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The Anxiety of the Thirties: Richard Aldington’s Life Quest

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads Richard Aldington’s Life Quest, the modernist long poem that time forgot

The standout modernist long poem of the 1920s was The Waste Land. T. S. Eliot’s poem redefined what modernism could do in poetry, influenced by James Joyce’s example of the ‘mythical method’ in his novel Ulysses and the various Symbolist and imagist experiments in French and English verse. It captured a moment and mood of post-war desolation and uncertainty, a world in ruin plagued by fears and anxieties, ennui and a lack of self-confidence. But what happened to the modernist long poem in the 1930s at another moment of anxiety and transition has been less well-covered by scholars and critics of modernism.

The thirties belong to W. H. Auden, and to a lesser extent those who moved in his orbit but were good, or very good, poets in their own right: Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice, the ‘Pylon poets’. Curiously, Auden more or less began his poetic career with a highly unusual work, caught between Read the rest of this entry


The Forgotten ‘Pylon Poet’: Stanley Snaith’s Vision of Modernity

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle celebrates a neglected voice in modern poetry

The ‘Pylon Poets’ was the name given to a group of British poets writing in the 1930s, poets whose work deals with technological modernity. The poem which inspired the name of this ‘school’ of poets was Stephen Spender’s ‘The Pylons’, which is itself an enigmatic poem whose legacy is more famous than the poem itself.

But Spender’s wasn’t the only ‘pylon poem’ written in the 1930s about these new industrial features of the English landscape. The forgotten English poet Stanley Snaith also wrote a poem about them.

The name Stanley Snaith, it’s fair to say, isn’t exactly a famous one in the world of twentieth-century English verse. He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page (not even a ‘stub’), and his name is absent from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB). But let’s sketch out a few of the (sketchy) details of his life. Born in 1903, Snaith worked as a librarian and was also a keen mountaineer (one of the first results that comes up following a quick Google search of his name is this 1937 Spectator review of his book detailing a number of excursions to Everest – the summit, of course, would not be reached for another sixteen years). Read the rest of this entry