Vol. 8 No. 17 · 9 October 1986
SIR: I was surprised and delighted by Peter Porter’s account of the genesis of his poem ‘Spiderwise’ (LRB, 4 September) – delighted that he found the ‘six-line stanza rhyming inwards and outwards’ so attractive, but surprised that he attributed its invention to Clive James a mere eighteen months ago. Back in February 1983 the new defunct South-West Review published a poem of mine entitled ‘The Love Poet’ which employed an identical stanza form: sextets consisting of iambic pentameters (more or less) and rhyming ABCCBA. Humility prevents me from enclosing a copy of the poem, but presumably the magazine is available in the British Library, and this should substantiate my claim to be a hitherto latent literary innovator. I am not in the habit of writing esoteric letters to specialist journals, but I felt I could not pass over an opportunity to put the record straight and bring my new stanza form to the attention of an unsuspecting public. I am thinking of calling it the ‘Kendrick Sextet’– or does that sound too much like a jazz combo?
SIR: Peter Porter claims that Clive James ‘invented’ the stanza form used in ‘Spiderwise’. Either James is older than he would have us believe or someone is pulling Porter’s leg. Keith Douglas used this stanza form in a number of his poems written in the Thirties and Forties.
Peter Porter writes: I should have known better (and so should Mr Kendrick) than to attribute the invention of any verse form to an individual writer, especially as I had read (but forgotten) the Keith Douglas poems. My attribution to Clive James of this shining piece of invention was all my own doing: he didn’t make any such claim.
Vol. 8 No. 21 · 4 December 1986
SIR: Actually, Keith Douglas was not first with the ABCCBA stanza form either (Letters, 9 October). It was employed extensively by Charles Fisher in the ‘Fisher King’ section of his Band Sonnets collection, published in Calcutta as early as 1914. Interestingly, he also used the same rhyme pattern in the sestets of most of the sonnets in that book. I am sure that Martin Seymour-Smith will bear out this claim, since he possesses one of the very rare copies of this sadly-neglected poet’s first collection.