In a new history of the firm founded by his grandfather, Toby Faber delves into the Faber archives to tell the inside story of this great publishing house. Here, the legendary poetry editor Charles Monteith writes to a young Seamus Heaney, while a few years later, Heaney himself directs Monteith towards an aspiring poet by the name of Muldoon…
Eleven days after TS Eliot’s death, Charles Monteith showed how the firm’s ability to spot new poetry talent remained undimmed.
Charles Monteith to Seamus Heaney, 15 January 1965
First let me explain how I come to have your poems in my possession. I was very struck by the three poems which appeared in the New Statesman last month; and after making enquiries at the New Statesman, we got in touch with Mr Lucie-Smith who was kind enough to send us this group of poems.
Several people here, including myself, read them and were very impressed by them. Our over-all feeling is that the collection is not quite strong enough for publication, but that is does indeed show definite promise. […]
Interviewed later in life, Seamus Heaney said of receiving this communication from Faber, ‘I just couldn’t believe it, it was like getting a letter from God the Father.’
Charles Monteith to Seamus Heaney, 15 June 1965
I am delighted to let you know that we all like Death of a Naturalist very much; and that we would certainly be happy to publish it. No chance of getting it out this year – since publication of a book nowadays does seem to take at least twelve months. I hope that we’ll be able to get it out in the spring of 1966 – but experience has taught me not to make absolutely firm promises about publication at this stage!
Charles Monteith to Seamus Heaney, 9 September 1969
Any chance of seeing you before too long? I was over in the west of Ireland – staying with Richard Murphy – for the bank holiday weekend; and I had a couple of very enjoyable days in Dublin. But I didn’t get to the North. […]
By another very happy coincidence, while he and I were drinking our pre-lunch gins on Monday, we were suddenly aware of a bespectacled figure peering through the window which turned out to be Philip Larkin! A happy time was had by all!
Charles Monteith, Memorandum, 16 April 1970
This collection of poems by Paul Muldoon was left with me by Shamus Heaney when he was last in London. He knows Muldoon, who is, I think, an undergraduate at Belfast – and thought that his work was at any rate worth serious consideration.
I was rather impressed by these poems myself, and I would be very interested to know what you think of them. I suspect that all we need to do at this stage is register positive interest in him and advise him to start placing his work in various magazines etc. which regularly publish poetry. He would obviously be worth bearing in mind too, for our next Poetry Introduction.
I can only assume that this memo was dictated by Charles, and typed by someone who did not know the correct spelling of ‘Seamus’.
Charles Monteith to Seamus Heaney, 23 April 1970
I’m sorry I’ve been such a very long time in writing to you about Paul Muldoon’s poems but I’m more than glad to be able to say – now that I’ve read them – that I have been considerably impressed by them – as have the other people who have read them too. Do please tell Paul Muldoon that we will be extremely happy to see any future work; and I do hope that you or he himself will keep in touch and let us see more.
Paul Muldoon to Charles Monteith, 4 July 1971
Mr Crawley has been in touch about publicity for Poetry Introductions 2 – I’m afraid that my autobiographical note is rather undistinguished, mostly in the future tense.
Charles Monteith to Paul Muldoon, 22 March 1972
I’m absolutely delighted to let you know that we do definitely want to publish ‘The Electric Orchard’. I like and admire it immensely, and I’m very much looking forward to its appearance. […]
I wonder if the title is right? One idea which occurred to me – and this is even more tentative – is that you might perhaps think of using the concluding two words of the first poem, ‘New Weather’. (Might it be an idea, I wonder, to consult Seamus Heaney about the title? It would be very interesting to have his views.)
Charles Monteith to Seamus Heaney, 22 March 1972
Just a line to let you know that I’ve written to Paul Muldoon today to tell him that we definitely want to publish his first collection, which he sent to me a month or so ago. I really am, as you know, very impressed by his work, and I’m most grateful to you for having steered him in my direction.
Extracts taken from Faber & Faber: The Untold Story by Toby Faber (Faber, £20).
On 22nd May 2019, Toby Faber will tell the story of the firm founded by his grandfather in Faber’s home at Bloomsbury House, 74-77 Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DA at 6.30 p.m. For more information and tickets, click here.