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Ted Hughes' schoolbook masterpiece

Razia Iqbal | 08:01 UK time, Wednesday, 15 October 2008

phunt.jpgThe British Library has just acquired a major and critical archive of material from Ted Hughes, a titan of 20th Century poetry.

Comprising of notebooks, diaries and personal letters, it covers Hughes' entire career from his energetic debut, Hawk In The Rain, to the revelatory Birthday Letters - an account of his tragic relationship with Sylvia Plath.

Like many writers, Hughes had a superstitious tic - he preferred to write on second-hand paper. During harmonious times, he and Plath would share notepaper, taking advantage of their habit of writing at opposite ends of the day. Following her suicide, Hughes started writing about their relationship in partially-used school jotters, which he had bought in bulk and stored in his home in Devon.

Those early drafts eventually became Birthday Letters, the Whitbread Prize-winning collection Hughes published in 1998, the year he died.

One of the notebooks in the British Library's collection is even inscribed with the details of its previous owner. "P Hunt, June 1960," it reads, "Histry [sic]".

I got to wondering what had happened to P Hunt? And how would it feel to have your tatty old school book be the starting point for this touchstone of British literature? If you share that name - and were at Vicars Hill School in Boldre, Hampshire, in 1960 - why not get in touch?


  • Comment number 1.

    Dear Razia,

    It though it was amazingly refreshing to see the shots of Hughes' 'jottings' -especially the journals and the second hand school journals, for me it almost humanises this eptiome of British Literature.

    For somebody who also has written extensively on notepads and even post-its there is a real connection and base nature attached to the raw form and generation of this material; for me, personally, when you read the perfectly presented poem on the page it loses some of its quality - that being the process, the actual creation and nitty gritty.

    On a separate note I was wondering if you knew of any publishers who like to read new material in the vein of poetry? I am not really interested in renumeration but would like advise and guidance towards publication. I have entered this years National Poetry Competition but have reached a stumbling block.

    Any Thoughts?

    Kind Kegards,


  • Comment number 2.


    I've just been reading Hughes' letters - he was very susperstitious, and well attuned to a darker mythology in nature, but seemed to blame himself for all his problems. This collection should be fascinating in probing that, and well done for highlighting it. Unfortunately I can't help you trace P Hunt though!

    On a more general note, I'm glad to see stories like this, and was wondering when a good arts blog would appear on the beeb. Much as I like him, I do need respite from Nick Robinson!

  • Comment number 3.

    Razia here: C-Theo-pio .. sorry it's taken me so long to respond to your question about poetry publishing. There are fantastically strong publishing houses who focus on poetry. Faber, Carcanet and Bloodaxe come to mind immediately. Keep entering competitions. Good luck with it.

    And to kitano1: thanks for your comments re the blog..


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