Poet of taradiddles and rannygazoo
Saturday 10 December 2005
Barbara Rosamund Stanhope, poet and teacher: born Northampton 4 March 1919; married 1945 Eric Jones (died 1977; one daughter); died Witney, Oxfordshire 7 December 2005.
Rosamund Stanhope was a poet and teacher extraordinaire. "AND I DO HEREBY GIVE RATIFY AND CONFIRM," she writes in "Last Will and Testament",
my migratory ideals, my
attempts at identification with the truth
my refusal to be reconciled to
white weddings, artificial flowers, vibraphones and Sandy Macpherson
"The Chapel in the Valley"
together with the wish that she should engage in the Battle of Life
with enthusiasm, wonder, guts and a dash of ham
eschewing the easy beguilements of
the gravy train, Gucci, Fratini, Ghost, Worth
and the perennial facility for saying the right thing . . .
Born in 1919 in Northampton, Rosamund Stanhope was the daughter of a Latvian father - a very wealthy leather merchant. Born in Bausk, he had been adopted at the age of four by a German baron and had moved to England in 1900, changing his name from Sternberg to Stanhope, and married the pretty daughter of his landlady. Rosamund saw little of him - she was brought up mostly by a nanny - but adored him. He died when she was 13. She had one brother, Vivian, a newspaper journalist 18 months older than herself, to whom she was extremely close. He died in 1959.
Rosamund was educated at public school, latterly St James's, West Malvern, where she felt "out of place" given her natural absence of concern about "social" propriety. One of her closest friends was Lady Patricia Douglas, the equally free-spirited niece of Oscar Wilde's nemesis.
The school made no provisions for girls to go on to university. She went instead to the Central School of Speech and Drama, where she was taught by its founder, the celebrated Elsie Fogarty. While there, she first had a poem accepted for publication; this was by Muriel Spark, then editor of Poetry Review. Soon after, her poems started appearing regularly in magazines such as John O'London's Weekly, Time & Tide, Poetry Review and The Times Literary Supplement and, in later years, in Poetry Wales and The Anglo-Welsh Review.
In 1940 the Central School was evacuated to Exeter University, where one of Rosamund Stanhope's boyfriends was a dashing and romantic Welshman who was reading French. Eric "Jerry" Jones shared her love of literature, though French and Latin literature was his terrain; he was a keen and sensitive water-colourist. After leaving Central, Stanhope had one acting job, before being called up in 1943 to the ATS; but she volunteered for the WRNS, and worked as a radio mechanic at a Scottish air base. She was later seconded to do "war work" as a secretary at the BBC, in the Latin American department.
When the Second World War was over, she and Jerry Jones married and a daughter, Louise, was born a few years later in Swansea on St David's Day. Her love of Wales and the Celtic spirit was constant and much of her poetry celebrates Wales. In 1953 she returned to Central School, to do the teacher-training course there; this time she studied alongside Judi Dench and Vanessa Redgrave.
She taught Speech and Drama, and English, at several Worcestershire schools, initially Worcester Girls Grammar School. Popular with the girls she taught, she had consistent success; many pupils who struggled with the subject achieved examination passes thanks to her clarity and encouragement, and high achievers were inspired to surpass themselves. Her natural independence of spirit, elegance and spontaneity endeared her to the young.
In 1962, her first collection, So I Looked Down to Camelot, was published by Scorpion Press to favourable reviews, notably one from Elizabeth Jennings. Then she had to wait 28 years for her second collection, Lapidary (1990), followed by her final collection, No Place for the Maudlin Heart (2001), both published by Peterloo.
In 1963, after four years' home study on top of her full-time job, she took a London external degree, gaining a 2:1 in English Language and Literature. In September 1963, however, she had a tragic accident. She fell downstairs backwards, wearing high heels, and fractured her spine. Initially paralysed from the waist down, she emerged in 1970 from years of operations (although she returned to work in 1965), with significant internal trauma, and permanent partial paralysis of her legs. For the rest of her life she suffered from intermittent intense pain, and was unable to walk unaided. (During the years of repeated hospitalisation, she was always put next to very depressed people or children because her naturally lively and kind nature infected those around her.)
She continued to teach, and retired from her last post, as lecturer in English at Bridgnorth College, at the age of 68. At this period, her consistent habit of poetry writing was a supplanted for a while as she wrote seven novels, all unpublished. A car crash in 1991, though she was not injured, brought on anxiety neurosis, and thereafter her need for physical care increased rapidly. But those who came into contact with her always enjoyed her for her perpetual enjoyment of life, her generous and affectionate nature, and her ribald sense of humour.
The essence of Rosamund Stanhope's character as a poet was captured in a 1991 London Review of Books review of Lapidary:
Rosamund Stanhope enjoys piling up terms from scientific lexicons, such as those from botany and astronomy, and summoning up recondite words like " alkahest", "paduasoy" and "whigmaleerie" [one could add "taradiddles" and "rannygazoo"] . . . Her poetry searches long perspectives, far beyond those of a single life - extending through evolutionary time and into outer space - with a
"sense of mystery, and of the convergence and divergence of scientific and more traditional "poetic" modes of apprehension . . . But she also homes in on the human: on the lives of Welsh folk, or on moments of deep personal feeling."
Rosamund Stanhope had a sharp contempt for all artificial paradises: " Never here the risk of / the missed catch, the lost / 'bus, the possibility of the / bottom falling out of the / lotus-market . . ." Like Hopkins and MacNeice before her, she made memorable poems out of her relish for "All things counter, original, spare, strange" and her perception "of things being various".
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