Friendship and the Gift in the Poetry of George Barker, W.S. Graham, Dylan Thomas and Vernon Watkins

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This essay looks at the relationship between poem, gift-giving and friendship in the work the neo-romantic poets in light of the anthropology of the gift, particularly as expressed in the theories of Marcel Mauss and Pierre Bordieu. The essay is in four parts. The first part concentrates upon Vernon Watkins and his poetic friendship with Dylan Thomas. Making especial reference to Watkins’s 1938 poem about Thomas, ‘Portrait of a Friend’, it investigates the relationship between mutual gift-giving and mutual poetic influence among friends. The second part is upon Dylan Thomas himself and concentrates upon the poem Thomas sent to Watkins entitled ‘To Others Than You’. The connections between, and anxieties about, friendship, money and language in Thomas’s work are teased out. The third part is on George Barker and considers his poems addressed to Thomas and to George Gascoyne, before looking at his elegies to his publishers and patrons T.S. Eliot and David Archer. It elaborates upon the similarities between gifts, jokes and poems. The essay’s fourth part looks at W.S. Graham and his slow journey towards a poetry that was, in spite of the neo-romantics’ resistance to the occasional and quotidian, better able to answer Barker’s friendly reproaches to the solipsistic and unfriendly qualities evident in Graham’s earlier work. As with the sections on Thomas and Barker, links are made between poetry, friendship and the purchase and consumption of alcohol. As in the section on Barker, the links between neo-romantic poetics of friendship and elegy are contemplated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-137
Number of pages23
Issue number249
Early online date5 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016


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