The first anthology of Trinity poets celebrates six centuries of poetry by nearly 50 authors from Elizabethan times to the present, all members of the College.
From the famous figures of George Herbert, Lord Byron and Alfred Tennyson, to those better known for other pursuits – the statesman and writer Francis Bacon, historian Thomas Babington Macaulay and scientist James Clerk Maxwell – the volume also includes many lesser-known figures. Co-editor Professor Adrian Poole said:
Trinity is full of surprises and so is this anthology. Who would have thought that ‘Tweedle-dum and ‘Tweedle-dee’ originated with a Trinity poet? Who knows that Vladimir Nabokov was a Trinity student?
The anthology also features the work of contemporary poets such as Rebecca Watts, Sean Borodale, Jacob Polley and Sophie Hannah.
Sophie Hannah came to Trinity in 1997 as a Fellow Commoner in the Creative Arts – a two-year Fellowship that enables writers, composers and artists to pursue their craft freely. With time to write, a beautiful environment and supportive colleagues, she describes Trinity as ‘utter bliss’ and ‘one of the best experiences of my entire life.’
‘It just feels like the best place in world – I fell in love with the College instantly, and still love it to this day,’ she said.
Sophie Hannah is an award-winning author of crime fiction and has published five collections of poetry. Pessimism for Beginners was shorted for the TS Eliot Award. She says her experience at Trinity ‘gave me the confidence to pursue my writing and think of myself as a proper writer (rather than as a secretary who skived off work to write poems, which was my official job title before Trinity rescued me!)’
During her undergraduate studies in English at the College, Rebecca Watts said it didn’t occur to her to write poetry herself. ‘This happened a few years after I left Trinity, with everything I’d read and learned there still percolating and looking for an outlet. If you’d told me as a student that one day I’d feature in a poetry anthology alongside Marvell, Byron, Tennyson and Housman I’d have assumed you were mad (or at least confused).’
And she said, it was as much an honour to be published alongside the contemporary poets, who had offered guidance and improved her work immeasurably.
Trinity Poets, edited by Professors Adrian Poole and Angela Leighton was inspired by a bequest from Anne Barton, Fellow of Trinity from 1985 to 2013. Eight members of Trinity (five Fellows and three students) have collaborated to produce the volume, which is published by Carcanet Press in April 2017.
While the College is well known for its famous scientists and mathematicians, Professor Poole said the literary figures that have passed through Great Gate were less often noted. ‘This volume is a rich reminder of the role played by the poetic imagination in the history of the College, and the lives of those who pass through it,’ he said.
For many of the authors featured, Trinity has provided a temporary haven, a place of respite and relative calm in a troubled world, whether the religious and political turmoil of the sixteenth century and seventeenth centuries to which authors such as Andrew Marvell responded, or the dislocations of the twentieth century that helped to shape figures as disparate as A A Milne and Thom Gunn.
Not all poets relished Trinity’s haven of calm, however. Notwithstanding his ‘Superexcellent rooms’, Byron soon bored of the ‘checks upon my vivacity’, against which he retaliated, says Professor Poole, by installing his famous bear and holding ‘eternal parties’ replete with ‘Jockies, Gamblers, Boxers, Authors, parsons and poets.’
Professor Poole said:
‘Byron is not alone in his impatience with the ‘checks’ encountered by riotous undergraduates, though few have equalled the ‘vivacity’ with which he reacted to them. Many of the poets here, especially the more recent, speak gratefully of the licence the College provides, the liberties of space and time.’
Sean Borodale, for example, Fellow Commoner in the Creative Arts, 2013–15, speaks of the ‘extraordinary qualities of freedom’ that Trinity offers. His time here was invaluable, ‘to read expansively, to write without limits, to ask questions, to spend protracted, undisturbed time articulating ideas or developing manifestos around creative work.’
Co-editor Professor Leighton said that while only four women poets are included in the anthology, for historical reasons, ‘it is clear that we have all felt welcomed and included.’ She said:
Although these halls and gardens have historically belonged to men, this seems no bar to the imaginations of women today. Perhaps it even gives us the extra privilege of ‘an outsider’s view’ – a view containing just a bit of amusement, detachment, ironic appreciation – always a good thing for poetry!
But in another sense, the history of the college is one that might include us nevertheless, since, as Emma Jones points out, ‘this mathematicians’ college’ has been, since its foundation, ‘also a college of poets’. This anthology is testimony to that.