In the summer of ’67, shortly after the excitement of Poetry International, I was given a place at the University of East Anglia in the Fine Arts and Music Department, to read for a B.A. (Hons) degree. I had worked for two years now in London, and was longing to escape to the wildness and fresh air of Norfolk. I was tired of my Saturdays spent in Biba ( finding a new outfit for work). Once I met Jane Asher, as we both had the arm of a dress each, and she generously let me take it ( it’s now in the costume department of Brighton Museum and Art Gallery).
I had exhausted myself trailing round art galleries; studying at the Courtauld, and so on. But I knew that I’d ‘put in the hours’, and was ready to work hard and appreciate this precious second chance to read for a degree.
I still went to poetry readings. George Macbeth became a friend and mentor; I also met M.L. Rosenthal a professor of English at New York University. I even read a few poems out at poetry gatherings, and once in a church ( organised by George), who ferried me around in his Scimitar car to many venues, including the ICA , where I met Alan Brownjohn, John Stallworthy, and heard Stephen Spender speak. He also introduced me to the poetess, Stevie Smith.
The winter of ’67 was arctic. Snow and winds seem to blow straight at us from Siberia.The glass inside the windows of my ‘digs’ froze up. I moved out to student accommodation on campus. The New Brutalist architecture of Denys Lasdun was bleak and unforgiving. I often took shelter in the lovely Georgian tea rooms in Norwich. Work was enthralling – we students were a small group, and became close friends with our tutors: John Gage, Alistair Grieve and Stefan Muthesius. One of the students in my group even went on to marry Stefan. These were very different times from today. Students and lecturers mingled, drank, socialised and had relationships with each other. This would be a scandal nowadays. The concept of ‘gross moral turpitude’ didn’t really exist then.
And it was in this easy-going environment that I met a young junior lecturer called Jonathan Raban.
We were expected to take a ‘subsidiary’ course along with our main subjects, and I signed up for ‘Modern American Poetry’. It was a subject and a field that I loved and knew quite a lot about – and the youthful and sparkling Jonathan was much-admired . Born in 1942, he was only three years older than I was then. Almost one of my peers. Aged 22, I, too, had work experience and more maturity than the average undergraduate. There was an attraction – more on his side – between us. But , more importantly, for me, I loved the course that he was teaching, and the louche gang of English Department lecturers that he worked along side. I was spending more and more time with him, although I still managed to hang our with my FAM friends and attend lectures, seminars,and so on. I was on dangerous ground – among sophisticated people in a different league from my own.