Holbrook, David (Kenneth)

views updated

HOLBROOK, David (Kenneth)

Nationality: British. Born: Norwich, Norfolk, 9 January 1923. Education: Colman Road Primary School; City of Norwich School; Downing College, Cambridge (Exhibitioner), 1941–42, 1945–47, B.A. 1946. Military Service: Tank Troop Officer, and Explosives and Intelligence Officer, in the East Riding of Yorkshire Yeomanry, 1942–45: Lieutenant. Family: Married Margot Davies-Jones in 1949; two sons and two daughters. Career: Assistant editor, Our Time magazine, London, 1947–48; assistant editor, Bureau of Current Affairs, London, 1948–51; tutor organizer, Workers' Educational Association, 1952–53; tutor and teacher, 1953–61: at Bassingbourn Village College, Cambridgeshire, 1954–61; fellow, King's College, Cambridge, 1961–65; college lecturer in English, Jesus College, Cambridge, 1968–70; Compton Poetry Lecturer, University of Hull, 1969 (resigned); writer-in-residence, Dartington Hall, Devon (Elmgrant Trust grant), 1970–72. Assistant director of studies, 1973–75, fellow and director of English studies, 1981–88, and since 1988 emeritus fellow, Downing College, Cambridge. British Council Lecturer in Germany, 1969, and grantee in Australia, 1970; Hooker Visiting Professor, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, 1984. Former president, Forum for the Advancement of Educational Therapy. Cofounder, Use of English magazine, 1948; member of the editorial board, New Universities Quarterly, 1976–86. Awards: King's College and Cambridge University Press grant, 1961; Leverhulme fellowship, 1964–65 and 1988–90; Arts Council grant, 1970, 1976, 1979; World Education fellowship prize, 1976. Address: c/o Downing College, Cambridge CB2 1DQ, England.



Imaginings. London, Putnam, 1961.

Against the Cruel Frost. London, Putnam, 1963.

Penguin Modern Poets 4, with Christopher Middleton and David Wevill. London, Penguin, 1963.

Object Relations. London, Methuen, 1967.

Old World, New World. London, Rapp and Whiting, 1969.

Moments in Italy: Poems and Sketches. Richmond, Surrey, Keepsake Press, 1976.

Chance of a Lifetime. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1978.

Selected Poems 1961–1978. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1980.

Bringing Everything Home. Hull, Yorks, Halfacrown Press, 1999.

Plays (operas for children)

The Borderline, music by Wilfrid Mellers (produced London, 1959).

The Quarry, music by John Joubert. London, Novello, 1967.

The Wild Swans, music by John Paynter (produced Cambridge, 1979).


Flesh Wounds. London, Methuen, 1966.

A Play of Passion. London, W.H. Allen, 1978.

Nothing Larger than Life. London, Hale, 1987.

Worlds Apart. London, Hale, 1988.

A Little Athens. London, Hale, 1990.

Jennifer. London, Hale, 1990.

The Gold in Father's Heart. London, Hale, 1992.

Even If They Fail. London, Martin Breese, 1994.

Getting It Wrong with Uncle Tom. Norwich, Mousehold Press, 1998.

Short Stories

Lights in the Sky Country. London, Putnam, 1962.


English for Maturity. London, Cambridge University Press, 1961.

Llareggub Revisited (on Dylan Thomas). London, Bowes and Bowes, 1962; as Dylan Thomas and Poetic Dissociation, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1964.

The Secret Places: Essays on Imaginative Work in English Teaching and on the Culture of the Child. London, Methuen, 1964.

English for the Rejected. London, Cambridge University Press, 1964.

The Quest for Love. London, Methuen, 1964.

The Flowers Shake Themselves Free (songs set by Wilfrid Mellers). London, Novello, 1966.

The Exploring Word. London, Cambridge University Press, 1967.

Human Hope and the Death Instinct. Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1971.

Sex and Dehumanisation in Art, Thought and Life in Our Time. London, Pitman, 1972.

The Masks of Hate: The Problem of False Solutions in the Culture of an Acquisitive Society. Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1972.

Dylan Thomas and the Code of Night. London, Athlone Press, 1972.

The Pseudo-Revolution: A Critical Study of Extremist "Liberation" in Sex. London, Stacey, 1972.

English in Australia Now. London, Cambridge University Press, 1972.

Changing Attitudes to the Nature of Man: A Working Bibliography. Hatfield, Hertfordshire, Hertis, 1973.

Gustav Mahler and the Courage to Be. London, Vision Press, 1975; New York, Da Capo Press, 1982.

Sylvia Plath: Poetry and Existence. London, Athlone Press, 1976.

Lost Bearings in English Poetry. London, Vision Press, and New York, Barnes and Noble, 1977.

Education, Nihilism, and Survival. London, Darton Longman and Todd, 1977; Greenwood, South Carolina, Attic Press, 1978.

English for Meaning. Windsor, NFER, 1980.

John Newton, Blasphemy, and Poetic Taste. Retford, Brynmill, 1984.

Education and Philosophical Anthropology. Cranbury, New Jersey, Associated University Presses, 1987.

Evolution and the Humanities. Aldershot, Hampshire, Gower Press, 1987.

The Novel and Authenticity. London, Vision Press, 1987.

Further Studies in Philosophical Anthropology. Aldershot, Hampshire, Gower Press, 1988.

Images of Woman in Literature. New York, New York University Press, 1990.

The Skeleton in the Wardrobe. Cranbury, New Jersey, Associated University Presses, 1990.

Charles Dickens and Woman. London, Vision Press, 1990.

Wuthering Heights: Far Beyond Realism. London, Vision Press, 1990.

What Is It To Be Human? Aldershot, Hampshire, Gower Press, 1990.

Edith Wharton and the Unsatisfactory Man. London, Vision Press, 1991.

Where D. H. Lawrence Was Wrong About Woman. Cranbury, New Jersey, Associated University Presses, 1992.

Charles Dickens and the Image of Woman. New York, New York University Press, 1993.

Creativity and Popular Culture. Cranbury, New Jersey, Associated University Presses, 1994.

Tolstoy, Woman and Death. Cranbury, New Jersey, Associated University Presses, 1997.

Geroge MacDonald and the Phantom Woman. Lampeter, Wales, Edwin Mellen Press, 2000.

Editor, Children's Games. Bedford, Gordon Fraser, 1957.

Editor, Iron Honey Gold (anthology of verse). London, Cambridge University Press, 1961.

Editor, People and Diamonds (anthology of stories). London, Cambridge University Press, 1962.

Editor, Thieves and Angels (anthology of drama). London, Cambridge University Press, 1963.

Editor, Visions of Life (anthology of prose). London, Cambridge University Press, 1964.

Editor, with Elizabeth Poston, The Cambridge Hymnal. London, Cambridge University Press, 1967.

Editor, Children's Writing. London, Cambridge University Press, 1967.

Editor, Plucking the Rushes (anthology of Chinese poetry). London, Heinemann, 1968.

Editor, I've Got to Use Words (course for less-abled children). London, Cambridge University Press, 1969.

Editor, The Case Against Pornography. London, Stacey, 1972.

Editor, with Christine Mackenzie, The Honey of Man. Melbourne, Nelson, 1973.

Editor, with Elizabeth Poston, The Apple Tree. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1976.


Critical Studies: Toward a Moral Approach to English: A Study of the Writings of F.R. Leavis and David Holbrook by Gordon Pradl (unpublished dissertation), Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1971; "Philosophical Anthropology: Two Views of Recent Work by David Holbrook," in Human World (Swansea), May 1973; "David Holbrook's Humanities" by Roger Poole, in Books and Bookmen (London), September 1973; Martin Hayden and Duke Maskell, in Haltwhistle Quarterly, spring 1979; "Broad Wisdom of 'Being There"'" by David Hamilton Eddy, in The Times Higher Educational Supplement, 30 April 1993; The Educational Imperative by Peter Abbs. London, Falmer Press, 1994; Powers of Being: The Work of David Holbrook, edited by Edwin Webb, Cranbury, New Jersey, Associated University Presses, 1995.

David Holbrook comments:

A few people have seen that all my work is of a piece—Dr. Gordon Pradl, for instance, in his dissertation at Harvard (1971). In my poetry and prose fiction I am trying to find what meaning there might be in normal, everyday existence—assuming that it should be possible, there, to find a sense of having existed meaningfully. I have kept deliberately to domestic, quotidian living, searching for significance in that, since I believe we are doomed if we cannot. In my books for teachers and my anthologies I have tried to encourage those in education to cherish creativity in children, in the sense of helping to explore their existence as beings through symbolism.

To this exploration of authenticity, searching for what Maslow calls "peak-moments" in ordinary life, the hollow postures of hate are the greatest enemy. I have therefore tried to diagnose the schizoid trends in contemporary culture to show that they are false and a bluff, from James Bond myths to the literature of mental rage and pornography. At the same time I have tried to show how genuine artists may be engaged with being and problems of identity and of not knowing where to find a sense of the meaning in life, namely Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, and Gustav Mahler. In doing so I have come to find the prevalent "model" of man unsatisfactory, the belief of those from Freud to Lorenz who seem to think instincts of aggression and sex are primary. I believe that culture and symbolism are man's primary needs, and I am trying to apply this view in educational books, in criticism, and in my own writing. This revolution in thought about man I believe to be part of a widespread change encompassing psychoanalysis, phenomenology, post-Kantian philosophy, and philosophical anthropology. I find more interest in this revolution in Europe and America, while at home in England the educated minority have betrayed "the people" into a new barbarism which is destroying values and making a more creative future impossible. Intellectuals slavishly follow the falsities of commercial promotion, the superficial sensationalism of "pop" and television, and proclaim their right to indulge in pornography and other vices. The onslaught of this new barbarism will make all our efforts toward a more creative education, toward new and more visionary works of the imagination, and even toward good community life futile unless there is a change of heart. But meanwhile, all one can do is to go on as best one can, in creative writing and teaching, while trying to discriminate against the culture of hate.

*  *  *

The subject matter of David Holbrook's poetry is, for the most part, domestic, personal, and everyday; it is of the "real world," of which he is an advocate in so much of his critical and educational writing. The poetry is of a world that is explored with feeling and compassion and from which morals are drawn or implied. If the poetry is not directly didactic, there is usually an undertow of didacticism detectable. His poetry can be personal to the point of being candid. Thus, in the poem "To His Wife Going to Bed" (the title itself is point enough) it is gooseflesh that is exposed "drawing your petticoat off—showing your husband what he after clings to in bed." Mind you, it is gooseflesh transfigured by being "like wind-touched-on-water." Sometimes the poems are personal to the point of embarrassment, as when in "Fingers in the Door" the poet's emotion on seeing the pain caused by closing his child's fingers in a doorjamb makes him wish "myself dispersed in hundred thousand pieces" when it was "for her I cast seed into her mother's womb."

But it is this sympathy for the pain and distress of others, and the ability to express it, that informs Holbrook's best poems. In "Unholy Marriage," a poem about the death of a young passenger on a motorcycle who lies "anointed only by the punctured oil" while her parents wait worrying because "she's late tonight," the simple, unemphasized ending—"Some news? They hear the gate /A man comes: not the best"—gives strength to the direct emotion of what has gone before.

The language employed in most of Holbrook's poems is straightforward and unadorned: "This is the sort of evening on which to write a poem." It is a reaction, one imagines, against the verbosity of the 1940s, which he castigates in his critical works. Sometimes, however, when combined with the long, freely written lines he employs, the poetry tends toward a looseness of form that can compromise the strength of the feelings expressed. If there is a weakness in his verse, it is this, along with the influence of a romanticism deriving from what would seem to be an idiosyncratic interpretation of the work of D.H. Lawrence and other literary heroes. The strength of his verse is its obvious and direct honesty, despite the pitfalls of naïveté into which it sometimes leads him.

John Cotton