World Poetry Day (2): The Merseyside Poets – Small Press Publications

In 1979 the Library established a project which aimed to create a special collection of “manuscripts, notebooks, correspondence, etc. and first published versions, of contemporary Merseyside writers”. The poets initially selected for inclusion were David Calder, Gladys Mary Coles, Carol Ann Duffy, Henry Graham, Adrian Henri, Harold and Sylvia Hikins, Richard Hill, Sid Hoddes, Roger McGough, Alasdair Patterson, Matt Simpson, Brian Wake and Dave Ward – with the works of many other local writers added subsequently. Though it never quite achieved the ambitious, comprehensive aims apparently intended for it, the resulting collection – which has been greatly enhanced by the University’s subsequent acquisition of the archives of McGough, Patten and Henri in 2010, and the archive of Matt Simpson in 2016 – does help to document and illustrate the rich history of the 20th century Liverpool poetry scene.

Integral to this scene were a large number of small press poetry publications that were designed and produced locally. Amongst the earliest of these were the magazines Matrix and Asylum, founded by Tony Dash and Brian Wake in the late 1960s:


Dash and Wake went on to run Driftwood Publications out of Bootle, producing the Driftwood poets series which featured a range of local poets.

Similarly, in 1976 Dave Calder and Dave Ward founded the Windows Project, from which sprang the Merseyside Poetry Minibook Series, showcasing the work of poets with a local connection:

Merseyside Poetry Minibook Series

Ward was also responsible for the production of the poetry magazine Smoke, featuring the work of local, national and international poets. This magazine is still published today:


Other local outfits at the time included the Toulouse Press (run by Harold and Sylvia Hikins), Raven Books, Headland Publications (still run by Gladys-Mary Coles), and The Glasshouse Press:

Glasshouse Press

Raven Books

These publications, which mostly date from the 1960s to 1980s, were sold at readings and events, as well as in bookshops and to subscribers around the world. The biggest sales, however, were achieved by hawking copies in pubs and clubs around Liverpool. Brian Wake recalls drinkers in O’Connor’s Tavern in Hardman Street, Ye Cracke and The Philharmonic Hotel, proving particularly literary in their tastes.

As the images above attest, these items were lovingly made, and stand testament to the creative energies of the individuals that produced them. Often colourful and highly-illustrated, they demonstrate a wide range of printing techniques, and featured local artists, photographers and reviewers alongside local, national and international writers. Their editors sought to include the works of lesser-known and new poets alongside more established names such as McGough, Patten and Henri. In this way, they helped to launch a number of careers, including those of Matt Simpson (whose early work was published by Driftwood) and Carol Ann Duffy (published when still little-known by Gladys Mary Coles of Headland Press, for example).

Before the advent of online publications, these carefully and beautifully produced objects provided a means to circulate the work of an increasingly diverse range of poets to an equally diverse audience then. As Brian Wake writes, whilst the social media platforms more commonly used for this purpose today may provide “democracy of a kind”, one might argue that they compromise something of “the thrill of holding a new printed volume of poetry or a crisp edition of the latest poetry magazine”, to say nothing of the camaraderie of pub-based peddling!

If you are interesting in learning more about this collection you can find details of published material by searching our printed books catalogue: General enquiries, and enquiries about archive material should be sent to



World Poetry Day (1): International Women’s Day

This month we are celebrating both International Women’s Day (8th March) and World Poetry Day (21st March). Therefore, we are showcasing material held in the Special Collections and Science Fiction Foundation collections which contains poetry written by women who personally or professionally impacted greatly on their respective field of literature.

Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773)

Poems on Various Subjects was authored by Phillis Wheatley. Phillis was purchased as a slave by John Wheatley, a Boston Merchant and Tailor, in 1761. She was tutored by John’s children in reading and writing, and wrote her first poem ‘To The University of Cambridge, New England’ at the age of 12. She was relieved of her domestic duties by the Wheatley family, and encouraged  to continue working on her literature. An illustration of Wheatley by Scipio Moorhead, another Boston slave, is provided in the frontispiece; the below extract is taken from a poem within the volume written by Wheatley in return. Our copy belonged to one of the William’s of the Rathbone family (by date most likely IV or V), as signed on the title page. 

SPEC Y77.3.255

To S.M. a young African Painter, on seeing his Works (p. 114).
When first thy pencil did those beauties give,
And breathing figures learnt from thee to live, 
How did those prospects give my soul delight,
A new creation rushing on my sight?

Radclyffe Hall, Rhymes and Rhythms (1948)

Rhymes and Rhythms was published posthumously in an edition of only 500 numbered copies in Milan. Our copy from the Zania collection is numbered as “5”. The text is provided in both the original language of English as well as Italian. Radclyffe Hall (1880-1943) is best known for her work The Well of Lonliness, which when published in 1928 was subject to a trial for obscenity and banned in Great Britain. A self-described “invert”, she lived with two long-term female partners during her lifetime, hence the dedication page inscription “Dedicated to Our Three Selves”.


Those Who Have Eyes… (p.61)
As I took my way down a certain street,
I saw a shop with a corpse of meat,
And a horse that hadn’t enough to eat,
And a cur that limped on neglected feet,
And a cat that rubbed its sores on a wall,
And a lobster that crawled about a stall,
And an organ monkey coughing and small.
But the sight that filled me with deepest rage, 
Was a nightingale in a six inch cage.

Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay (and various others), Five Finger Piglets: Poems (1999)

Carol Ann Duffy and Jackie Kay contributed to this anthology for children, Five Finger Piglets: Poems. Duffy was appointed poet laureate in 2009, and she is the first woman, first Scot, and first openly LGBT person to hold the position; Kay is the third Scottish Poet Laureate, appointed in 2016, and also identifies as LGBT. Our copy of the anthology is held in the SPEC Patten series, as Brian Patten also contributed to this volume. The poetry is understandably centered upon many themes that would be familiar to children (such as friendship disputes at school and losing a ball in the neighbours garden), but, nonetheless, the volume is a excellently fun read for adults, too.

SPEC Patten 108 © 1999 Macmillan Children’s Books, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay

Excerpt from Dracula (p. 36-7), by and © Jackie Kay
I crawled along the pine floor to my father’s bed.
It was empty. Just a white pillow and a headrest.
My dad gave a large guffaw from the balcony. 

Took off his black cape; threw back his head, 
said, ‘Got you there didn’t I?
Okay. The Joke’s over. Back to your bed.’

Can you believe that? All I am asking is:
who needs imagination, a fear or a dread, 
when what we’ve got is parent’s instead?

Charlotte Brooke, Reliques of Irish Poetry (1816)

Reliques of Irish Poetry was first published in the late eighteenth century. Brooke (c. 1740–1793) was passionate in the preservation of Irish culture and heritage through translating traditional poetry. Our beautiful gilt-tooled calf-bound copy of the 1816 reissue includes an extensive biography of Brooke’s life, as well as poetry and prose in both English and Irish. The text contains poetry of varied types, including quasi-epic style heroics, elegies to loves lost, and odes to wars.

SPEC Y81.3.426

Elergy III, exerpt (p. 260, attributed by Brooke to Edmond Ryan)
For thee all dangers would I brave,
Life with joy, with pride exposing, 
Breast for thee the stormy wave,
Winds and tides in vain opposing.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination (2004)

As one of the most influential female Science Fiction authors of all time, Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018) is best known for her fiction, including The Left Hand of Darkness (1969; which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1970). However, in her 2004 collection of non-fiction essays The Wave in the Mind, she explores themes including the family, on being a woman, Tolkein, and writing. One particular interesting essay is her thoughts on stress rhythms in poetry and prose; she demonstrates, using various texts, the technique and necessity of reading with stress and rhythm in mind.

PX320.L34.W38 2004 © Ursula K. Le Guin

The observation of a pattern, even a arbitrary pattern, can give strength to words that otherwise would be bleating like lost lambs. (p. 78)

All the above can be consulted in the reading room. As usual, please do contact for more information.

This Week’s War: 190


‘From 4:30 am German bombardments. One shell hit our dugout, another by the door, others near. Much gas, wore masks and shut gas curtain.’

Entry dated Wednesday 20th March 1918, diary of Olaf Stapledon [OS/A1/20].

Kate Greenaway Medal

Today sees the announcement of the shortlist for the 2018 Kate Greenaway Medal, awarded annually by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) for an outstanding illustrated book for children. We thought this the perfect excuse to highlight Kate Greenaway herself – one of the country’s finest Victorian illustrators – and some of her work held here in SC&A.

Kate Greenaway (1846-1901) was born in the East End of London. From aged 12 she was a full-time student at the Finsbury School of Art, and later went on to attend classes at the National Art Training School in South Kensington, the Heatherley School of Fine Art, and the Slade School of Fine Art. Her first book illustration was published in 1867 – the frontispiece to William Kingston’s Infant Amusements, or, How to Make a Nursery Happy – but real success came in 1879 with the publication of Under the Window, her first book as an author-illustrator.

OLDHAM 794: A scene from Under the Window (1879), which comprised verse and accompanying illustrations. A huge critical and commercial success, the book sold over 100,000 copies in Greenaway’s lifetime.

From 1883 Greenaway also regularly produced illustrated almanacks, which proved hugely popular in Europe and the US. Following a revival of interest in Greenaway’s work in the 1920s, some of the almanacks were reissued with new text.

JUV.135.3, 4: Almanacks, 1883 and 1927, comprising illustrated calendars.

Greenaway preferred to illustrate her own text but she did collaborate with a number of the Victorian period’s foremost poets and novelists: in 1888, for example, she illustrated Robert Browning’s The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

NOBLE D.7.13: The front cover of The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1888), in which Greenaway adopted a Pre-Raphaelite style.

One of Greenaway’s most enduring relationships was with the art critic John Ruskin. She began a long-term correspondence with him in around 1880, and soon became one of his protégées: as her biographer notes, ‘Ruskin became the most important influence in Kate’s life’. In 1883 she visited Ruskin’s Lake District home of Brantwood in Coniston for the first time; initially intended to be a fortnight’s stay, she stayed for almost a month. The visit made a huge impression on her, as is clear from one of Greenaway’s letters held here in SC&A. The letter is one of two we have that she wrote to Eleanor Tennyson, wife of politician and author Augustine Birrell. In it Greenaway declares she is having a ‘delightful time’ and notes the ‘many new impressions in this to me quite new country’.

Birrell/3/1: Letter from Kate Greenaway to Eleanor Tennyson from Ruskin’s Lake District home.

The last of Greenaway’s illustrated works to be published in her lifetime was The April Baby’s Book of Tunes (1900) written by one of her favourite authors, Countess von Arnim. The book tells the story of the author’s own children, April, May and June, and the rhymes the babies enjoyed listening to in the nursery.

OLDHAM 262: A page from The April Baby’s Book of Tunes (1900).

The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955, and past winners have included such giants of children’s literature as Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Shirley Hughes, Emily Gravett, John Burningham and former Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell. This year’s winner will be announced on 18 June.

Greenaway’s books are part of SC&A’s extensive collection of 19th and early 20th century children’s books: we hold over 7,000 items, including educational texts, annuals, chapbooks and works by the likes of Frances Hodgson Burnett, G. A. Henty and R. M. Ballantyne.

This Week’s War: 189


‘We are awaiting the Boche onslaught: the latest date is March 25th. Meanwhile both sides practice raids and so far we have had much the best of the exchanges as our men are ready and able for the fight while the Boche is the very opposite.’

Letter sent to Percy Bates from a friend at the General Headquarters of the British Armies in France, dated 18th March 1918 [D641/2/1/6].

This Week’s War: 188


“Chaos in Russia. Germans pressing on despite peace agreement! Bolsheviks fighting for their life – imprisoning all who abhor their rule.”

Entry dated Monday 4th March 1918, Diary of John Bruce Glasier [GP/2/1/25].

New Accession: Gypsy Lore Society

We’re delighted by the recent acquisition of a collection of papers formerly belonging to Helen Murray, secretary to philologist and Gypsy Lore Society (GLS) member Bernard Gilliat-Smith (1883-1974).The collection largely comprises correspondence and photographs, including letters from notable GLS members such as Dora Yates, R. A. Scott Macfie and Henry James Francis, and is a welcome addition to our GLS archive.

The earliest letter is from R. A. Scott Macfie (GLS Honorary Secretary, 1907-1914) to Gilliat-Smith, written on the day of the outbreak of the First World War; as well as containing personal news and reference to his work, Macfie comments on the ‘danger of another Balkan war – or worse.’ Macfie would experience this danger first-hand as a Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant in the Liverpool Scottish Regiment, receiving the Military Medal for gallantry in 1916.

Letter to Bernard Gilliat-Smith from R. A. Scott Macfie on the eve of war.

The new acquisition also contains this print of a c.1899 photograph of Macfie, gifted by Dora Yates to Gilliat-Smith on his birthday (sent, as Yates explained in an accompanying note, as ‘I have nothing better to offer him’).

Macfie (left) is pictured alongside a fellow employee from Messrs Macfie & Sons, the sugar refinery business which had been run by his family in Liverpool since 1838.

Dora Yates (GLS Honorary Secretary from 1935) was a prolific correspondent and we are pleased to add more of her letters to our large extant collection, offering as they do great insight into the work of the GLS and the various personalities within the society.     

Letter to Bernard Gilliat-Smith from Dora Yates in Romani (the rest of her letters are in English).

A full catalogue of this new collection will soon be available online under the reference number GLS ASC/7.

Romany, Traveller and Gypsy histories are currently popular themes for exhibitions across Europe: Rights and Romance: Representing Gypsy Lives features at the Brotherton Gallery, Leeds; “…don’t forget the photos, it’s very important…” The National Socialist Persecution of Central German Sinti and Roma in Prague (due to be displayed at the Liverpool Central Library in May 2018); and the Mondes tsiganes: La fabrique des images display at the Musée de l’histoire de l’immigration in Paris. The latter two exhibitions feature material from the GLS collections held within SC&A.

This Week’s War: 187


“Attended tactical exercise under the G.O.C. with infantry brigadiers and officers of various battalions. Enemy raided Portuguese.”

War Diary / Intelligence Summary of University of Liverpool graduate J. H. Forshaw, Captain and Adjutant of the 55th Divisional Royal Engineers, entry dated 2nd March 1918 [D113/1/2].

This Week’s War: 186


‘No! I have not had time to visit a Canteen or an eggs-and-chips place since I became post-corporal, but I get coffee and other refreshment in the morning while I am waiting for the mail to come up…’

Entry dated February 25th 1918, War Diary 1917 – 1919, by Aleyn Lyell Reade [ALR. A. 1. 2].