About John Heath Stubbs

John Heath-Stubbs (1918 - 2006) recalled how the teacher at his tiny village school read her pupils Our Island Story, sparking in him the lifelong fascination with history that informed his poetic career. He completed his education at Worcester College for the Blind and Queens College, Oxford. First published in 1941 in Eight Oxford Poets, Heath-Stubbs had a prolific career - as a critic, anthologist and translator as well as poet. He received the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry and the St Augustine Cross and was awarded the OBE in 1988. He died in London in December 2006.

In the 'Poet of Bray', Heath-Stubbs elegantly parodies the kind of poet who follows literary fashion. His own poetry resolutely refused the labels critics tried to pin on it; described first as a Romantic and then as a Classicist, Heath-Stubbs' work often ran counter to prevailing currents. Perhaps his immunity from fashion was partly informed by his lifelong immersion in history and classical mythologies. In his poems an encounter with Shakespeare, or Li Po or Plato is as natural and immediate as his description of a stone-chat or death-watch beetle. This is not to suggest Heath-Stubbs' work is archaic, far from it; his distinctive achievement was to forge a modern pastoral out of unlikely sources, a style which can encompass Yeatsian symbolism and dry irony. A similar balance is present in his versatile use of form, being equally at home in free verse and the most complex of stanza patterns: included here are a villanelle, a sonnet, a poem written in couplets, together with the Betjeman-like rhythms and rhymes of the lighter poems.

His reading captures this range of tones; deep and resonant it can suggest the voice of an Old Testament prophet, but elsewhere is warm and humorous and he clearly relishes the bite of satire. The dead king in 'Purkis', for instance, may be described in formal tones, but it's the crude cry of the charcoal-burner which ends the poem and after whom it is titled.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 23 November 2000 at the poet's home in London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

John Heath-Stubbs's Favourite Poetry Saying:

"[Poetry is] articulate music" - Dryden

Selected bibliography

Touching the Sun: Poems in Memory of Adam Johnson by...

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The Game of Love and Death, Enitharmon, 1990

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In the Shadows: A Sequence of Sonnets (with David Gray...

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Pigs Might Fly, Carcanet, 2005

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The Return of the Cranes, Carcanet, 2002

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The Eight Poems of Sulpicia, Hearing Eye, 2000

The Sound of Light, Carcanet, 1999

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Literary Essays, Carcanet, 1998

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The Torriano Sequences, Hearing Eye, 1997

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Prizes

1973 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry

Recordings

John Heath-Stubbs

John Heath-Stubbs Reading from his poems

1Mozart

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2Purkis

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3A Crow in Bayswater

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4Christus Natus Est

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5The Frog and the Nightingale

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6Wishes for the Months

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7The Lady’s Complaint

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8Girl with Marionettes

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9Plato and the Waters of the Flood

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10When Sappho Loved

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11The Timeless Nightingale

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12The Poet of Bray

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13Inscription for a Scented Garden for the Blind

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14The Tree-Creeper

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15The Carrion Crow

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16The Stonechat

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17The Blackcap

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18Ibycus

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19Song of the Death-Watch Beetle

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20Flea

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21Inscription for a Sundial

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22A Jellicle Cat

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23The Mulberry Tree

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24The Ghost of Gruesome Towers

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25A Ballad of the Piltdown Man

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26At the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea

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27A Ballad of Trafalgar Square

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28Sonnet

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29Ockham’s Razor

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30A Christmas Rose

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A tour of the Archive with Chris Pearson

When choosing poems for my tour, I had just one criterion in mind: that each poem must allow me to comment on the...

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Books by John Heath Stubbs