Jennings, Elizabeth Joan


Jennings, Elizabeth Joan
▪ 2002

      British poet (b. July 18, 1926, Boston, Lincolnshire, Eng.—d. Oct. 26, 2001, Bampton, Oxfordshire, Eng.), wrote traditional verse that was both intensely personal and universal. Her poetry was direct and understated, and it reflected her devout Roman Catholicism. She read English at St. Anne's College, Oxford, where her friends included Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin. From 1950 to 1958 she worked at the Oxford City Library and then briefly for a publisher. Beginning in 1960 she supported herself by writing and reviewing. Poems, which appeared in 1953, won the first of her three Arts Council Awards, and A Way of Looking (1955) won the Somerset Maugham Award. Robert Conquest selected her work for his 1956 anthology New Lines, which also included poems by Amis and Larkin, among others, and which led to her being grouped with the Movement poets. Unlike the other members of this group, however, she was not an ironist. After a trip to Italy she published A Sense of the World (1958), expressing her passion for that country. Song for a Birth or a Death (1961), which suggested a somewhat fierce view of love, led critics to call her a confessional poet, a label she firmly rejected. She suffered a breakdown in the early 1960s, and a number of subsequent poems, as in Recoveries (1964), reflected on her illness. Later volumes such as Growing-Points (1975) and Extending the Territory (1985) showed an expansion of technique. Major collections included Collected Poems 1967 (1967), Selected Poems (1979), and Collected Poems 1953–1985 (1986), which won the W.H. Smith Award. The Sonnets of Michelangelo, published in 1961 and revised in 1969, came to be considered the standard translation. She also published criticism, a biography of Robert Frost, and poetry for children. She was made CBE in 1992.

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