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Poetry Book Society records

 Collection 0042-LIT

The Poetry Book Society was founded in 1953 under the auspices of the Arts Council of Great Britain to foster the art of poetry and to promote the work of contemporary poets. It continued to operate as recently as 2005. The society mails subscribers a book of poetry quarterly, accompanied by a Bulletin containing a contribution from the selected poet of the quarter. The collection includes proofs and issues of the society's Bulletin, typescripts, and correspondence between contributing poets and Charles Osborne, assistant secretary of the society. Among the significant figures represented are Barry Cole, Martin Dodsworth, Douglas Dunn, Thomas Kinsella, Geoffrey Grigson, Thom Gunn, John Fuller, David Harsent, Seamus Heaney, and David Holbrook.


  • 1962-1970
  • Majority of material found within 1966-1970

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


0.25 Linear Feet

Scope and Contents

The Poetry Book Society records span the years from 1962 to 1970. The collection is comprised of correspondence between Charles Osborne and poets contributing to the Bulletin, typescripts and manuscripts, and short biographical notes written by the poets for inclusion in the Bulletin. There is also correspondence related to the administration of the society, proofs, copies of Bulletins, and material related to the International Poetry Festivals of 1967 and 1969, which the society organized.

Biographical / Historical

The Poetry Book Society was founded in December 1953, under the auspices of the Arts Council of Great Britain, its purpose to "further the education of the people of this country by fostering and propagating the art of poetry and particularly by promoting knowledge, appreciation and enjoyment of the published work of contemporary poets." The first directors of the society included B. H. Blackwell, Joseph Compton, R. N. David, T. S. Eliot, Sir George Rostrevor Hamilton, and Erica Marx. Eric W. White became the society's first secretary. For further information about the society's beginnings, see Poetry Book Society: The First Twenty-Five Years, 1954-1978, by Eric W. White (London, 1979: Poetry Book Society).

Charles Osborne, assistant secretary of the society in the period represented in the Archives of the Poetry Book Society, was born in Brisbane, Australia, in 1927. He published more than fifteen works on opera and several novelizations of Agatha Christie stage plays. His best known work is W. H. Auden: The Life of a Poet (Harcourt, 1979).

The Poetry Book Society celebrated its fiftieth birthday in 2003. It continues to publish a quarterly Bulletin which is mailed along with a selected poetry book to subscribers. It also sells poetry books, offers poetry education programs and materials for teachers, and awards the annual T. S. Eliot Prize for poetry. The society is based in London. Its web site is (last accessed October 2005).


The collection is organized as three series.

Series 1
Series 2
Series 3

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The University of Maryland Libraries purchased thethe Poetry Book Society records on August 1, 1973.

Related Material

Material related to the operation of the Poetry Book Society from 1952 to 1965 is held by the University of Maryland of Washington University in Clayton, Missouri, in the Erica Marx collection. Issues of the Poetry Book Society Bulletin from the 1980s and 1990s are held by Yale University Library and the University of Colorado. Cambridge University Library holds a major collection of Charles Osborne's correspondence and papers from the 1950s through 1986. The University of Maryland has a small collection of Thom Gunn's papers, mostly from the late 1960s. Of the other poets who appear in the collection, the University of Texas holds a collection of Austin Clarke's manuscripts and correspondence and some of Geoffrey Grigson's literary papers and correspondence. Boston College holds a Seamus Heaney collection. The University of Delaware has Elizabeth Jennings's papers from 1940 to 1969. Princeton University has Ian Hamilton's notes, drafts, letters, and legal briefs related to his unpublished biography of J. D. Salinger. The University of Indiana holds a collection of Peter Porter's manuscripts dating from 1960 to 1966.

Processing Information

Before reprocessing in 2005, the arrangement of the collection included three series: Series I: Correspondence; Series II: The Poets; and Series III: Miscellaneous. Series I contained intra-organizational memoranda and correspondence between staff members of the Poetry Book Society, while correspondence between the society and contributing poets was included in Series II. That series, arranged alphabetically by poet, also contained manuscripts. In 2005, all correspondence was moved into a single series and a second series for manuscripts was established. Manuscript material was separated from correspondence for Barry Cole, Martin Dodsworth, Douglas Dunn, John Fuller, Geoffrey Grigson, David Harsent, John Hewitt, David Holbrook, Glyn Hughes, Thomas Kinsella, R. S. Thomas, and Peter Whigham. Material originally filed in Series III: Miscellaneous was redistributed between the two series created for correspondence and manuscripts, and a third series, Publications, was created for issues and proofs of the Bulletin that had been housed in a single folder.

Guide to the Poetry Book Society records
Processed by: Linda Eileen Parris, October 1982.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742