Elizabeth Jennings Poetry Notebooks
1981 - 1992
Manuscript Collection Number 283
Accessioned: Purchase, May 1993.
Extent: 264 items (.5 linear ft.)
Content: Letter and autograph poems.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: September 1993 by Anita A. Wellner.
The British poet Elizabeth Jennings has published more than 20 books of poetry since the 1950s. She writes short, meditative lyrics that are known for their simplicity, control, and range of feeling. These qualities have linked Jennings to a group of poets, usually referred to as The Movement, who were writing in England during the 1940s and 1950s. The members of this group, poets like Kingsley Amis, Thom Gunn, Philip Larkin, and John Wain, never consciously formed a movement, but their poetry reveals a shared love for simplicity and an acceptance of regular meter and rhyme.
Elizabeth Jennings was born on July 18, 1926, in Boston, Lincolnshire. She claims that she discovered poetry at age 13 and began to write, encouraged by a teacher and her uncle. Jennings attended St. Anne's College, Oxford, from 1945 to 1949 and was greatly stimulated by the intellectual atmosphere there. It was at this time that she began to associate with poets of The Movement; some of her first published poems appeared in Oxford Poetry 1948, edited by Kingsley Amis and James Michie. Jennings worked in the Oxford City Library from 1950 to 1958 and as a publisher's reader from 1958 to 1960. During this time she published three books of poetry and a book for children entitled "Let's Have Some Poetry!" (1960). In the early 1960s, Jennings suffered a breakdown and was confined to a hospital. The poems she wrote after her release are collected in Recoveries (1964) and The Mind Has Mountains (1966).
Jennings is an extremely prolific poet. She writes quickly, revises little, and claims that her poems "come out very clean." She differs from the other poets of The Movement in her devotion to Roman Catholicism, a theme that pervades much of her poetry. Jennings also writes about friendship, relationships, places, and art. She does not write autobiographical poems, but her religious concerns, mental illness, and other personal experiences influence the themes and insights expressed in her poetry.
Bissett, William. "Elizabeth Jennings." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 27: Poets of Great Britain and Ireland 1945-1960, edited by Vincent B. Sherry, Jr. Detroit: Gale Research, 1984. pp. 163-170.
This collection of Elizabeth Jennings's poetry manuscripts, spanning the dates 1981-1992, is composed of seven notebooks and three folios which contain over 260 autograph poems, as well as one letter to Jennings from Stephen Spender.
The poems are working drafts displaying the author's style of composition and revision. These poems cover a wide variety of themes, including religious ideas and liturgical seasons, her mother, ageing, psychology, the changing seasons, and homes and dwellings. The covers of several of notebooks bear lists of poems which are written in that notebook plus Jennings's own self-evaluative comments (eg. "good," "good religious poems at the beginning," or "freudish").
In addition to poems, the notebooks contain some personal and financial notes made by Jennings and several prose pieces. The prose include as essay on G. K. Chesterton, another piece on Ruth Pitter, and a piece titled "Relative Failures."
The poems in the folios are on loose-leaf sheets. The notebooks also have loose pages of poems inserted at various points. The notebooks are arranged in chronological order, with the undated folios filed at the end.
Stephen Spender's autograph letter written to Elizabeth Jennings (1992 Sep 21) responds to a letter she had written Spender and also praises her poetry, particularly Jennings's Growing-Points.
Ms 186 Elizabeth Jennings Papers
Ms 282 Elizabeth Jennings Letters and Poetry Manuscripts
Ms 284 Elizabeth Jennings Poetry Manuscripts
Box Folder Contents
1 Series I. Stephen Spender Letter to Jennings,
1992 Sep 21
F1 Autograph letter, 1992 Sep 21
One-page letter with envelope.
Series II. Jennings Poetry Manuscripts, 1981-1992
Seven notebooks and three folios containing
autograph poems written by Jennings. Arranged
in chronological order.
F2 Spiral notebook, 1981 Sep 30-Oct 5
Front cover bears Jennings's autograph dates and notes: "Good religious poems at the beginning" and "good and several others near these several songs." Jennings also lists the following poems titles on the cover: "Another Day Song," "For My Mother," "A Widower," "The Lull," "A Pastor," "Streams," "Love Sequence," and "Rome after Rome." 38 poems.
F3 Spiral notebook, 1981 Oct 6-11
Front cover bears Jennings's autograph dates and lists numerous titles of poems found in the notebook, with the comment "good" noted by several titles. 49 poems.
F4 Spiral notebook, 1982 Jun 7-22
Front cover bears Jennings's autograph dates and lists numerous titles of poems found in the notebook. Several titles have autograph comments such as "good," "Freudish," or "very good." The back cover continues the autograph list of titles with various comments by Jennings. She indicates that some of the poems in this notebook are about new subjects. The inside cover and first page bear autograph notes by Jennings about bills, money, phone calls, letters, and income taxes. 47 poems.
F5 Notebook, 1985 Jan 7
Front cover bears the autograph dates of the notebook. Includes four poems and two pages of autobiographical writing concerning her early reception by the literary world. Poems are titled "Ageing," "A Priest in Spain," "Broken Promises," and "Sacrifice."
F6 Spiral notebook, 1985 Jan-May
Front cover bears the autograph date "16th April 1985." The notebook includes autographs poems, a seven-page autograph and signed essay on G. K. Chesterton (laid in the beginning of the notebook), a page of notes titled "Income Tax 1985," and a page listing twenty items titled "Good Happenings January-May 1985." The subject of several of the 20 poems is ageing.
F7 Spiral notebook, 1986 Jul-Aug
Front cover bears autograph date "July 1986." Notebook includes seven autograph poems, two pages of financial notes at the end, financial notes on the inside back cover, and a prose piece titled "Relative Failures."
F8 Spiral notebook, 1988 Jul
Front cover bears autograph date "17th July 1988-end of July 1988." Notebook has 42 loose pages with 16 poems laid in which were probably originally torn from this notebook. The notebook has 8 poems on attached pages.
F9 Blue folio, 1991 Feb and [n.d.]
Folio contains five autograph poems on 8 loose leaves. The poem titled "Whence Does it Come?" is signed and dated "February 1991." Other titles include "Maundy Thursday," "Springburst," "Remembering Her," and "The Spring After Her Death."
F10 Flower-design folio, 1991 Feb-1992 Dec
Folio contains nine autograph poems on 15 loose leaves. The poem "Injustice" is signed and dated "February 1991." A series of four poems is titled "A Quartet for Christmas 1992."
F11 Eagle-design folio, 1991 Jun-1992 May
-13 Folio contains three groups of autograph poems, originally paper-clipped together. The groups have been separated into three folders, with the folio in F13. Only a few poems are dated. The subjects of many of poems are houses, homes, and dwellings.
F11 19 poems, including one titled "Safe as Houses- Introduction."
F12 12 poems.
F13 27 poems, includes a series of "Songs," and one
page of a prose piece on poet Ruth Pitter.