Working as a Museum Assistant in the National Art Library at the V&A was a joyous experience. John Harthan , who ran the Department, was a decent, kind, scholarly man, and was well-liked and admired by us all. The ‘paperkeepers’ and we assistants felt a real attachment to the precious books, leaflets and catalogues that we handled every day.
Professor Peter Lasko,who had just set up the new Fine Art Department at the University of East Anglia in 1965, was a regular visitor to the Library. He had moved – with some of his colleagues – from the Courtauld Institute to this new experimental ‘off-shoot’ in Norwich.
He was canvassing for potential students when he suggested that I leave the V&A, take a degree at UEA, and then return to my current job after graduating.
It was a beguiling offer, and I was soon fascinated by the prospect of leaving London for some welcome, much-needed Norfolk country air. The prospect of returning to academic work also began to appeal. I needed to stretch my mind more.
Within weeks, I had been accepted on the FAM course, and was ready to leave London and begin in the autumn term of 1967.
But, before that, I was to attend the first Poetry International literaryfest at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank, which was organised by Ted Hughes and Patrick Garland. They were both keen to keep it as a ‘non-English’ event, but were later persuaded to include several ‘British’ writers, so Graves Spender, Auden and Empson were to read their work – live!
As the poet and critic, A. Alvarez was to write:
‘If a bomb landed on the South Bank on the first week of July, 1967, it would wipe out world poetry’.
Over four nights – the 10th, 11th, 12th, and the 13th, the line-up of ‘foreign’ poets included: Octavio Paz, Neruda, Yves Bonnefoy, Pasolini, Bopa, Robert Bly and Anthony Hecht and Tennessee Williams ( among others).
The hall was jam-packed every night for four nights; and, as Julian Jebb of the Financial Times was to write:
‘The queue of Beautiful People – many with their bells and flowers, who half-surrounded the QEH last night in the hope of return tickets was proof enough that the first of four evening recitals of Poetry International was an occasion’.