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This article is taken from PN Review 73, Volume 16 Number 5, May - June 1990.

A Selection of W.S. Graham's Letters edited by Ruth Grogan 'Dear Pen Pal in the Distance' Ruth Grogan

W.S. Graham's reputation rests on his poetry alone, for unlike other poets of comparable stature, he gave no lectures and published no critical essays or memoirs. The selection of Graham's letters which follows is therefore of remarkable interest, providing insights not otherwise available into the personality, poetic intentions, and modes of imagination at work in the poems.

The letters arise from a friendship begun in 1958, when the Yorkshire businessman and art collector, Ronnie Duncan, accompanied by the painters Trevor Bell and Terry Frost, paid a visit to the Grahams in their coast-guard's cottage on Gurnard's Head in Cornwall. As the visitors left at the end of the summer afternoon, Graham thrust a handful of manuscripts and worksheets into Ronnie Duncan's hands. Thus began the Duncan archive, a collection of worksheets and letters accumulating over the next twenty-five years until Graham's death in January, 1986.

Ronnie Duncan, head of a family worsted wool spinning company in Otley, near Leeds, has been interested over the years in the abstract painters associated with St. Ives and has put together a distinguished collection of art, particularly of Roger Hilton's work. Graham was a close friend of several St. Ives painters, and wrote memorable elegies for Roger Hilton, Peter Lanyon, and Bryan Wynter. Painting, then, was one interest the men shared. In addition, they were both northerners - Graham a Scot and Duncan a Yorkshireman of Scottish extraction. Like so many northerners, they were attracted to the mediterranean world, ...


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