Jul/Aug 2006  •   Reviews & Interviews

Saint Botolph's Review No.2

Review by Ann Skea

Saint Botolph's Review No.2.
David Andrews Ross and Daniel Weissbort, editors.
Viper Press. 2006. 34 pp.
ISBN 0 9552925 0 6.

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes: these linked names, like Cathy and Heathcliff, now resonate with a whole romantic, tragic story, but this story began just 50 years ago when a new literary magazine, Saint Botolph's Review, was launched.

In 1956, like all those involved with the Review, Sylvia and Ted were young, unknown Cambridge undergraduates. Sylvia, at 24, was an American Fulbright Scholar who had been up at Cambridge for just a few months. Ted, at 26, was (as he wrote in Birthday Letters) "sitting youth away" in a temporary office job in London and "recidived / Into Alma Mater" at weekends to be with his friends.

Ted and his friends shared a love of poetry and song. They met regularly at a local Cambridge pub to talk, drink, and sing old folk-songs. They also sometimes met in the garden of the Saint Botolph's rectory, where one of them, Lucas Myers, had lodgings in a converted chicken shed. Their decision to create and publish a new magazine was a youthful, but serious, challenge to the accepted literary fashions of the time, and on February 25th, 1956, at a memorable party, Saint Botolph's Review was launched and Ted and Sylvia met for the first time.

Both Sylvia and Ted wrote (not entirely accurately) about this party, and so it has become the stuff of legend. But the Review languished, those who wrote it, produced it, and launched it went on with their lives, and only a few copies survived for scholars and collectors eventually to haggle over.

Now, fifty years later, Saint Botolph's Review No.2 has appeared. It was always intended that the Review would be "published occasionally," but this second occasion has been so long in coming that David Andrews Ross, who remains the editor, writes that "many of the people who attended the enormous party to launch the first issue... must now be dead." He mentions Joe Lyde, whose band (with Joe on trumpet) provided the music; Ted, whose poetry was included in the first Review; and Sylvia, who danced with Lucas Myers (another early contributor, but still very much alive) and who, in a romantic encounter with Ted that night, lost her hairband and bit Ted so hard on the cheek that he wore the "ring-moat of tooth-marks" for the next month.

Daniel Weissbort, who was dragged, groggy with a bad cold, to play the piano in Joe's band at that memorable party, has worked with David Ross to edit and produce this second issue. Lucas Myers, Daniel Huws, Than Minton, George Weissbort, all of whom contributed to the first issue, have provided new material. And others, who at various times over the years have shared their interests, are included.

Inevitably Sylvia and Ted are remembered: especially in an essay by Lucas Myers, who was a lifelong friend of Ted's—"one / Among those three of four who stay unchanged / Like a separate self" (as Ted wrote in "Visit" in Birthday Letters). Myers records his own memories of the couple, and he writes of Sylvia's "varied voices" in her letters and journals and of the distorted view these sometimes gave people of Ted's character.

Ted's own previously unpublished introduction to poems by Susan Alliston attests his essential generosity of spirit. Sue was a neighbour of his at 18 Rugby Street in London, and she is memorialized in the Birthday Letters poem of that title. She is the woman in the poem who, three years after Sylvia's death, was pacing the floor, "dying of leukaemia" (actually, of Hodgkin's disease). Daniel Weissbort and Olwyn Hughes found Sue's poems in her flat after her death, and when Daniel suggested publishing them, Ted wrote this introduction. Shortly after this, Daniel and David Ross set up the Viper Press, "planning to publish a few books," but the project never went ahead. Only now, "a few decades later," have they revived the Viper Press because, as David Ross says, they want to celebrate "pieces of good writing, poetry and prose, which we think worth reading."

Only 200 copies of Saint Botolph's Review No.2 have been printed.


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