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Peter Howarth

Peter Howarth teaches at Queen Mary, University of London. He is completing a book about performance poetry.

Swinburne

Peter Howarth, 8 November 2018

Swinburne​ was proud of sticking to his guns. In the dedication to his collected Poems (six volumes, 1904), he declared himself a writer who ‘has nothing to regret and nothing to recant’, who ‘finds nothing that he could wish to cancel, to alter, or to unsay, in any page he has ever laid before his reader’. Since these pages included the 1866 Poems and Ballads, whose...

‘A Theory of 20th-Century Poetry’

Peter Howarth, 5 October 2016

The last sentence​ of Poetic Artifice reads: ‘But like all true artificers “I” remains enigmatical, presenting only the words on the page.’ Veronica Forrest-Thomson has been trying to rescue Sylvia Plath’s ‘Purdah’ from the critics who think the poem is a straightforward confession of her desire to avenge herself on Ted Hughes. ‘Why she should...

Nicholas Moore

Peter Howarth, 23 September 2015

‘What became​ of that wave of energy in the 1940s?’ Denise Levertov wondered in 1965, looking back on her place in Kenneth Rexroth’s 1947 anthology, New British Poets. ‘Many of the 1940s poets seem to have dropped right out of the scene.’ Was their ‘failure to develop’ their own fault, she wondered, or the result of a gigantic ‘failure of...

Robert Graves’s Poems

Peter Howarth, 6 May 2015

By spring​ 1919, Robert Graves was a demobilised war veteran, a new father and the author of four volumes of poetry. At this moment came ‘the first poem I wrote as myself’, as his autobiography describes ‘Rocky Acres’. After surviving years of front-line bombardment, a shell splinter through his right lung and the postwar influenza epidemic, Graves had returned to...

D.H. Lawrence’s Poetry

Peter Howarth, 21 May 2014

I admit​ that the advert announcing this authoritative critical edition of D.H. Lawrence’s poems made me snort. The painstaking collation of every textual variant seems an odd aim in the case of a writer like Lawrence, who wrote of ‘mutation, swifter than iridescence, haste, not rest, come-and-go, not fixity, inconclusiveness, immediacy’. Hadn’t he advised the...

Don Paterson

Peter Howarth, 21 March 2013

A few years back, Don Paterson was warning everyone that contemporary British poetry was under threat. Not from the usual enemies, philistines in government or chain bookshops, but from two groups of poets: populists and elitists. According to his 2004 anthology, New British Poetry, populists are well-intentioned souls who bring poetry to factories, schools or prisons, ‘via some...

Robert Frost’s Prose

Peter Howarth, 6 November 2008

The first and last pieces in this new Collected Prose have never been reprinted before, but they have a misleadingly familiar ring. In 1891, Frost got himself elected to the editorship of the Lawrence, Massachusetts High School Bulletin, and his opening salute to his classmates insists that ‘this chair, when not acting as a weapon of defence, will be devoted to the caprices of its...

John Haynes

Peter Howarth, 3 January 2008

I first read Letter to Patience in a mud-walled bar a few hundred miles away from the mud-walled bar near Zaria, in northern Nigeria, where John Haynes’s poem is set. It opens with an evocative drift through the peppery air of the evening marketplace, past the stalls selling stock cubes and mosquito coils, and the smells of fried yam and charcoal fires, towards the coloured lights of...

R.S. Thomas

Peter Howarth, 26 April 2007

‘A creative artist has to be painfully honest with himself,’ R.S. Thomas declared in his autobiography, Neb:

He has to look as objectively as possible at his creations. What is the point of pretending that his poem is a good one if it is not? But can the same honesty be expected of other people? Are not so many of life’s activities a means of escaping from self-knowledge?...

Edward Thomas’s contingencies

Peter Howarth, 4 August 2005

The blurb on this excellent new and expanded edition of Edward Thomas’s Collected Poems tells you that Thomas was ‘one of the great English poets of the 20th century’, which is true, and that he was not really a ‘war poet’ but a lonely nature poet, which is slightly less true. The First World War is tacitly present in all the poems here, not only colouring their...

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