnt in a ‘casual clearance of life’s arrears’, must have been by-products of the literary bonfires at Max Gate. For all that, the ghosts of the papers are bound to haunt the scholars.

A Lot of Travail: T.S. Eliot’s Letters

Michael Wood, 3 December 2009

‘I think,’ T.S. Eliot wrote in February 1923, ‘it will take me a year or two to throw off The Waste Land and settle down and get at something better which is tormenting me by...

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John Bayley, 19 January 1989

All poetry that really works has immediate vocal authority. It makes us attend. In a rather memorable and haunting poem, ‘The Masters’, Kingsley Amis stressed the point, substituting...

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