Poetry and The Listener: the Myth of the ' Middlebrow'

Jane Dowson, De Montfort University

"The radio could be a magnificent instrument for the revival and communication of poetry; but at present I do not feel the B.B.C. is going the right way about it." (C. Day Lewis 1941)

Although a new and widespread phenomenon, the radio has had little academic discussion, perhaps because it is assumed to be 'lightweight' or 'middlebrow', as in "one whose apparent artlessness and insistence on its own ordinariness has made it peculiarly resistant to analysis" (Light 1991: 11–12). At the time, a recurring complaint was that it was too 'highbrow' but its wide audience and the difficulty of placing the Listener ideologically make it open to Virginia Woolf' s more disparaging caricature of 'middlebrow':

The true battle in my opinion lies not between highbrow and lowbrow, but between highbrows and lowbrows joined together in blood brotherhood against the bloodless and pernicious pest who comes between. If the BBC stood for anything but Betwixt and Between Company they would use their control of the air not to stir strife between brothers, but to broadcast the fact that highbrows and lowbrows must band together to exterminate a pest which is the bane of all thinking and living. . . . middlebrow seems to me to be everywhere. (Woolf 1966: 202)

The phenomenal success of the BBC's collections of The Nation's Favourite Poems, when poetry sales are down, reverberates with similar complication about cultural authority as embedded in contemporary broadcast literature. Virginia Woolf's witty outrage is a challenge to investigate current perceptions of literary 'brows' in relation to broadcasting and social democracy.

By the end of the 1930s, three quarters of the families in the United Kingdom had a wireless (Branson and Heinemann: 259-60). In January, 1929, allegedly in response to popular demand, the British Broadcasting Corporation's weekly publication, the Listener, was launched as a "new venture" :

The principal merit of broadcasting lies in its direct contacts with homes and hearts–contacts more intimate by far than those maintained by groups and organisations. We hope that in these pages, with their catholicity of interests, studies, hobbies, recreations–everyone will find at least some congenial feature, and also some new means of extending and deepening the enjoyment of broadcasting programmes. The records of public libraries make it clear that the cultural influence of broadcasting has already spread an appreciative understanding of good books by quickening and widening intellectual curiosity. (Editorial, 16 Jan.1929: 14)

Explicitly, then, it aimed to enlarge minds and disseminate "culture" by developing "intellectual curiosity" and the reading of "good books"; it recorded that between September and December 1928, there were 160 listening and discussion groups in touch with the adult Education Service of the BBC. However, documentary footage of families gathered around the wireless entrench its association with domesticity and wholesome 'easy' entertainment. The perception of the BBC as dull and parental is allied to the strong persona of its director, Sir John Reith:

The BBC was seen by Reith as an instrument of national culture which had to transcend the different and conflicting groups in society. He felt that it should provide moral guidance and respect for traditional values. One of the ways in which it tried to achieve this was by constructing the listener, typically a male one, not as a member of a particular class but as an individual at home with his family. This celebrated patriarchy, the domestic sphere and the radio itself. However, this cosy image, far from transcending class, actually promoted middle-class culture and values, hence the plummy tones of the announcers, and hence too the attempt of the Music Department to impose "classical" culture on its audience. (Day 1997: 16)

Although it was consistent in its ideal of cultural amelioration, what that means was not straightforward. In some articles, the Listener appears to be a conduit of traditionalism between the paper and the public, but often it tried to court them away from prejudices against the new.

The prefixes 'low-' ,'middle-' and 'high-' attached to brow may have some equivalence with class delineations but the battle of the brows was more acutely between conservative and progressive cultural forces. In "Middlebrow" , originally an unsent a letter to the New Statesman probably written during the 1930s, Virginia Woolf goes to some length to separate 'high' , 'middle' and 'low' brows from class distinctions; her list of lowbrows ranges from omnibus conductors, a woman with 10 children and 35 shillings a week, and a prostitute, to a stockbroker, admiral, or duchess. 'Highbrow' is implicitly related to intellectual openness, "riding across country in the pursuit of ideas". (The horseriding image is, nevertheless, a give-away class assumption.) Opposingly, 'middlebrow' resists innovation. They buy fake antique furniture and first editions of dead writers "but never anything new, never a picture by a living painter, or a chair by a living carpenter, or books by living writers" (Woolf 201). In Woolf's terms, 'middlebrow' better describes the audience than the BBC which was as much up against traditionalists as constituted by them:

Although it has to be admitted that the Corporation's attempts to handle the delicate socio-political issues of the day were not invariably successful, the fashionable tendency to dismiss the BBC with an obligatory flourish of the postmodernist hand must strenuously be resisted. In the length even of such a brief discussion as this it is clear that the dismissal of the Corporation as "tight-lipped, prissy, propagator of basic assumptions, mirror of myths, dominated by the upper-class" (Marwick 1980: 157) simply will not do. (Giddings 1997: 144)

Although its connection with working-class tastes was limited, the wireless and the Listener marked and maintained the socio-literary divergences of the nineteen thirties. Correspondence and articles suggest that the public was annoyed at what they perceived as 'highbrow' elitism, that is modernism, partly because it was too remote from their experience, but more pertinently, because it signalled change.

Progressives within the BBC battled against reactionary elements inside and outside the institution. The knotty dynamic of poetry, a perceived benchmark of intellectuality, the radio, potentially an instrument of cultural unity, and a conservative reading public, is symptomatic of complex social forces. In 1938, Herbert Reid complained, "The poets are alive, but their public is dead" and looked to the BBC to do something about it. The Listener was arguably more influential than other literary papers in promoting new poetry, particularly modernism and the 1930s new generation: "The Listener did more for the new poetry of the thirties than did New Writing or Left Review; but the contribution is best measured in terms of the number of poets brought before a wide audience.  . . . It brought [these poets] before the main body of the intelligent reading public which the little magazines with their circulation in the hundreds, did not reach" (A.T. Tolley 1975: 120-1). The recorded 5 million 'listeners-in' and the widespread readership of the Listener beat New Verse which had a circulation of one thousand. Twentieth-century Verse consisted of only eighteen numbers, running only from 1937 to July 1939, and Left Review (1934-8) was not primarily a poetry paper. The Listener registers which poets would have entered more kitchens or front rooms than through any other medium. With the wireless, it brought modernist principles and poetry to an audience who would otherwise have been ignorant of them and introduced the so-called Auden generation to a public fearful of leftwing politics. However, their resistance to change was strengthened by the association of modernist innovation with anarchism and of the new socially realist poets with communism. At best, the radio and the Listener effected some degree of cultural exchange between high literary and 'ordinary' readers. In its pages, poems by W. H. Auden or W. B. Yeats sit with William Springhetti, an "old man and a subscriber". Poems from the Kohl, a translation of Lorca, protesting against the Spanish Civil War and John Masefield's Poet Laureate "Ode to the New King" all have equal status Its combination of old and new—'middlebrow' , modernist and 'Audenesque' —represent the decade's literary and political cross-currents. (See Appendix.)

The work of Hilda Matheson for the radio and Janet Adam Smith for the Listener, among others, testify to the progressive forces within it. Hilda Matheson, (1888-1940) may be better known as one of Vita Sackville-West's lovers than for her work at the BBC from 1926 to 1940. She was Oxford educated and turned down an offer of working for the Woolfs' Hogarth press. As Head of Talks from 1927 until 1932, she pioneered the right of the BBC to broadcast news bulletins and helped to develop the concept of 'scripted talks'. Matheson, along with her successor Charles Siepmann (1932–1935),

was inspired by a common commitment to the importance of radio as a new form of social communication, and a common interest in developing effective methods of communicating via the spoken word. Matheson was a woman of courage, originality and culture, and she brought these qualities to broadcast talks. (Scanell and Cardiff 1992: 33, 153)

She commissioned Harold Nicolson to give a series on new literature which included playing a record of James Joyce reading from A Work In Progress but resigned from the post when Lord Reith refused to allow Harold Nicolson to praise Joyce's Ulysses in a projected talk. In a draft resignation letter she wrote that she "could not loyally administer a policy which seemed to be turning into a reversal of what I had been instrumental in helping to build up" (Hunter 1994).

Janet Adam Smith, assistant editor of the Listener, was evangelical about new poets and sent a portfolio of her typical choice to T. S. Eliot who approved. Due to complaints about her choice of poems in the Listener, from within and outside the BBC, she was summoned by Sir John Reith to justify her selection policy. Her well-known collection from the Listener, was significantly titled, Poems of Tomorrow: an anthology of contemporary verse. It furthered the cause by stimulating debate about the current state of the art:

"Of tomorrow", because most of the writers represented in these pages are not yet accepted, but from among them, no doubt, will emerge the good, perhaps the great, poets of this generation. Some are poets who have already made their mark, others have scarcely appeared except in the Listener, for this is an anthology compiled from poems that have appeared in these pages. It needs no defence against those who are deaf to modern poetry, for if these are or to be swayed by Miss Adam Smith's admirable introduction, there is no hope that they will ever open their ears to the new sounds now being produced. It is difficult to understand why people continually want the old sounds. (Dobrée 1935)

In her introduction, Adam Smith addresses the readers' desire for exact rhymes and regular rhythms by linking contemporary flexibility with half-rhymes or stressed syllables to "a good ancestry in English poetry, though perhaps not in those parts of it with which the average reader is most familiar" (iii). At the same time, she sets herself against the usual tradition of poetry which anthologies maintained and instead promoted George Barker, Louis MacNeice, Charles Madge, Kathleen Raine, Herbert Read and Stephen Spender along with another young generation who included Julian Bell and Richard Goodman. In 1935, she married Michael Roberts, editor of the influential The Faber Book of Modern Verse (1936). Janet Adam Smith's achievement in acquainting the 'average reader' with new work was even recognised by Geoffrey Grigson:

Miss Adam Smith helped poets considerably during the time in which she worked for the Listener, by choosing its weekly poem. She could have followed the well-known example of such papers as the New Statesman and Time and Tide and accepted nothing but the dull familiarities of a few poet-journalists from Mrs Book Society Lynd to Mr W. J. Turner. Instead she was willing to choose poems rather than the names beneath the poems, and latterly to work, in some degree, with New Verse. (Grigson 1935: 20-1)

Another indication of Adam Smith's perceived progressiveness is the counter anthology Poems of To-day (Macmillan 1938) published by the reactionary The English Association which aimed "To uphold the standards of English writing and speech" . Like Matheson, she testifies that the BBC was not homogeneously male, nor Virginia Woolf's alleged 'Middlebrow', aiming to please both high and lowbrows, but constituted of competing forces concerning tradition and experiment. Nevertheless, 'brow' and 'class' are not synonymous. The progressives were still middle class and the currency of literary modernism was only available to a minority.

Along with women like Adam Smith and Matheson, other poets and critics such as Herbert Read and Hugh Sykes Davies worked to shift traditionalism within the BBC. However, more challenging were the "dull conventionalists" "out there": "The worst kind of conservatism is that which will not adventure: it will ride in the modern Tube, but will not venture from the poetry of Walter de la Mare, merely because that poetry seems unfamiliar" (Freeman 1929). Two years later, in the series on modern literature commissioned by Hilda Matheson, Harold Nicolson had a go, couching modernism in homely images of nature and gardening (Nicolson 1931). In 1933, a poetry supplement included C. Day Lewis, Bernard Spencer, John Hewitt, Herbert Read, W. H. Auden, John Lehmann, Charles Madge, T. H. White, and Arthur Ball. This edition published articles on modern poetry by Edmund Blunden and Hugh Sykes Davies and an editorial with

a plea for open and unprejudiced and informed reading of poetry—reading that will take into account what the poet is trying to do, that will commend or condemn a poem not because it is traditional, not because it is modern, but because it is good or bad in its own kind. The poems we publish may vary widely in quality, but we firmly believe they deserve and demand this kind of reading. ("Modernist Poetry", 12 July 1933)

Another strategy for converting the public was the series called "The Enjoyment of Modern Poetry". In Lecture V, Hugh Sykes Davies tried to enthuse the public about imagism by linking its innovation with the security of regular and recognisable metres (Sykes Davies, 6 Sept. 1933). In "Why Poetry?" (June 1936) Clifford Dyment tried to reassure a cautious public that poetry hadn’t become too esoteric, that is "highbrow". Similarly, in 1938, the Listener ran a series titled "The Poet and the Public" aimed at bridging the gulf between them: "You know you can have poetry which most people would call highbrow—remote from the everyday world—but which need not necessarily be difficult" (Jennings, 25 May 1938). In "The Poet Laureateship", Humphrey Jennings panders to the lowbrow desire for what Woolf would call personal identification which she believed was aesthetically stifling: "[T. S. Eliot] is representing himself as one of the readers instead of a poet aloof from the world with a big hat or a laurel crown" (Jennings, 23 June 1938). At the end of the decade, however, readers'letters indicate that the public was still not convinced:

Is it possible that the modern tendency to obscurantism in verse is partly due to editorial preference for incomprehensibility? Do poets have to write like this to get published? Is it policy? Can it be wise for poetry to retire into a tangled thicket when there are so many bright young things around to alienate our affections? We, your faithful minority, would like to know. If you will not tell us, perhaps Mr Herbert Read would be so good. (Ellison 1938)

or "I sometimes wonder whether we shall not, one day, find our poets talking exclusively to one another! Could they, and the Listener, not occasionally remember Mr Littlewood, and your humble subscriber?" (Martin 1937).

Readers' gut resistance to the unfamiliar was partly their deep-seated British nationalism which confused stylistic radicalism with political revolution. Bonamy Dobrée's review "New Life in English Poetry" tried to make the alleged communism of the modern poets, namely Michael Roberts, W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender, sound patriotic to an anxious or sceptical audience:

They feel an intense desire to affect the future, and though some of them, Spender especially, feel most averse from dallying with politics—what has the poet to do with politics?—they are urged to do so. They are, on the whole, communists, but communists with an intense love for England. They are, then, not at all withdrawn from life as we all live it, from the urgent problems of today. They don't dwell in ivory towers; they are not in the least highbrow. (Dobrée 14 June 1933)

In 1936, the eighteenth national lecture was given to "Modern Poetry" and W. B. Yeats who appealed to his listeners' nationalism by arguing that T. S. Eliot influenced the war poets whose spirit lived on: "Their social passion, their sense of tragedy, their modernity, have passed into young influential poets of today: Auden, Spender, MacNeice, Day Lewis, and others. Some of these poets are communists, but even in those who are not, there is an overwhelming social bitterness" (Yeats 1936).

As the decade moved on, and with it fears of war, radical poetry became even more threatening. In 1938, "an open letter" from Herbert Read "to the new Director of the BBC" [Frederick Ogilvie], was published in New Verse:

The art of poetry is in danger of extinction. . . . The art itself is healthy enough. I believe that there are more good poets alive today than at any time since the seventeenth century. The poets are alive, but their public is dead. . . . Poetry, at any rate under the present economic dispensation is dead letters. Poetry is ceasing to be printed; poetry is no longer read. . . . it is in the power of the radio to revive poetry as the spoken art. . . . Nothing that has hitherto been done by the BBC has even made a beginning. For we must begin with a process of disintoxication; . . . It must be treated as a new art—an art to be discovered by vast circles of dumb listeners. (Read, New Verse, 1938)

Read's reference to "dumb listeners" indicates the perceived gulf between the living poets, along with those in the BBC representing or promoting them, and their audience. Here 'high-' versus 'middle-' brow, palpably parallels conservatism versus innovation. Significantly, in 1938 Herbert Read also published Poetry and Anarchism (reprinted 1941) which addressed the "politics of the unpolitical", the potent reactionary impulse of seemingly political neutrality.

The radio was potentially the most influential link between people; it could reach into the "homes and hearts" of north and south, readers and non-readers. However, it has to be acknowledged that poetry only appealed to a small proportion of the population. In 1936, the editorial "A Muse at the Microphone" announced a new series of poetry readings on Tuesday afternoons and on another day from 11.40 to midnight:

Only a minority of listeners will, of course, be interested, but as a matter of fact, that applies to all broadcast programmes except a few national events. . . . The broadcasting public is made up of minorities. Yet we believe that the new readings will reach an audience that would pack the Albert Hall many times over. Who can say where lovers of poetry are to be found? Lost in a haze of cigarette smoke in a Bloomsbury flat, the cheerful philistines will say. But a deeper probing of the market would certainly give unexpected results. (Editorial, 7 Oct. 1936)

The polarisation of the philistines and Bloomsbury endorses Virginia Woolf's conceptual battle between middle- and high-brow but both enjoy Woolf's leaning tower of social privilege whose inhabitants only gesture towards the human mass at ground level (Woolf 1992). Thus, the conservative public who contacted the BBC can be considered as a minor but noisy group. In an article attributed to George Orwell in the Listener (1943), he pointed out that opposition to the Mass Observation Movement in 1936 came from conservatives who "often seem to be genuinely indignant at the idea of finding out what the big public is thinking. If asked why, they generally answer that what is discovered is of no interest, and that in any case, any intelligent person always knows already what are the main trends of public opinion. . . . Of course, behind much of this opposition lies the well-justified fear that mass sentiment on many subjects is not conservative" (Orwell, Boston 1994). However, as the General Election in 1931 and subsequent elections indicate, the vocal public is temperamentally conservative. Paradoxically, in addition to increased taxation on drink, the radio enticed people to stay at home and was responsible for diminishing pub culture, one of the few social centres which might have fostered a more socialist sentiment.

Albeit tightly controlled, the radio and the Listener did raise awareness about current affairs and culture: "There is a danger that in viewing early radio broadcasting from our contemporary standpoint we may take far too much for granted and fail to recognise the truly original contribution to the cultural life of the nation made by the pioneer programming in these early days" (Giddings 1993: 138). The BBC broke some ground in defeating public ignorance about unemployment, poverty and housing. In 1930, The Day’s Work was a popular programme where individuals such as a taxi driver, postman and Covent Garden porter described their jobs. There were programmes for the unemployed who could voice their situations in a series Time to Spare (1934). Other People's Houses (1933) drew attention to housing problems and slum conditions ("Broadcasting and Unemployment", Scannell and Cardiff 1991: 57-71). Robert Giddings records that although "The handling of social class caused the Corporation a fair amount of bother. . . . In the latter part of the decade there was a noticeable attempt to make broadcast talks and discussions more representative of the ordinary people’s experience" (Giddings 1997: 143-4). After much anxiety, a series Class: An Enquiry took place in 1938. However, it is hard to ascertain how much the kind of poetry broadcast would have been listened to by the proverbial man and woman in the street who may have deserted the pub for the radio. As Jennings and Read discussed in another programme in their series on the poet and the public: "the man in the street would be unlikely to take an interest in poetry unless it were brought to him through a medium like broadcasting or music-halls, a medium which he was accustomed to connect with entertainment" (Jennings and Read, 16 June 1938). Poetry, then, had to go to the people. In 1939, the Listener reported the Poetry in Pubs initiative:

For nearly two years now, poets, reciters and actors have been reciting poetry and giving plays in some sixty different pubs in London . . . the poetry recited has ranged from Spenser to T. S. Eliot. . . . Why was the pub chosen? Because it was felt that the pub would provide a ready-made audience, that the modern public house with its large rooms and halls was an ideal place for it, and that by encouraging something in the pub which was food for the mind, the pub might be helped in its present movement towards once again becoming a centre of the social life of the community. (Holgate 1939)

Whether poetry in pubs reached the audience both missed and threatened by the radio is intriguing since it would seem that the hurdle wasn’t getting their attention but producing poetry which connected to people’s experiences.

In his Introduction to the Bloodaxe Poems of the Year (2003), Neil Astley confronts the current "mismatch between publication and readership". Like the Thirties series The Poet and the Public, Astley’s sell-out Staying Alive: Real Poems for Real Times (2002), attempts to broaden access to poetry:

Poets no longer live in ivory towers, although there are a few still cocooned in academic isolation, especially in America. Today's poets come from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures, women as well as men; they are much more tuned in to how people think about the world and feel about themselves than the poets of 50 years ago. What the best poets write is relevant to people’s lives and to their experiences of the world, on an everyday as well as on a more spiritual level. Poetry includes not just the personal but the social, political and analytical; self-regard has given way to self-awareness. (24)

For him, the enemy to literary democracy are elitist publishers and papers who promote work which has decreasing market. In striking contrast, the people are reading what they hear on the popular media. According to Public Lending Statistics the top ten poetry loans for 2001 are dominated by broadcast anthologies:

1.   The Nation's Favourite Poems

2.   The Nation's Favourite Twentieth Century Poems

3.      The Nation's Favourite Love Poems

4.      The Nation's Favourite Comic Poems

5.   Classic FM One Hundred Favourite Poems

6.   Classic FM One Hundred Favourite Humorous Poems

7.  The Nation's Favourite Poems of Childhood

8.  101 Poems that could save your Life

9.      Poetry Please 1: 100 popular poems from the BBC

10. Serious Concerns: by Wendy Cope

(PLR April 2003; repr. The Poetry Society, Poetry News, Autumn 2003:2). The editorial in Poetry Review Autumn, 2000, identifies the same double-pronged influence of the radio on the public. The Nation's Favourite Poems collections clearly foster poetry reading but tend to be chosen by a traditionalist audience. Like her female predecessors, Janet Adam Smith and Hilda Matheson, Daisy Goodwin is a pioneer who drove the initiative but

had to battle against considerable scepticism within the BBC . Now they release several titles a year, yet when the Poll of The Nation's Favourite Twentieth-Century Poems was conducted in 1996 no book was produced at the time because it was felt that even if Kipling et al. sold, twentieth-century poetry would not. This year that has been triumphantly disproved. (Forbes 2000)

Peter Forbes puts the success of the Nation's Favourites down to

the use of polls, which short-circuited the critics and parti-pris poets and created The People's Choice at just the time when ' The People's' became a stock formulation; the fact that it was the BBC1 and Griff Rhys Jones who put the show on the box and all in a relentlessly joky entertainment context, rather than dressed in the solemn robes of high art; a good deal of overlap between the volumes. What people seem to need to get to like poetry is a familiarisation process rather than a parade of new work. (Forbes 2000)

The echoes between the articles now and in the 1930s resonate with the unresolved ownership of cultural wealth and the war between the small body of elitist but progressive writers and their promoters and the 'middlebrow' vociferous public who are nevertheless a minority of but purport to speak for 'The Nation' .

Works Consulted

Adam Smith, Janet. Poems of Tomorrow: an anthology of contemporary verse. London: Chatto and Windus, 1935.

Astley, Neil. Bloodaxe Poems of the Year. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe, 2003.

Boston, Richard. "The People Say-So." Guardian. 12 Feb.1994: 28-9.

Branson, Noreen and Margot Heinemann. Britain in the Nineteen Thirties. St Albans: Panther, 1973.

Day, Gary, ed. Literature and Culture in Modern Britain Vol. Two: 1930-1955. Harlow: Longman, 1997.

Day Lewis, C. and L. A. G. Strong, eds. An Anthology of Modern Verse 1920-1940. London: Methuen, 1941.

Giddings, Robert. "Radio in peace and war." Day, 1997: 132-157.

Hunter, Fred. "Hilda Matheson and the BBC: 1926-40." This Working Day World: Women's Lives and Culture(s) in Britain 1914-45. Ed. Sybil Oldfield. London: Taylor and Francis, 1994.

Grigson, Geoffrey. Review of Poems of Tomorrow, NewVerse. 15 (June1935): 20-1.

Light, Alison. Forever England: Femininity, Literature and Conservatism Between the Wars. London: Routledge, 1991.

Marwick, Arthur. Class: Image and Reality in Britain, France and the USA since 1930. London: Collins, 1980.

Read, Herbert. "An Open Letter—To the new Director of the BBC." New Verse. 31–2 (Autumn 1938): 10.

Scannell, Paddy and David Cardiff. A Social History of Broadcasting Vol. One 1922-39: Serving the Nation. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991.

Tolley, A.T. The Poetry of the Thirties. London: Gollancz, 1975.

Woolf, Virginia. "Middlebrow." Collected Essays. Vol. 2. London: Hogarth Press,1966.196–203.

——— "The Leaning Tower." A Woman's Essays. Harmondsworth: Penguin,1992.159–178.


Articles from the Listener

Dobrée Bonamy, Review of Poems of Tomorrow, ed. Janet Adam Smith, 26 June 1935.

Dobrée , Bonamy, "New Life in English Poetry", Review of New Country, ed. Michael Roberts, Poems by W. H. Auden, Poems by Stephen Spender, and The Magnetic Mountain, by C. Day Lewis, 14 June 1933.

Dyment, Clifford, "Why Poetry?", 17 June 1936.

Editorial, "A New Venture", 16 Jan. 1929.

Editorial, "Modernist Poetry", 12 July 1933.

Editorial, "A Muse at the Microphone", 7 Oct. 1936.

Ellison, J. B. "Need Modern Poetry Be Obscure?" Letter from London S.W.1. 8 Dec. 1938

Freeman, John, "A Survey of Modern Poetry", 6 Feb. 1929.

Holgate, John, "Poetry In Pubs", 6 July 1939.

Jennings, Humphrey, "The Poet and the Public: 'Understanding modern poetry' ", 25 May 1938.

Jennings, Humphrey, and Herbert Read, "The Poet and the Public: Summary of 'The effect of the war'", 16 June 1938.

Jennings, Humphrey, "The Poet and the Public: 'The Poet Laureateship'", 23 June 1938.

Nicolson, Harold, "The New Spirit in Literature’: 'The Modernist Point of View'", 23 Dec.1931.

Yeats, W. B. "National Lecture on Modern Poetry", 14 Oct. 1936.


Appendix 1: Poems published in the Listener during the 1930s

The list is selected to indicate the extent to which the 'Auden Generation' were published but also that 'thirties poetry' was broader than this group. I used copies of the Listener stored in the library at the University of Leicester. Since they are mostly collected in six monthly folders, 'a' and ' b'refer to January-June and July-December respectively.

W.H. Auden 'Summer Night', 'Poem' 34a; 'Bride in the 30s', ' Poem-May with its light behaving' 5a; 'Seaside' 35b; 'Poem-Fish in unruffled lakes' 36c; 'Journey to Iceland' 36b; 'Song of the New Year' 37a; 'Hegel and the Schoolchildren' 37b; Oxford' 38a; 'Ship' 38b; 'Sonnet-Wandering Lost upon the mountain of our choice' 38b; 'Voltaire at Ferney' 39a; 'Unknown Citizen' 39a; 'Matthew Arnold' 39b.

George Barker 'Lines', 'The Chimera' 34a; 'Cornucopia' 34b; 'Elegy' 34b'; 'Multiple Figures' 34b; 'Anatomy of Love' 35b; 'Though Lovely and Lonely' 35b; 'It is the Sorrow Season' 36a; 'Poem on Being 36b; By the Boyne' 37b; 'Ballad—Saturday' 37b; 'Battersea Park' 37b; Lago D'I’seo 1937' 38b; 'Poem in Ireland' 38b; 'Triumphal Ode MCMXXXIX' 39b.

Julian Bell 'Still Life' 1931; 'Red Shirts?' 34a.

Edmund Blunden 'Tree Cut Down' 35b; In the Margin—War with Japan', 'Dreamer' 38a; 'Chance Pleasures', 'Sum of All' 39.

John Betjeman 'Cheltenham' 38b.

Richard Church 'Letter supporting Masefield' 31; Poem 31b;  Latterday Euridyce' 32a; Home from the Woods' 33b; 'Dust' 34a; 'Early Wisdom' 35a; 'Bonfire' 35b; 'The Martyr' 36a; 'The Friend', 'Archaeology' 36b; 'Man without faith' 36b; 'Secret Service' 36b; 'Spring in Town' 37a; 'The Word' 37b; 'In a War’s Face'; 'Be Frugal' 38b; 'Hero' 39a; ' Hours of a Day', Reading in a Field' 39b.

C. Day Lewis Time to Dance' 34a; 'In the Heart of Contemplative' 37b; 'Three Cloud Maidens'.

Clifford Dyment 'The Ruin' 34b; 'Sculpture' 34b; 'The Faithful' 34b; 'Fox’ 35a; 'Switch Cut in April' 35a; 'Poppy' 35b; 'The Mouse', 'Glory' 36a; 'Spring' 36b; 'The Son', 'Christmas Poem' 36b; 'The Wayfarer'’, 'Crimewarrior' 37a; 'Holidays' 37a; 'Snow' 37b; 'Brother Ass' 38b.

Richard Eberhart (USA) 'Groundhog' 34b; 'Dissertation by Waxlight', '1934' 34b.

David Gascoyne 'Perpetual Winter Never Known' 34a; 'Nightpiece' 34b.

Richard Goodman 4 poems including 'It is too Late' 32a; 'Ode to a Dead Comrade' 33a.

Wyn Griffiths 'Exile' 31a; 'The Colours' 31b; 'Time Signal' 32a; 'Country Tale' 35a; 36a.

De La Mare 4 poems including 'Epitaph' 38a; 'Reunion dream' 38a.

John Masefield (Poet Laureate) 'Prayer for the King's Reign' 37a.

Louis MacNeice 'Spring Piece' 34a; 'Perseus' 34b; 'Snow' 35a; 'Hidden Ice' 36a; 'Poem - Now that the Shapes of Mist' 36b; 'Song: the Sunlight in the Garden' 37a; 'Passage steamer' 37a; 'Sonnet' 37a; 'Solvitor Acris Hiems' (Horace Ode) 37b.

John Lehmann 'A Little Distance Off' 32a; 'Crowds and Shadows' 33b.

Charles Madge 'The Times' 33; 'Loss', 'Fortune' 34a; 'At Watch' 35a; 'Victory' 35a; 'A Nightly Deed' 36a; 'Meeting Halfway' 38b; 'Love in the Desert’ 39.

Edwin Muir 'Scotland's Water' 33a; 'Poem' 38a.

Walter Plomer 'Devil Dancing' 34b; ' Epilogue', 'Goodbye to the Island' 34b; 'Seventeen Faces' 35a; 'Barren Peartree' 35a; 'Knife-Like Will' 35b; 'Tattooed' 36a; 'Thoughts on Japanese Invasion' 38a; 'Charm Against Trouble' 38a; 'Angel Satyr' 39.

John Pudney 34a; 34b; 35a.

Herbert Read 31; 'September Fires 34b', 'Epitaph on a fair Lady?' 36a; 'Poem', 'Shipwreck?' 37b; 'Poem' 39b.

Michael Roberts 'Shining Dark' 33a; 'Emblem' 35a; 'If suddenly 35a; 'Hand of time' 35b; 'And if this Mountain Ceases' 36c; 'The Mill' 36a; 'I am that Shape' 36a; 'In the Strange Isle' 36b; 'The Caves' 36b; 'Child' 37b; 'Chamagny Le Haut' 38a; ' Time's Other Country' 38b; 'Inundation Nothing?' 36b; 'In our Time' 39.

Roger Roughton 'Wall' 34a; 'Song Forgotten' 34b.

Siegfried Sassoon 'Vigil in Spring' 35b; 'An Emblem' 35b; 'Museum Piece' 36b; 'Property' 37b; 'Ideologies' 39.

Stephen Spender 'I think of those' 31b; 'After they have Tired,' 'Misfortune cannot fail' 32a; 'Shape of Death' 34a; 'the Poem: I take the lift' 38a; 'Out of the Chaos of my Being' 38a 'Separation' 39.

D.S. Savage 'Poem?' 35b.

Randall Swingler  'Man Like Sun' 34b; 36a.

A.S.J. Tessimond 'Bells, Pool and Sleep' 32a; 'Quickstep' 33; 'Love Speaks to the Lover' 35b; 'Unwept waste', 'Firewalkers' 39a; 'London – Spring 1939' 39b.

Dylan Thomas 'Light' 34a; 'Poem in October' 34b.

Ruthven Todd 'In September' 37b; 'Poem: he went from the harsh tower of words' 38; 'Dies Mirabilis' May 38; 'Poem – To walk in Remembered Places' 38b; 'Beyond the Trees' 38b; ' Last Ogre' 38b.

R.E. Warner 'Lapwing' 35a.

T.H. White 'Invocation to words' 31a, 'Indescribable Loneliness of Man', 31b; 'The Skull' 33a.


Women poets

(For titles and discussion see Women's Poetry of the 1930s ed. Jane Dowson. London: Routledge, 1996.)

Frances Cornford 1932; 33a.

Lilian Bowes Lyons 2 in 35a; 2 in 35b; 36a; 36b; 37b.

Kathleen Raine 34b; 2 in 35a; 38b.

Jan Struther 36a.

Vita Sackville West 31; 39.