The Group papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection contains around 170 duplicated worksheets containing poems by 74 poets including Taner Baybars, Martin Bell, Alan Brownjohn, Zulfikar Ghose, Philip Hobsbaum, Edward Lucie-Smith, George MacBeth, Margaret Owen, Peter Porter, Peter Redgrove, Nathaniel Tarn and David Wevill. There is also considerable correspondence between various poets and Ian Fletcher, much of it related to the exhibition The Group which he mounted in the library of Reading University in 1974.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Group was founded by Philip Hobsbaum when he moved to London from Cambridge in 1955. It was loosely based on a verse-speaking group that he had started in 1952, when he was an undergraduate at Downing College, of which Peter Redgrove was also a member. Hobsbaum's aim was to extend the critical principles of his Cambridge tutor F.R. Leavis to the work of young contemporary poets and this seriousness was reflected in the way The Group worked. From early 1956 The Group, formed by invitation from a wide constituency of poets based in London, met weekly at Hobsbaum's house. Before each meeting six or seven poems of one poet would be typed, duplicated and distributed to the members. At the meeting this work would be extensively and frankly discussed by the dozen or so people who attended. As well as Hobsbaum, a nucleus of members such as Edward Lucie-Smith, Peter Redgrove, Peter Porter and Martin Bell met regularly while others, including Ted Hughes, came to the meetings from time to time.

In 1959 Hobsbaum left London to study in Sheffield and the chairmanship of the group passed to Edward Lucie-Smith. The meetings at his house in Chelsea followed the same format and gradually widened to include more poets including Fleur Adcock, Taner Baybars, Edwin Brock, Nathaniel Tarn and Zulfikar Ghose. In 1963 A Group Anthology was published which aroused both hostility and publicity. Numbers attending meetings grew to a point where the original purpose of the Group could not be carried on and Lucie-Smith decided to call a halt in 1965. Although a Group-related Poetry Workshop run by a committee continued for some time, the London Group itself had come to an end.

However, Philip Hobsbaum took The Group principles with him to Belfast where he moved to work at Queen's University in 1962. The Belfast Group included poets such as John Bond, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and Stewart Parker and continued after Hobsbaum left in 1966 for a post at Glasgow University. In Glasgow Hobsbaum also set up a group which was attended by Alasdair Gray and Liz Lochhead among others.

Philip Hobsbaum was born into a Jewish family in London in 1932 and brought up in Yorkshire. He went to Downing College Cambridge where he read English and was taught by F.R. Leavis, graduating in 1955. He then went to London where he worked as a part-time lecturer and teacher, founded The Group and married Hannah Kelly. In 1959 he decided to go to Sheffield to study critical theory with William Empson. His thesis was eventually published as A Theory of Communication in 1970.

From 1962-1966 Hobsbaum worked as a lecturer in Belfast, but his marriage broke up and he moved to Glasgow where he remained for the rest of his university career, eventually being given a professorship in 1985. He was married for a second time, to Rosemary Phillips, in 1976. With his burly, bearded appearance and distinctive cultured voice Hobsbaum made a great impression on his students, not only for his rather combative approach to teaching but also for his encouragement of young writers and his great gift for listening.

Conditions Governing Access

Open to all researchers. No reader's ticket is required but an appointment is necessary. Check www.reading.ac.uk/special-collections/using/sc-using.asp for contact details and opening hours.

Acquisition Information

Gifts from Ian Fletcher, Philip Hobsbaum, Peter Porter

Note

This description was written by Gil Skidmore with reference to various sources including The Group: an exhibition of poetry, The Library, University of Reading, 1974.

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