Scope and Contents
The papers listed here include some personal and biographical materials; papers and correspondence relating to publication of Veronica Forrest-Thomson's work (chiefly posthumous publications); and some of her written work (published and unpublished).
The bulk of the collection was donated to Girton College in 2012 by Jonathan Culler, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Cornell University: he was married to Veronica Forrest-Thomson in the 1970s and is her literary executor. The papers were initially collated by Dr Gareth Farmer, who is a Lecturer in English at Bedfordshire University and whose PhD thesis examined the poetry and critical work of Veronica Forrest-Thomson. Others who are mentioned in the catalogue include Anthony Barnett, editor, of Allardyce, Barnett, Publishers, of Lewes, East Sussex, who edited a number of posthumous collections of Veronica's poetry; and Jeremy Prynne, poet, who was Veronica's first PhD supervisor in Cambridge. The books from Veronica's personal library which are catalogued at GCPP Forrest-Thomson 1/5a were donated by the University of Birmingham in 2015.
Biographical / Historical
Veronica Elizabeth Marian Forrest-Thomson was born in Malaya on 28 November 1947, the second child of John Forrest Thomson, a sales manager, and Jean Tait, a teacher. The family moved back to Glasgow in 1948 where Veronica attended local schools until 1965, when she began to read English at the University of Liverpool.
She began writing poetry at an early age and her first full-length collection, ‘Identi-kit’, was published in 1967 by Outposts Publications under the name Veronica Forrest. She graduated with first class honours from Liverpool in 1968. In the same year she embarked on her PhD at Girton College, Cambridge, initially supervised by the poet and scholar, J H Prynne (1936 - ) and then by the literary scholar and poet, Graham Hough (1908-1990).
Still as Veronica Forrest, she privately printed a collection of poems entitled ‘twelve academic questions’ in 1970. Many of the poems in this collection were reprinted in ‘Language-Games’ (1971), her first collection of poems to be published under her newly hyphenated name, Forrest-Thomson. ‘Language-Games’ was published as part of the New Poets Award organised by the School of English at Leeds University. On 13 March 1971, Veronica married the literary critic, Jonathan Culler, who was then teaching at Selwyn College; they divorced exactly two years later. In June 1971, Veronica submitted her PhD thesis ‘Poetry as Knowledge: The Use of Science by Twentieth-Century Poets’ to the University of Cambridge and was awarded her PhD the following year.
Between 1972 and 1974, Veronica was a Research Fellow in English at the University of Leicester. During this time she undertook much of the research for what would become her posthumously published critical work, ‘Poetic Artifice: A Theory of Twentieth Century Poetry’ (Manchester University Press, 1978). Articles and essays from this period also reveal that she had been working on a book on Ezra Pound’s poetry and its relation with nineteenth century poetry - themes foreshadowed by ‘Poetic Artifice’ - as well as a number of other critical articles, many of which remain unpublished.
During this time, Veronica was also developing a poetic style which drew on the concerns of structuralism and post-structuralism but which also mined the resources of what she would call the poetic ‘tradition’ represented by the work of nineteenth century poets such as A C Swinburne and D G Rossetti. The fruits of this work were published in a small collection, ‘Cordelia’ or ‘A poem should not mean but be’ in 1974, the title poem of which was her own experimental dramatic monologue composed with a wry nod to Robert Browning as well as Victorian poetic aestheticism. In the same year, Veronica became a lecturer at the University of Birmingham.
Veronica died in the night between 25 and 26 April, 1975, a week after participating in the Cambridge Poetry Festival. She had been due to read her wryly melancholic poem ‘Richard II’ at the ‘Poems for Shakespeare IV’ event run by the World Centre for Shakespeare Studies at Southwark Cathedral that Saturday.
Most of Veronica’s poetry has been collected since her death. In 1976, Street Editions published her final collection of poems, ‘On the Periphery’, from a manuscript that she had herself organised and collated. In 1978, Graham Hough and Jonathan Culler oversaw the publication of ‘Poetic Artifice’ with Manchester University Press. In 1990, Allardyce, Barnett published ‘Collected Poems and Translations’ (ed. Anthony Barnett). Invisible Books published ‘Selected Poems’ in 1999 while a new ‘Collected Poems’ (minus the translations) was published in 2008 by Shearsman Books in association with Allardyce, Barnett.
As well as ‘Poetic Artifice’, a few of Veronica’s critical essays have been published since her death. These include ‘Swinburne as Poet: A Reconsideration’ in Jacket 20 (2002) and excerpts from essays on Pound, Swinburne and Tennyson in 'Chicago Review 56:2/3 (2011) (from manuscripts formerly held by Jonathan Culler and now held in the archives of Girton College).
[This biography was compiled by Gareth Farmer, Lecturer in English at Bedfordshire University, in February 2013. Many of the details in it were informed by Alison Mark, ‘Veronica Forrest-Thomson and Language Poetry’ (Devon: Northcote House, 2001), pp x-xii.]