Tuesday 28 June 2011

Whether a dove or a seagull

I thought I'd pop out a quick post, to test your knowledge (/actually I have no idea, and hoped someone else would.) I've been reading a bit about Sylvia Townsend Warner of late, mostly letters, and footnotes in a couple of different volumes have mentioned Whether a Dove or a Seagull. It's a poetry collection she published in 1934 with her partner Valentine Ackland - a joint-collection, but none of the poems were signed, so the authorship of each was left unknown. Which is an intriguing thought - and a brilliant title.

But in the footnotes it has simply said 'This experiment was not a success'. And no more info. Does anybody know any more about the collection, and in what manner it failed to succeed? Simply in terms of sales? Or was it critically panned? Or was one poet so evidently inferior to the other that anonymity was pointless? Anybody in the know, do shout!


  1. I found this on:

    Before she met Sylvia, Valentine's poetry had been published in literary magazines, and her reputation as a young poet of promise was growing. Her love for Sylvia gave her a new subject of great power, and her work matured. In 1934, they jointly published Whether a Dove or Seagull, the core of which is an exchange of love poems.

    The eyes of body, being blindfold
    by night
    Refer to the eyes of mind - at
    brain's command
    Study imagination's map, then
    order out a hand
    To journey forth as deputy for sight.

    For many years the fact that the poems are erotic and celebratory, and between women, ensured the book was undiscussed, despite its quality; it is still relatively little known for such a ground-breaking cycle. The poems were unattributed, so that they could be read on merit rather than by author, but this led to confusion, and to Valentine's contribution being undervalued. This unconventional egalitarianism, combined with the subject matter, did the authors' reputations more harm than good at the time.

    Hope that helps.

  2. If you've not seen it there is a tiny review here ...

    The English Journal, Vol. 23, No. 7 (Sep., 1934), pp. 612-620

    It's entirely positive ... *if* it's representative it seems unlikely that the book failed due to poor reviews.

    Hope this helps :)

  3. Thanks Anne and Annie for your help!


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