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2009 articles 2009 articles

Tambimuttu and the Poetry London Papers at the British Library: Reputation and Evidence

Chris Beckett (notes)

Abstract

The papers of the most influential literary magazine of the 1940s, Poetry London (1939-51), and the associated papers its Sri Lankan editor, M. J. T. Tambimuttu, were long considered lost until they came to light in 2005, when they were passed to the British Library. The papers of author Richard March (purchased by the British Library in 2003), who was the magazine's owner and editor in its later years, complement Tambimuttu's papers. Taken together, the two collections provide an opportunity to review the accomplishments of the magazine and its principal editor, Tambimuttu. As A. T. Tolley observed, in The Poetry of the Forties (1985), Tambimuttu's 'decided achievements deserve to be disengaged from the legends that have come to surround him.' This paper adopts an evidential approach to Tolley's challenge. It considers the exotic presentation of Tambimuttu in the memoirs of Julian Maclaren Ross, the context of Tambimuttu's dismissal as editor (in 1949), and endeavours to separate fact from fiction in respect of his literary reputation, particularly with regard to the posthumous publication of The Collected Poems of Keith Douglas (Editions Poetry London, 1951).

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