Letters from Howard Sergeant to Janice M. Green

Scope and Content

The letters in this collection were mainly written by Howard Sergeant to Janice M. (Jan) Green. The collection also contains two letters signed "David", and the final two letters were written by Jean, Sergeant's wife, during his final illness and after his death.

The correspondence appears to have begun when Green submitted one or more poems for inclusion in Outposts. Although these were rejected, Green wrote back to Sergeant with questions about his poetry and an ongoing exchange of letters began. The relationship quickly moved into friendship and the letters became more intimate, and it is clear from the correspondence that Sergeant and Green spoke on the telephone fairly regularly but met only occasionally. Green also undertook work for Sergeant, including typing up his poems and writing occasional reviews for Outposts.

Most of the letters in the early years contain Sergeant's feelings for Green and about their relationship, which appear to have been intense; in a letter of 17 August 1978 he writes, "[Y]ou are the biggest thing that ever happened to me (including Muriel)…". Many discuss his marriage to his second wife, Jean, from whom he tells Green he is concealing their relationship. A number of the letters expound Sergeant's theories about life and poetry (such as his "philosophy of love"), while others contain gossipy information about literary figures and mutual acquaintances. Several of the letters seek to explain to Green his earlier relationships, such as that with Muriel Spark.

Green and Sergeant had a number of mutual friends and acquaintances in the poetry world. The most frequently mentioned are Tilly Shore, the widow of Henry Shore, whom Sergeant was assisting in setting up a charity in Henry Shore's name; Jenny Brice, a Midlands poet; and David, whose name and exploits appear in a large number of the letters. David was the leader of the Middle England Poets Society (also Middle England Poetry Services) (MEPS). Sergeant appears to have been a friend of David for a number of years and frequently reports phone calls and letters from him.

In 1979 there was a clash between MEPS and the Stafford Group poetry society, regarding whether the two groups should merge or whether there should be a branch of MEPS in Stafford. It is unclear exactly what the situation was, although it seems that a personality clash may have been at the root of the issue, but it appears from this correspondence that Sergeant was receiving letters from both sides, hoping for his support, and that Green was also involved. Many of the letters in this period are largely taken up with the situation, and contain much opinion and information about the main players.

The relationship between Green and Sergeant soured for a time in 1981 when Green met a new partner. However, early 1982 saw a return to friendly correspondence, although with less intimacy and frequency than previously. Green and Sergeant then seem to have remained on good terms until his death in 1987.

A brief description of the main subjects in each letter is given at item level. The earliest letters are exclusively handwritten, but from August 1978 the letters are frequently typewritten.

Administrative / Biographical History

Herbert Howard Sergeant was born in Hull in 1914 and qualified as an accountant. He served in the RAF and the Air Ministry during the Second World War and with the assistance of his friend Lionel Monteith, edited and published the first issue of his poetry magazine 'Outposts' in February 1944. Outposts is the longest running independent poetry magazine in Britain. Sergeant had been writing poetry since childhood and his first poem to be published was 'Thistledown magic', in 'Chambers Journal' in 1943. 'Outposts' was conceived in wartime and its early focus was on poets 'who, by reason of the particular outposts they occupy, are able to visualise the dangers which confront the individual and the whole of humanity, now and after the war' (editorial, 'Outposts', no. 1). Over the decades, the magazine specialised in publishing unrecognised poets alongside the well established. Sergeant deliberately avoided favouring any particular school of poetry, and edited 'Mavericks: an anthology', with Dannie Abse, in 1957, in support of this stance. Sergeant's own poetry was included in the first issue of 'Outposts' (but rarely thereafter) and his first published collection, 'The Leavening Air', appeared in 1946. He was involved in setting up the Dulwich Group (a branch of the British Poetry Association) in 1949, and again, when it re-formed in 1960. In 1956, Sergeant published the first of the Outposts Modern Poets Series of booklets and hardbacks devoted to individual poets. During his lifetime he served on the Executive Councils of the PEN, the English Association, the National Book League and the Poetry Society, as well as on the panel of judges for the EC Gregory Awards and many other poetry awards and competitions. His work as a poetry editor reached far beyond 'Outposts', and he specialised particularly in Commonwealth poetry and children's poetry, as well as lecturing on how to teach poetry to children. Alongside his literary work, he had a career first as a company accountant, and then from 1963, as a lecturer. He retired as head of the School of Management at Brooklands Technical College in Weybridge in 1978 and received an MBE in the same year. After a gap of many years, he began to write poetry again and several of his anthologies date from the 1980s, including his 'Selected poems'.

Family life

Howard Sergeant married his first wife, Dorothy, in 1940, and the couple had a daughter, Deirdre. According to U DX349/81 Sergeant and his wife separated in 1941, although they did not divorce until 1953. Sergeant had relationships with a number of other women including, most famously, Muriel Spark. He married his second wife, Jean, in 1954, and they had a son, Julian, and two daughters, Cherrill and Oriel. He died in February 1987.

Janice M. Green was born in 1946. At the time the letters in this collection were written she was separated from her husband, Malcolm, and lived in Lichfield with her two daughters, Dulcie and Melanie. She also wrote poetry, which was published in Outposts and elsewhere. She died in 2010.

Access Information

Access will be granted to any accredited reader

Conditions Governing Use

With author

Custodial History

Deposited by Mr K. D. Hooker, brother and executor of Janice M. Green.

Related Material

Papers of Howard Sergeant, including the Archives of 'Outposts' poetry magazine [U DSG]