Sydney Clouts' (1926-82) small body of poetry – he published just one volume, One Life (1966), during his lifetime – belies a larger presence in the history of South African poetry in English during the second half of the twentieth century. Born in Cape Town in 1926, Clouts married Marjorie (better known as Marge) Leftwich in 1952. Although the couple never made public statements about their move to England in 1961, its timing – following the 1960 referendum result that led to the constitution of the South African Republic and the entrenchment of apartheid policies – was clearly no coincidence. Like his English near-contemporary, Philip Larkin, Clouts became a librarian, a job he held until his death in 1982. Voluntary exile, the use of a language (English) bound up with colonial history and its legacies, not to speak of the poet's Jewishness (anti-Semitism was rife in both his country of origin and exile), all may have contributed to Clouts' near-silence as a poet following the move, though this generous collection of books and papers drawn from Sydney and Marge's library demonstrates their continued involvement with (and support for) a South African literary community, native and in exile, while providing a context for Clouts' own small, exquisitely formed, output. J. M. Coetzee, no less, has described Clouts as "the purest poetic talent" of his generation, writing of his "drive toward transcendence, [and] concentration on the thisness things" and comparing the poet to both Gerard Manley Hopkins and Patrick White ("another suburban visionary"). If the poems' treatment of colonial, racial and linguistic issues is typically oblique, their deft control of sound and image offers a personal and quietly radical response to painful events that the poet clearly felt helpless to influence. Robert Frost's description of poetry as a "momentary stay against confusion" is a clue here, as are the phenomenological meditations of Wallace Stevens, or indeed the seventeenth-century English poet, Thomas Traherne (invoked in the first poem of One Life), whose mystical and lyrical ecstasies are pared and distilled to the feel of a pebble, warm in the palm of a hand. Along with the poet's own works, this substantial collection of 154 items represents many poets (Hope, Wright, Delius, Driver) who, like Clouts, moved to England, as well as those who remained in Africa. There's a rich seam of work by black poets (Mapanji, Mtshali, Rive, Sepalma, Serote) as well as Clouts' Jewish peers (Abrahams, Becker, Miller, and others), not to speak of the poet's personal copies of significant forebears such as Roy Campbell and William Plomer, and his friend and contemporary, Guy Butler. The many inscriptions, dedications and recollections to be found across the collection attest to the widespread affection for the Clouts' as patrons and friends to the cause of South African literature.
"My tradition is dew on a shrub / One word too many; many, too few." (from "Residuum", Collected Poems). Further information and a detailed list of the contents of the collection are available on request.
Stock code: 18459