Bernard Spencer

Portrait photograph of Bernard SpencerBernard Spencer (1909-1963) was a significant British poet and translator, associated with Geoffrey Grigson’s magazine New Verse during the 1930s, Personal Landscape, which he co-edited from Cairo during the Second World War with Lawrence Durrell and Robin Fedden, and The London Magazine from its re-founding by John Lehmann in 1954 until the poet’s death in mysterious circumstances in Vienna just as his work was beginning to reach a wider public.

Two exhibitions of archive material from the papers of Bernard Spencer held at the University of Reading Special Collections were assembled and designed by Peter Robinson, Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Reading. The exhibitions formed part of a series of events to celebrate the poet’s centenary, including a conference which took place at the Special Collections Service from 31 October - 1 November 2009. The exhibitions, one of which was on display at the University Library until 13th November, and one at the Special Collections Service (on display until 27th November), also coincided with our annual Gerald Finzi Memorial poetry reading which was held on 10 November 2009.

Bernard Spencer’s association with the University of Reading began in the mid-1950s when he was contacted by Ian Fletcher of the English Department about the possibility of having some of his new poems read on the BBC Third Programme. There were further exchanges of letters about a poetry reading at the ICA in London in 1956, and Spencer also gave a reading at the University during this decade. The collaboration climaxed with the publication at the end of December 1960 of The Twist in the Plotting, a limited edition of twenty-five poems printed by the Fine Art Department. Documents related to this publication are on display at the Special Collections Service and the book is the focus for a featured item on the Special Collections website.

Among the exhibits on display at the University Library were first editions of Bernard Spencer’s books and other memorabilia, among them a handout for a song concert and recital of sonnets by Shakespeare, including some Gerald Finzi settings, at which Spencer read the sonnets and gave a talk, whose hand-written script is also displayed. Other items include documents related to the publication of three poems by Spencer in The London Magazine, and of others related to the poet’s second full collection of poems, With Luck Lasting, which appeared from Hodder and Stoughton. These displays provided an opportunity to see poems developing from first drafts, through typescripts, to galley and bound proof copies, showing the progress to first publication in a magazine, and to the collection made a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for summer 1963.

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