Tuesday, 24 March 2009

John Haines Archive and more on 'The Roman'

Those who read Tim Kendall's War Poetry blog will have seen his recent post made following a visit to the Gloucestershire Archives last week during which, as well as showing him some items of interest from the Gurney collection with which I am working, I also showed him a few items from the collection of the Gloucester solicitor, botanist and poet, John (Jack) Haines. As Tim points out, Haines was an important 'hub' figure, connecting numerous writers and composers from the time: Gurney, the Dymock poets, Walter de la Mare, Herbert Howells, Gerald Finzi et al.

The Haines collection was presented to the Gloucestershire Archives a few years ago by Penny Ely - a former Trustee of the Gurney Estate who had acquired these papers from Haines's son, Robin - and last year they were catalogued by an archive colleague, Helen Bartlett. (Incidentally, this coming Saturday, 28th March, Penny Ely will be giving a talk on Haines at an event on May Hill run by the Friends of the Dymock Poets - further details available on their website.)

During the last couple of weeks I have begun to take a closer look at parts of the collection, drawing upon Helen's catalogue to locate any specific Gurney references. One of these was a map of Flanders upon which was roughly inscribed in pencil what appears to be the movements of the 2/5 Gloucester Battalion, up to the point where Gurney was gassed at St. Julien, near Passchendale, in September 1917.

Tim alludes to a couple of further findings within the collection: the fact that Haines was asked to compile a small volume of Gurney's poetry, a volume which Blunden advised him to make a small but significant collection; and also that Gurney 'turned against' Haines in 1928, for an unknown reason. This latter was gleaned from a letter to Haines from Dymock Poet Lascelles Abercrombie (the other speaker at Saturday's Dymock event is Abercrombie's grandson, Jeff Cooper), who notes that he was sorry to hear that Gurney had turned against him.

Also in the Abercrombie correspondence is a letter dated February 12 1928, responding to a couple of poems that Haines had sent for Abercrombie's perusal, 'The Roman' - the poem discussed in my 'Britons and Romans' blog - and probably including another, written in 1926, titled 'The Organ Sounds':
My Dear Jack,
This is amazingly interesting stuff, & it certainly ought to be preserved & published - at any rate The Roman: there's a strange magic about it, hardly describable. [...] My best thanks for letting me see it. I shan't easily forget The Roman.
L[ascelles]. A.[bercrombie]

With this early recognition of the poem's worth, it is strange that it has yet to make it into print.

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