Complete Poetry, Translations and Selected Prose

Mark Ford writes:

In his excellent introduction to this definitive Complete Poetry, Peter Robinson characterises Spencer as an unconfident poet who, when his luck was in, wrote poems that were ‘profoundly uncertain’: ‘within his small oeuvre, poem after poem sounds true. That sound sense of reliable poetry was achieved under the shadow of an urge to doubt the entire business.’ He was ‘delightful humorous company’, Betjeman reflected in an article on MacNeice and Spencer published in the London Magazine shortly after their deaths, eight days apart, in September 1963, but ‘diffident about his own work’. ‘I should think a rejection slip would have set him back for years.’ Diffidence is not a quality one associates with the dominant poet of the 1930s, Auden, and like so many of his generation, Spencer had to fight his way clear of the Audenesque:

White factories lancing sky
As the city grew near
Were symbols of changed state,

Pulse and strength of steel arms
Seemed hammering out new world
Not by you informed.

(LRB 17 November 2011)