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This item is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

Letters from Richard Davenport-Hines, Michael Cullup, Sue Thomas
The Article the DNB Will Not Print


Like Robert Nye (PNR 144) I had an article for the New Dictionary of National Biography returned by Peter Parker and Jane Potter with a request for revisions. Unlike him, I found their suggestions shrewd, constructive and tactful; my piece (on Hugo Charteris) was improved by their high critical standards and meticulous attention to detail. I could only have ignored their advice at the cost of feeling intolerably conceited.

It seems obvious why Nye's article on Martin Seymour-Smith was not approved for publication. Contributors to the New DNB as to any reference book written by divers hands - are requested to follow a standard structure for their articles. Without some such homogeneity the dictionary would be chaotic and unusable. Nye's rejected piece seems to me to flout the guidelines, and to have a streak of wilful idiosyncrasy. Whether he did not understand the guidelines, or thought he was too clever to follow them, I cannot say; but C.H. Sisson is mistaken to flatter Nye that he made 'a very good job' of his little piece. It is too disorganised for the New DNB, and smacks too much of puffery. Peter Parker would have been a cheat and a coward to endorse Sisson's and Nye's comparison of their old chum to Henry Vaughan. The couplets from Seymour-Smith's 'Request on the Field', so artlessly quoted by Nye, demonstrate his mediocrity as a versifier.

Seymour-Smith and I met occasionally. My enduring memory is of a stubby redfaced man gazing around with glassy-eyed complacence. He was at best bumptious and at worst loutish. Although Nye claims that Seymour-Smith had a lordly indifference to 'the game of poetic fame', my impression, to the contrary, was of a man intensely concerned about literary reputations, including his own. His resentment of other people's successes seemed to be one cause of his irascibility.



I read with some interest the correspondence in your latest issue relating to Martin Seymour-Smith, both for and against.

I corresponded with Martin Seymour- Smith for a number of years until his sudden and unexpected death four years ago. At the time he was doing all he could to get Greenwich Exchange to complete the publication of a collection of mine called Road into Autumn. This was in spite of being totally overworked in the struggle to earn a living from his writing. In the end, I published the book myself.

When, several years after its publication, I sent a copy of my Reading Geographies (Carcanet, 1982), he wrote me a long letter commenting in detail on at least three quarters of the poems in the book. At the end of the letter, he said, 'Well, I could have gone on, but this took three hours, which is enough for any poems as good as that in one sitting'; and he added, 'I would like to see more, newer poems. We can publish them all right. Don't worry about that.'

As so often happens, I was too late to thank him properly for all the help and encouragement he gave me, although I had, thankfully, told him many times how much I appreciated his Guide to Modern World Literature and his Who's Who in Contemporary Literature, as well as a number of his poems. But he was as critical of his own work as he was of that of others and was always suspicious of praise.

He did not, in my opinion, fulfil himself as a poet. Perhaps he was too honest. Perhaps the effort he put into his other work deprived him of the mental space to allow poems to gestate. I don't know. But of his courage and integrity I, for one, am totally convinced.


Without Tears

Dear Sir:

In 'Self-publication without Tears' (PNR 145) Edward Picot says that 'in America, the development of hyper-literature has been much more strongly encouraged by the universities than here in the UK'.

This is very true, but the trAce Online Writing Centre is an exception to that. We have been based at the Nottingham Trent University since 1995, and in 2001 we received a substantial AHRB award for our project Mapping the Transition from Page to Screen, in which we introduced novelist Kate Pullinger to the skills of new media writing. The award also gives me six months' research leave to examine trAce's extensive archives of writers' practice since 1995, part of which I will spend as a Visiting Scholar at UCLA.

With regard to writers earning an income from the web, one way in which trAce supports that activity is via the trAce Online Writing School This enables new media writers to share their often unique insights with a growing audience of writers who are keen to learn how to work online. For example, Peter Howard, mentioned in your article, teaches Animated Poetry in Flash at the School. Kate Pullinger began by teaching a conventional Fiction class online and now co-hosts a general writers' workshop with Carolyn Guertin, of the University of Alberta. Working 100% online allows us to connect specialists in this growing area with those who want to learn their skills. True, they are not earning money from selling their work at the moment, but the new economy of the web is bringing alternative opportunities.



This item is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

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