Veronica Forrest-Thomson

 Photo credit: Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Cambridge, 1972, copyright © Jonathan C
Photo credit: Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Cambridge, 1972, copyright © Jonathan Culler 1972, 2001

Jacket 14 carries an article by Brian Kim Stefans on the British poet Veronica Forrest-Thomson. (You can read it here.)

I had been excited by her first critical book, and had  been waiting for decades to find someone as smart as Brian to introduce her to a wider public. His piece begins:

One of the misfortunes of the lack of attention being paid to English poetry of this century is the obscurity of Veronica Forrest-Thomson, a poet who died in 1975 at the age of 27. Forrest-Thomson is the author of Poetic Artifice, a book that outlined a theory of poetry from a critical perspective — i.e. a tool to determine the success or failure of a poem rather then merely a vocabulary for describing the phenomenon of a “poem” — but one which, rather than confirming or resisting a “tradition,” concentrated on those elements of the poem that resist quick interpretation or, in her terms, “naturalization” by the reader or critic.

Though Poetic Artifice adheres to the conventions of a text that can be re-used by members of the academy, there are moments when Forrest-Thomson’s skill as an experimental poet, along with her occasional wit, lift the writing and theory itself beyond the level of disinterested speculation, engaging the reader — should the reader be a poet — in what is serious shop-talk.
    Written in the early seventies, at a time when the avant-garde poetry scene in England was still on the defensive against the Movement writers and was, it appears, lacking unity, the book has an wide range of characters; Shakespeare, Swinburne, Pound, Eliot, William Empson, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, John Ashbery, J.H. Prynne, and the critic/poet Stephen Bann (representing the "concrete" poets), among others, come under consideration. [» More]

I later commissioned more articles on Veronica, for Jacket 20.

I had spent half a year as a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge (UK), the erstwhile haunt of VFT, in 2000 and 2001, and used the time to do lots of things, including attending complex and rewarding lectures by poet and don J.H. Prynne and meeting dozens of talented poets, publishers and others, and sampling the wines of the region. While I was there I also gathered material for a special issue of Jacket magazine, issue 20. That begins with a feature, more properly a collective paean, on Veronica:

  • J.H. Prynne: Veronica Forrest-Thomson: A Personal Memoir (1976)
  • Veronica Forrest-Thomson: five poems
  • Veronica Forrest-Thomson: Swinburne as Poet: a reconsideration (an unpublished essay)
  • Swinburne Chronology — 1837 to 1909
  • Veronica Forrest-Thomson: A letter to G.S. Fraser
  • George Fraser: poem: A Napkin with Veronica’s Face, not Christ’s
  • James Keery: ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ and the Levels of Artifice: Veronica Forrest-Thomson on J.H. Prynne — a fifty-page analysis of VF-T’s analysis of J.H. Prynne’s poem ‘Of Sanguine Fire’
  • Peter Robinson reviews Veronica Forrest-Thomson: On the Periphery (from Perfect Bound magazine, Cambridge, Number 1, 1976.)
  • Robert Sheppard: poem: Parody and Pastoral
  • Suzanne Raitt reviews Alison Mark, Veronica Forrest-Thomson and Language Poetry
  • And my own poem, a response to one by Veronica Forrest-Thomson: Address to the Reader

My encounter with her work — its sparkling combination of intellect, youthful high spirits and poetic talent — left me very moved. How I wish she had lived longer! Visit Jacket 20 and immerse yourself in her creative and critical exuberance, and in the astonished admiration of the many great minds who were (willingly) in her thrall.