Four poets you didn’t know were King’s alumni (and one you did)!

John Keats might be the most famous King’s poet, but he’s only one of the brilliant alumni to have courted the poetic muse. Here we've selected a few of our favourites.

Dannie Abse (Medicine, 1950)

Dannie Abse

Dannie Abse (1923-2014) wrote poetry at the same time as maintaining his thirty-year career as a specialist at a chest clinic, though he stated, ‘I like to think I’m a poet and medicine my serious hobby.’ Medical themes often featured in his poems, for example these lines from A Doctor's Register:

"'I found a thing to do,' said the lover
of Porphyria. Porphyria? Awake you add
the other pretty names too: Anuria,
Filaria, Leukaemia, Melanoma,
Sarcoma, Euthanasia, amen."

Abse was also a Fellow of King’s. In 2009, King’s held a literary event to celebrate his New Selected Poems. The event marked 60 years since Abse’s first collection of poems, After Every Green Thing.

In the same year he received the Wilfred Owen Poetry Award, given for ‘a sustained body of work that includes memorable war poems.’

Maureen Duffy (English, 1956)

Maureen Duffy

Maureen Duffy (1933) has published nine collections of poetry, most recently 2016’s Pictures from an Exhibition. In That time of year thou mayst in me behold, (title ‘borrowed’ from Shakespeare’s Sonnet No. 73) Duffy explores themes of old age, as shown in this excerpt:

'How are you?' people ask them, meaning
'Goodness, you're still alive.'
'Are you still writing?' signals
'If so, you're quite forgotten.
I haven't seen any reviews,'
and 'Aren't you going gently yet
into your good night?'
(Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd)

Duffy has also edited the plays of 17th-century playwright Aphra Behn and written plays, screenplays and 19 novels. Her 1966 novel The Microcosm became a best-seller, and was one of the first novels to depict a wide range of contrasting gay women of different ages, classes and ethnicities.

Typescripts of Duffy’s work are held in the King's College London Archive.

Thomas Hardy (Modern Languages, 1860s)

Thomas Hardy

The first collection of poems by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), Wessex Poems, was not published until 1898. Although the ‘Wessex’ novels such as The Mayor of Casterbridge and Far from the Madding Crowd gained him most recognition during his lifetime, Hardy regarded himself primarily as a poet.

Married in 1874, his later poems often reflect on his wife’s sudden death in 1912, and his remorse they had become estranged, as shown in his poem The Voice (1912):

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Hardy wrote over 800 poems, and nine collections were published in his lifetime. He originally trained as an architect in Dorset before enrolling at King’s to study Modern Languages. He worked on architectural projects in London until the late 1860s when he moved back to Dorset to concentrate on his writing.

John Stammers (Philosophy, 1988)

John Stammers

Born in 1954, John Stammers took up writing poetry in his 30s. His first collection, Panoramic Lounge Bar, won the Forward Prize for the best new poet of 2001. In 2005, his second collection, Stolen Love Behaviour, won the Waterstones Best New Poetry award, was the Poetry Book Society Choice, and was also shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry. Some critics describe Stammers’ style as ‘grim and urban’, for example in Mr Punch in Soho:

You would recognise that hook nose anywhere,
his hump and paunch, the shiny pink erection of his chin.
Withered, crossed legs on the barstool
dangle like transplants from a much smaller body.

(Excerpt from the Poetry Society National Poetry Competition 2009)

Interior Night (2010), Stammers’ third collection, includes A Dramatic Monologue, Stammers’ take on our final poet, Keats, meeting Coleridge when out walking.

And of course, last but by no means least…

John Keats (Apothecary and medical training, Guy’s Hospital, 1815-16)

John Keats

Keats (1795-1821) is one of the most popular poets in English literature. A Romantic poet, he filled his writing with images of nature. One of his best-loved poems is this sonnet known as 'Bright Star':

Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art—
  Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
  Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
  Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
  Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
  Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
  Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
 And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

Keats trained as an apothecary, registering as a medical student at Guy’s Hospital in 1815, where he assisted surgeons during operations - the equivalent of a junior house surgeon today.

Abandoning medicine to focus on his writing, he moved to Hampstead in 1817 and mixed with other poets, including Coleridge. In 1818, Keats and Coleridge had a long – and for Keats, inspirational - walk together on Hampstead Heath, an event which John Stammers reimagines in his poem A Dramatic Monologue.

Keats was diagnosed with tuberculosis and in 1820 he traveled to Rome for his health but died there the following year aged just 25. Although he had only written poetry seriously for about six years, his work matured dramatically during that time.

 

We hope this list goes to prove that while our famous poets chose to pursue their academic dreams, that didn’t dim their creative pursuits. They say everyone has a novel in them, how about a poem? Why not give it a go? As a King’s alumnus, you are in good company.