Charles Olson

Charles Olsen

1910 (Worcester, Mass.) – 1970 (New York)

Olson, who was invited to Black Mountain College by Josef Albers before succeeding him there, was a major influence on a generation of American poets. He met Yeats on a European visit won as a student, and visited Pound (a deeply significant ‘elder’) for two years in mental hospital, though was repelled by his extreme-right views. Cage, Cunningham, Twombly, Wolpe, Harrison and Kline were among Black Mountain acquaintances. Among the leading poets he both knew and influenced were Creeley, Levertov and Duncan (who felt they had been on a great adventure together, and visited him in his last days).

Cecil Day-Lewis

C. Day Lewis;C Day Lewis

1904 (Ballintubbert, Ireland) – 1972 (Hadley Wood, England)

Auden, initially strongly influential, was met at Oxford: Day-Lewis joined the circle around him, later modelling a fictional detective on him. Spender became another friend from the time (though it is a popular misconception that with MacNeice they formed a tight-knit group; the four were never in the same room all at the same time). Shortly before his fatal accident, Lawrence wrote praising his poetry. Day-Lewis’s friend Kavanagh told him he should have made more of his socialist convictions, Lehmann had a long affair with him, and his friend Amis gave him house-room in the months he was dying.

Cecil Day-Lewis knew…

Bryan Procter

Barry Cornwall;Bryan Waller Procter;Brian Procter;Bryan Proctor;Brian Proctor

1787 (Leeds) – 1874 (London)

He was a member of Leigh Hunt’s literary circle: Lamb, Dickens, Browning and Carlyle were among his friends, Carlyle praising his “innumerable secret good deeds.” Hazlitt also had uncharacteristically high regard for him. Collins dedicated ‘The Woman in White’ to him, mentioning “many happy hours spent in his house.” Mary Shelley is said to have had hopes of remarriage with him (she probably had warmer feelings for him than for most others still bandied about as prospective matches). He helped care for Mary Lamb, both as friend, and as a member of the Metropolitan Commission for Lunacy.

Andrei Voznesensky

1933 (Moscow) – 2010 (Moscow)

Voznesensky became an iconic figure among soviet youth in the 1960’s, along with Yevtushenko, Akhmadulina, Okudzhava and Rozhdestvensky. At 14, he was befriended by Pasternak. He met Ginsberg in Moscow, became good friends, and did many public readings with him. Ehrenburg advised him on how to avoid complications. Solzhenytsin inscribed a book to him, Auden admired his craftsmanship, and Akhmadulina set up a post-soviet writers’ union with him. Miller, Picasso and Sartre all became friends. He collaborated with Schnittke, and met Heidegger in his study, the two struggling to converse in French and English.

Andrei Voznesensky knew…

Andrei Bely

Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev

1880 (Moscow) – 1934 (Moscow)

Bely was Boris Bugaev’s pen-name. Tsvetaeva, then an emergent writer, met him in the circle around the critic Voloshin. Ehrenburg, Mayakovsky, Mandelstam and Pasternak were others he hob-nobbed with; Pasternak said he hadn’t stretched his talent as much as he should have, but also acknowledged his influence. Bryusov co-edited a magazine with him, Bakst painted him. He had a close but stormy friendship with Blok, his fellow-follower of the esoteric philosopher Solovyov, having an affair with Blok’s wife, and duelling with him. Bely became a disciple of Steiner’s, working on his anthroposophical temple in Switzerland, before falling out with him.

Robert Duncan

1919 (Oakland, Calif.) – 1988 (San Francisco)

Duncan was, unusually, a seminal member of both Black Mountain and San Francisco Renaissance poetry groups, and an anticipatory proponent of gay liberation. He knew Miller and Nin in downtown New York (where he also published their friend Durrell), corresponded with Patchen, Riding and Baraka (energetically), and was a close friend of Levertov, though they increasingly differed over art/politics relations. Olson introduced him to Creeley at Black Mountain, where Chamberlain was a kindred spirit. Rexroth took him under his wing back in California. A passionate admirer of H.D., Duncan corresponded with her for the last decade of her life.

Robert Lowell

1917 (Boston, Mass.) – 1977 (New York)

Lowell was one of the most influential English-language poets of the 20th century. He had a lifelong friendship with Pound, and another with his erstwhile mentor Frost, had Eliot as supportive critic and editor, Plath and Sexton among his students, and treated Santayana like his priest. Bishop (for 30 years) and Nolan were among his closest friends. He met Arendt (an oasis in New York’s dry dust) at McCarthy’s. Ginsberg reinvigorated his poetry, Walcott adjusted his tie, while Evans had a thing for his wife. Mailer and he — unlikely comrades — marched arm-in-arm together on the Pentagon. Larkin thought him barking mad.

Robert Lowell knew…

Seamus Heaney

1939 (Castledawson, Northern Ireland) – 2013 (Dublin)

Heaney was a commanding figure in Irish literature. Hughes, a lifelong friend, helped persuade him to make a go of writing for a living; they later co-edited two anthologies. Heaney was in awe at meeting Lowell, one of his influences, and joyful that they got on (they became good friends). He built strong links with writers in Poland (where he saw sympathetic parallels with Ireland); Miłosz (whom he called ‘the giant at my shoulder’), Szymborska and Herbert were all friends, as were Creeley, Walcott and Brodsky. He read with MacDiarmid, took Murray to visit megaliths, and got hungover with Bragg.

Seamus Heaney knew…

Sorley MacLean

Somhairle MacGill-Eain

1911 (Raasay, Scotland) – 1996 (Inverness)

MacLean bears a great responsibility for the survival and revival of Gaelic poetry, and had an important secondary role as critic, when Gaelic literature was suffering from a general lack of critical exposure. He enjoyed a strong close friendship with the older MacDiarmid, who first contacted him to help with translation from Gaelic (probably not realising MacLean was a poet too). Friends until MacDiarmid’s death, both ardent nationalists, MacLean did for Gaelic writing what MacDiarmid did for Scots. When Heaney (who became a great fan) first heard MacLean reading, he was struck by what he called his “bardic dignity.”

Ted Hughes

1930 (Mytholmroyd, England) – 1998 (London)

Hughes was one of the major English-language poets of the later 20th C. Eliot was his first editor – Hughes appreciated his light touch. Auden (met only rarely), Spender and MacNeice were with the same publisher. Plath was determined to meet him: they were together until a few months before her suicide, for which he was persistently attacked. Hughes was responsible for getting Herbert translated into English, was a great admirer of Holub (it was mutual), and was credited by his close friend Amichai with putting him into orbit. Yevtushenko did not impress him. Heaney called him a tower of tenderness and strength.

Ted Hughes knew…