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W. S. Graham
W. S. Graham was a Scottish poet who is often associated with Dylan Thomas and the neo-romantic group of poets. Graham's work was mostly overlooked in his lifetime but, partly due to the support of Harold Pinter, he has enjoyed a revival in recent years and is represented in the Oxford Press Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry (2001).
Early Life and Work
Graham was born in Greenock. In 1932, he left school to become an apprentice draughtsman and then studied structural engineering at Stow College , Glasgow. He was awarded a bursary to study literature for a year at Newbattle Abbey College in 1938. Graham spent the war years working at a number of jobs in Scotland and Ireland before moving to Cornwall in 1944. His first book, Cage Without Grievance was published in 1942.
Graham and the neo-romantics
The 1940s were prolific years for Graham, and he published four more books during that decade. These were The Seven Journeys (1944)' 2ND Poems (1945), The Voyages of Alfred Wallis (1948) and The White Threshold (1949). The style of these early poems led critics to see Graham as part of the neo-romantic group that included Dylan Thomas and George Barker. The affinities between these three poets derive from a common a common interest in poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins, Arthur Rimbaud and Hart Crane, and, in the cases of Thomas and Graham, a taste for the Bohemian lifestyle of the London literary scene.
In 1948, after spending a year teaching at New York University, he moved to London to be nearer the hub of that Bohemian world. Here he came into contact with T. S. Eliot, then editor of Faber and Faber who published The White Threshold and who were to remain Graham's main publisher for the rest of his life.
The Nightfishing and after
In 1954, Graham returned to Cornwall to live near the St. Ives artists colony. Here he became friendly with several of the resident painters, including Bryan Winter and Roger Hilton . The following year, his long poem The Nightfishing was published by Faber. This poem marked a clear break with his earlier style and a move away from the neo-romantic tag into a poetry more clearly concerned with philosophical questions on the relationship between language, being and self-knowledge. Unfortunately for the poet, the poem's appearance coincided with the rise of the Movement with their open hostility to the neo-romantics, and, despite the support of Eliot and Hugh MacDiarmid, the book was neither a critical nor a popular success.
It was to be fifteen years before Graham published another book, Malcolm Mooney's Land (1970). For many years, he had been living in semi-poverty on his income as a writer, but in 1974 he received a civil list pension of £500 per year. Perhaps because of this alleviation of his financial circumstances, Graham began to publish with more frequency, with Implements in their Places (1977), Collected Poems 1942-1977 (1979) and an American-published Selected Poems (1980). His last collection Aimed at Nobody was published posthumously in 1993 and a book of Uncollected Poems appeared in 1990. Faber brought out a new Selected Poems in 1996. The Nightfisherman: Selected Letters was published in 1999
As this posthumous publication activity indicates, Graham's reputation has grown in recent years. This is partly due to Harold Pinter's often-expressed enthusiasm for the poet and partly to the advocacy of poets associated with the British Poetry Revival. Graham's work was represented in the anthology Conductors of Chaos (1996) by a selection introduced by the poet and critic Tony Lopez . Lopez also wrote a book-length study, The Poetry of W. S. Graham (1989).
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