Encore for the Wanderer
FROM THE BROTHERTON SPECIAL COLLECTIONS
Encore for the Wanderer: the Ken Smith Archive
In 1965, during his co-editorship of Stand, Ken Smith took up a position at Exeter College of Art, where he found himself in conflict with the College authorities. He pointedly dedicated his Academic Board Poems (1968) to ‘all who legislate for the imagination, though they possess none; who claim to educate, though they are ignorant.’1 ‘Poetry by its nature,’ he wrote later ‘is subversive of established order, which only deadens.’2
In Exeter, Smith found a fellow subversive in the Wanderer, an eponymous protagonist of the Exeter Book. The Anglo-Saxon wraecca was a ‘wretch, stranger, wanderer, pilgrim, unhappy man’; exiled from his kin and longing to return.3 Describing his poem ‘The Wanderer Yakob’, Smith noted that he’d found ‘the figure of the wanderer, under various guises, speaking through most of what I’ve written’.4 In Smith’s incarnations the wanderer is a cowboy, drifter, beerslinger and poet; a sometimes lonely but perceptive agent for change: ‘He is an outsider, and an outsider’s function to society is in his facility for insight’. It is perhaps fitting that a 1963 press-cutting in Smith’s archive describes him and Jon Silkin on a trip to sell Stand as ‘two wandering “song pedlars”’.
Acquired in 2012, the Ken Smith Archive is a research-rich collection of notebooks, drafts, journals and correspondence from which the figure of the wanderer regularly emerges, both as poetic subject and in the person of Smith himself as poet, teacher, traveller and talker. A precursor to Fox Running is called ‘Encore for ...
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