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This review is taken from PN Review 242, Volume 44 Number 6, July - August 2018.

Cover of Elizabeth Jennings and the Sacramental Nature of Poetry
Dana GreeneBread and Wine

Anna Walczuk, Elizabeth Jennings and the Sacramental Nature of Poetry (Jagiellonian University Press/Columbia University Press) $50
In her lifetime Elizabeth Jennings was lauded (she was recipient of the Somerset Maughan Award, the W.H. Smith Award, a CBE and other accolades) and also roundly criticised for poetry which was deemed sentimental, repetitious, uniform in tone, and overtly religious. The additional claim that she was excessively prolific is undeniable. The 2012 edition of her Collected Poems runs more than one thousand pages and her unpublished poems, buried in university archives in the United States, are estimated to number some thirty thousand. This proliferation resulted both from her psychological need to overcome her profound loneliness by writing and from financial necessity. As a single, self-supporting woman, Jennings needed money.

Although criticised by the poetry establishment, Jennings had her fans. For more than a decade she was listed on the A-level syllabus and her books sold more than twenty thousand copies. She gave readings throughout the country, was frequently interviewed, and her poems were often featured on broadcast programs. Her poetry met a need, and enlarged the poetry reading public. At her death in 2001 all major newspapers in the UK carried lengthy obituaries of her.

Lamentably, Jennings’s person, oddly dressed and loaded down with a multitude of carrying bags, helped to obscure her achievement. But against considerable challenges of poverty, psychological fragility and ridicule, she persisted to become a popular poet. Anna Walczuk, on the faculty of the Institute of English Philology, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, does much to clarify and redeem Jennings’s reputation in this first book-length exploration of her poetry and ...

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