Striking Sparks

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Not until long after the dust had settled did I realize that the Battle of Earls Court Square, in which I played a significant role, had been preceded twenty years earlier by the Battle of Portman Square.

The ancient commander who lived through both skirmishes, Chevalier Galloway Kyle – the founder of the Poetry Society – could have told me all; but in his nineties he claimed to remember nothing. He had edited the Poetry Review, the Society’s magazine, from 1916 until 1947, when he handed it over to a pretty blonde 27-year-old Scot called Muriel Spark, who was offered the position of Editor solely because she had won first prize in the Society’s competition for a love lyric with – she confessed – a sonnet cold-bloodedly composed in a style she thought would impress the judges. The prize – two guineas – was important to an impecunious writer, as was the offer, with the post, of a free flat in Portman Square. That, for Spark, was a clincher. Alas, she never moved in – the first of a number of unpleasant surprises.

Even before the publication of her first issue, Spark was in trouble with members of the Society’s Executive Committee. She insisted that the poems she published should be paid for: an unheard-of and revolutionary suggestion. The honour should surely be sufficient? Then, her first editorial began ‘Cannot we cease railing against the moderns?’ This was to suggest that her readers should be divested of a distinctive pleasure. The moment she began serious work, there was trouble with former contributors who found their submissions returned. A Miss Alice Hunt Bartlett of New York was puzzled and alarmed when her verses were rejected. She had never had any trouble with the previous editor, who had never failed either to publish
her or to cash the cheque for $25 which always accompanied her submissions. Other former regular contributors wrote protesting letters, though unaccompanied by either cheques or cash.

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About the contributor

Derek Parker lives in Sydney and delights in the long poems no one else now seems to read: Idylls of the King and Paradise Lost and Crabbe’s marvellous The Village. Who, he asks, needs sonnets?

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