Thursday, 28 September 2017

National Poetry Day

The 28th September marks National Poetry Day in the UK. To celebrate National Poetry Day 2017, we have decided to shine a light on the, perhaps, lesser known poets, whose works are now part of the archival collections at the Hull History Centre. Many of you may know that we hold significant collections relating to Philip Larkin, Stevie Smith, Archive Markham, and Douglas Dunn. But did you also know, that in the University Archives, we have collections relating to poetry publishers, such as Peterloo Poets (ref. U DPP), who helped up-and-coming poets get published?

Peterloo Poets was established by Harry Chambers, a life-long poetry enthusiast and founder of the poetry journal Phoenix, in the mid-1970s. In 1976, Chambers took the huge step of leaving his salaried job and moving with his family to Cornwall where he ran the press initially from their home in Treovis near Liskeard with funding provided by the Arts Council and support from his wife Lynn, who became a full-time administrator for Peterloo Poets in 1980.

U DPP/1/1/35 Advertising leaflet for Peterloo Poets’ Poetry Competition: Poems About Paintings

Harry Chambers was a very active publishing director and was involved in all aspects and stages of the publishing process, including typography and design. Manuscripts were commissioned and solicited by Peterloo Poets but over 1000 unsolicited manuscripts were also received each year and Chambers had exclusive control over selecting volumes for publication. He also edited and contributed features to the annual Peterloo house journal, Poetry Matters (1983-92) and produced special editions celebrating the works of Charles Causley and Philip Larkin.

During its 37 years, Peterloo Poets published the work of 131 different poets and 240 different volumes of poetry. Peterloo Poets also organised an Annual International Poetry Competition, annual Poetry for Schools events and workshops and an International Poetry Festival. For the last 12 years, the organisation operated from the refurbished Old Chapel in Calstock.

Harry Chambers retired as Publishing Director of Peterloo in 2009, but continued to take an active interest in the world of poetry, while health allowed, when he moved to York. His achievements were recognised in 2010 with an MBE for Services to Poetry. Harry Chambers died in York on 14 September 2012.

U DPP/1/1/35 Photo of Harry Chambers receiving a sponsorship cheque for the Peterloo Poets Open Poetry Competition 1993

The Peterloo Poets collection (U DPP) predominantly contains copies of poetry books published by Peterloo Poets and poetry files, each relating to a specific poet and/or one of their works. Published matter in the collection also includes items from the Phoenix Pamphlet Poets Press, copies of the Phoenix Quarterly Series and Poetry Matters, the Peterloo Poets magazine. Poets represented in the published works of Peterloo Poets include U.A. Fanthorpe, who was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2003, William Scammell, Elizabeth Bartlett, Ann Drysdale, Dana Gioia and many others.

There is also a large amount of correspondence with various poets within the collection as well as an extensive amount of reviews, articles and press cuttings relating to Peterloo Poets and poets connected with Peterloo Poets. Further items of interest, include minutes of Peterloo Poets AGMs, examples of artwork for books being published, original photographs of various poets and plans of the Old Chapel at Calstock, from which Peterloo Poets operated.

Poetry still remains a beloved art form, allowing people the freedom to express their voice in verse, and the acquisition of collections relating to modern English literature is a key part of the Hull University Archives’ collecting policy. Indeed, poetry is an important part of our society’s culture and deserves to be preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come. 

Verity Minniti, Archives Assistant (HUA)

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