Robert Conquest’s muses

Cynthia Haven in the Times Literary Supplement:

ScreenHunter_2348 Nov. 04 16.49Until a few days before his death last year at the age of ninety-eight, Robert Conquest was busy finishing his memoir, completing a poem or two, and sending off a steady stream of letters to a wide international circle of friends. As always, his serenely successful life was divided between poetry and prose. Most of the obituaries concentrated on his groundbreaking work as a historian: The Great Terror (1968), Harvest of Sorrow (1986) and other books had exposed the genocidal horrors of Stalin’s regime and earned Conquest the disapprobation of left-wing intellectuals and the admiration of, among others, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. But he was also a poet of note; not just for the light verse and bawdy limericks with which he entertained fellow guests at social gatherings (a selection of these, A Garden of Erses, was published in 2010 as the work of “Jeff Chaucer”), but for serious verse that is lyrical, sensual and exactingly observed.

The poets of the “Movement”, which Conquest could almost be said to have invented, are studied in British schools, and Conquest’s poetry has readers in the United Kingdom. In the United States, however, where he had made his home for decades, his poetry is little known – along with that of the poets he fostered with his anthology, New Lines (1956). Yet two events were held in the US earlier this year that might alter the picture. One unlikely champion for Conquest’s poetry had a major role in both: the poet R. S. Gwynn of Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, a genial bear of a man with a pronounced Southern drawl.

More here.